With Keith Moon on drums, the Who was one of the most exciting live acts in rock history. With ex-Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones slotted into the band after Moon’s death in 1978, it became a professional touring unit — still capable of considerable fire on a good night, but never on the scale of its early years. This is not to slight Jones; Moon was simply irreplaceable. Who’s Last captures the group at what was claimed to be the end of its eighteen-year career, with reformed alcoholic Pete Townshend and company traversing North America on a 1982 tour sponsored by a U.S. beer company. At the time, the motivation behind this “last tour” seemed dubious: the band ran through each night’s set with very little variation, almost by rote, its once-mighty roar nearly eclipsed by the sound of money being raked in. As a document of that tour, Who’s Last is an appropriately crass artifact.
To put it bluntly, the Who never sounded worse — more impotent and eviscerated — than on this dismal double album. The drum sound is unbelievably dinky and the vocals are a complete mess throughout. Townshend manages to blast through the hideous mix in “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and John Entwistle’s rich, meaty bass tones and triphammer attack remain marvels of the hard-rock form; but several of the sixteen songs here are available in far superior live versions on such albums as Live at Leeds and the soundtracks of Woodstock and The Kids Are Alright, and even the most casual comparison with those previous LPs exposes Who’s Last as the disgraceful cash-in that it is.
Most appalling of all are the liner notes, a noxious spew of self-aggrandizing superlatives and tacky ticket-sale statistics, capped by an assertion that the album is “offered as a token of appreciation” to the band’s “fantastic fans” — as if they were giving this sucker away. I can’t think of another band as committed and allegedly idealistic as the Who that has ended its career on so sour and sickening a note.