This album is fantastic, it has an exquisite sense of humor (songs of the humbly homespun) and consummate musicianship. The cover, of course, is amazingly funny: deodorant, pimple cream, baked beans and the Charles Atlas course, each shot perfectly suited to the character of the person in the group. It’s almost too English.
The first thing you are going to see are the commercial plugs and Radio London spots. They take various forms; the cover is the first. The others include segues between the songs which are either real singing house ads from Radio London, or the Who’s versions of commercials for other products. Some of the songs themselves incorporate stories of products, for instance Peter Townshend‘s bitterly funny “Odorono.” It is the tale of young chick singer who has a successful performance, meets the handsome man backstage where the following ensues: “But his expression changed,/She had seen,/As he went to kiss her face./It ended there, he claimed a late appointment,/She quickly turned to hide her disappointment./She ripped her glittering gown,/couldn’t face another show, no,/Her deodorant had let her down/She should have used Odorono.”
What makes the song so good — and the whole album so fantastic — is not the surface concept of incorporating commercials but the absolute musical mystery which is used to bring them off. The girl who should have used Odorono is obviously meant to be a laugh, but it is bittersweet laughter. The Who have caught the embarrassing reality of it, and reality is the essence of humor (as is more readily apparent with the Beatles in most everything they do.)
The opening song of the album, “Armenia City in the Sky,’ is one of the best tracks on the album, and one which well illustrates why the Who are among the very best of the contemporary groups. First of all, they have such a firm grasp of the basics of rock and roll that they, like the Beatles, do not stumble when they move on to newer and more creative endeavors in rock and roll; they’ve learned their stuff and are thus practiced enough to come up with a wholly original instrumental sound.
Within that framework, the Who set various electronic miniatures, including passages of guitar feedback and distortions, variations on a theremin and a tonal puddle from an organ. These are not extended breaks completely outside the structure of the song (which is the mark of a group trying to be experimental with too little real substance,) but tight and intelligently thought out placements. And, there are the lyrics: “If you ever want to disappear, just take off and think of this: Armenia City in the Sky.”
“Marianne With the Shakey Hands,” has a Spanish beat and guitar strum. The barely-beneath-the-surface humor of the lyric and whole Who attitude is reflected stroke for stroke in the music.
“Tattoo” is one of those gems of guitar playing from Peter Townshend, one which shows flawless mastery of rock and roll chording. “Our Love was Is” has some fine choral work of “la, la, la” simplicity and graceful harmony and mixing, which is another part of the Who’s sound. “I Can See For Miles” is a fine demonstration of Keith Moon’s insanely strong drumming, perhaps at his recorded wildest, slamming and scattering rim shots all over the place and hitting the bass drum on every beat. It’s a curious ecstasy. Townshend’s one note fuzz line in one of the inside instrumental bridges is a fine use of this rock and roll cliche.
“Silas Stingy” — the money, money man, there goes mingy stingy — recalls the mini-opera of their last album. Entwhistle blows five seconds of fine french horn. It is a longish story with an organ added which becomes light in its heaviness and heavy in its lightness. “Sunrise” is a strange piece for the Who; the voices call to mind Simon and Garfunkel as well as the instrumental work — a double tracked acoustical guitar.
“I Can’t Reach You — Spotted Henry,” which opens side two, makes use of a piano. One supposes that some member of the group also plays it, as they are themselves responsible for all the other sounds on the record. Like all the others, the track is characterized by alternating soft and hard chord patterns set in interplay with Moon’s drums and over John Entwhistle’s loping bass patterns. The “Spotted Henry” part of the song is the amusing pimple commercial (“This adolescent little fella was nicknamed by his friends ‘Old Yellah,'”) The underside of the Who is incredibly hard.