‘Empty Glass’ very empty
0n the cover of his new solo album, Empty Glass. Pete Townshend
sits gloomily at a bar with a wicked-eyed little vixen on each arm and
~ a halo around his head, something holy among the rabble. ‘
It‘s an irritating pose. but one that fits the album well. If Townshend
keeps on making albums as flat and dull as this one he’ll end up being
what he looks like on the cover —- just an icon for fans of his glory days
to remember fondly, and nothing more immediate.
When he was good (which was up until 1975), Townshend was a well
known “troubled genius " Since then unfortunately he has just been
troubled — mostly by feelings that he‘ s too old to rock too old to stay
in touch with “the kids. ”
That fear seems to have been self-fulfilling. If this album is the best
he can do, maybe his worries were justified. .
His earnest strivings -to rock out, to sound current, on songs like
Rough Boys, Jools and Jim and Gonna Get Ya sound too forced, and it 's '
sad that he has to try so hard, especially when theresults are so weak.
Townshend used to be ableto rip off a little thunder without working up ‘
a sweat. Now, he buffs and puffs and nothing happens.
His voice is a big problem here. The breezy insouciance he sang with
on Who classics like A legal Matter or Gong Mobile, or on My Ba by
.Gives It Aways (a flash of life from Townshend’s 1977 album with
Ronnie Lane) has apparently blown away. In its stead, an ever-present
note of self-pity has crept in. No matter what he sings on Empty Glass.
Townshend sounds like he has been hurt, badly. But by what? It‘s never
really revealed, and the hints sound like more of the same fear-of-aging
anxiety Townshend has been wallowing in for the last half-decade.
Rough Boys, dedicated to the Sex Pistols, is a piteous plea for
acceptance by all the young thugs that have made Townshend feel like
a fossil. “What can I do, I’m so pale and weedy/ In my Hush Puppy shoes
.. but I’m still pleading,” he wails.
Jools and Jim is more of the same, another slight variation on the »
kids-let’s-understand-eaeh-other theme: “A little wine would bring us
You just want to grab this prematurely doddering old fool by the
lapels, slap him around a little and say, ”Pete. Pete, snap out of it!
You’re not that old." -
The album just doesn‘t have the fire of the great bulk of Townshend‘s
work with the Who, or of his first solo LP, 1972’s Who Came First.
Maybe it isn’t fair to compare his new material with his classics. But
' even by any reasonable standard, Eknpty Glass falls short. Journeymon
crank out better stuff. It‘s distressing to think that when he puts his
mind to it, even a longtime schlock-monger like Billy Joel can rock out
better than Pete Townshend. But Glass Houses has more verve than
Townshend has mustered in years.
It would be nice if, next time out, either by himself or with the Who
Townshend could just relax. “Anyone can crash and thump," he sings on
Joolsjgpd Jim. But, as this album shows, without the right spirit. it just
doesn‘t work too well.