As a songwriter, a bandleader and one of pop’s most literate and spiritually earnest intellectuals, Pete Townshend has dedicated his life to the proposition that rock & roll is a communal experience, a physical and emotional rush that’s best enjoyed and most transcendent when it’s shared. But Another Scoop, Townshend’s second serving of previously unissued recordings from his private demo-tape stash, shows that he wrote some of his best songs and made some of his most affecting music playing to an audience of one — himself.
Like the original 1983 Scoop collection, Another Scoop is a mixed menu of Who hits in embryonic form, solo instrumental musings and epic productions that, for various reasons, just gathered dust in Townshend’s closet. Its four sides span twenty years and a variety of recording locales, from the make-shift setup in his parents’ house where he cut the rough but rockin’ sketch of the Who’s “Call Me Lightning” in 1964 to the lavishly equipped Abbey Road studio in which he laid down “The Ferryman” and “Praying the Game” with a full complement of strings and woodwinds in 1978. There’s even a thirty-second snippet here of Townshend scolding one of his children in midstrum (“If I see you put that on the wall, I’ll smack you — you’ve got a mischievous look in your eye”), a comic glimpse at one of the minor annoyances of home recording.
Yet there is a striking unity to Another Scoop that belies its technical inconsistencies and chronological spread. Townshend’s faith in the healing power of rock & roll and his fear of its abuse are dramatically illustrated by the juxtaposition of his delightful ’72 demo romp through “Long Live Rock” and the dark symphonic urgency of his three-minute operetta “Football Fugue” six years later. In a harsh Brechtian bark over the menacing “Ride of the Valkyries” arrangement by his father-in-law, Ted Astley, Townshend prophetically equated soccer-stadium thuggery with arenarock animalism a full year before the tragic stampede that killed eleven Who fans in Cincinnati in 1979.
There are, of course, kids everywhere — “The Kids Are Alright,” the troubled young rapist and his victim in the somber ballad “Brooklyn Kids,” the notorious child guru Tommy (“Pinball Wizard,” “Christmas”). And the identity crises central to many of Townshend’s odes to troubled adolescence, like “Substitute” — included in a dynamite ’66 prototype highlighted by Townshend’s tremulous schoolboy harmonies — also haunt the middle-age soul-searching in “Praying the Game” and “Ask Yourself,” a remarkable fragment from an aborted 1982-83 Who project called Siege. Against the hypnotic ticktock of his drum machines and the contrapuntal surge of layered keyboard and guitar figures, Townshend evokes a chilly feeling of emotional imprisonment, his desperation echoed by a distant harpy choir that sounds like Yes in hell.
Half the fun of Another Scoop is hearing Townshend’s drawing-board versions of familiar Who records. In some cases, like the sprightly takes of “You Better You Bet” and “Don’t Let Go the Coat,” from Face Dances, his demos are preferable to the later Who versions. In others, the skeletal quality of his home tapings makes old Who classics sound completely new; “Happy Jack,” with acoustic guitar and a skittish cello, sounds like an Indian mantra with a Mexican hat dance in the middle.
Ultimately, though, the greatest strength of Another Scoop, like Scoop before it, is its revealing portrait of the artist in his private song lab, testing and editing his creative impulses before broadcasting them to the world at large. “I want my voice/To cut over mountains,” Townshend declares in a 1984 gem called “The Shout.” “And I want my soul/To gush up like fountains/To where you reside.” He needn’t worry — these recordings have a resonance that will carry far beyond his studio walls.