to go solo
By John Bochell
N.Y. Times News Service
NEW YORK - Pete Townshend is one of rock music's
genuine icons, a fact he’s long since learned to feel profound-
ly uncomfortable about. Always the brains behind The Who. .
Townshend has also led a tentative life as a solo artist. There
was some material released privately through the Heher
Baba Society. a Meher Baba-inﬂuenced solo disk in 1972 ‘
called “Who Comes First" and a collaboration in 1977 with
Ronnie Lane called “Rough Mix."
Townshend’s solo ventures have apparently always been
accompanied by a good deal of guilt. He was the chief
songwriter for The Who. after all, and no band has had a
greater mystique of communitarian togetherness — a mys-
tique propagated in large igeasure by ToWnshend himself.
But Keith Moon’s death in 1978 was apparently liberating
for the rest of the band, or so Townshend indicated in an
interview last fall. Moon’s death had the effect of welding the
remaining members closer together and also of making
Townshend feel more relaxed about pouring his energies of
the moment into a solo project.
In any case. his latest solo album, “Empty Glass,” is here
at last. and a most appealing record it is. This is not a disk in
which an artist struggles desperately to create some new
musical. poetic or religious identity for himself. “Empty
Glass” is recognizably a product of Townshend, and the
musical idiom sounds like The Who’s sound of more than a
Similarly with the lyrics: Townshend is not dealing with
cosmic personal problems or trying to resolve the future of
rock-and-roll. Instead, he is concerned with themes that have
long obsessed him: his own aging, the difﬁculties of love. the
place of violence in modern life and the relationship between
today’s young punks and those of yesteryear (including
himself). He also manages a far more telling complaint
about rock criticism than most rock stars who have dealt
, with this theme have done — in a song called “Jools and .
J im,” aimed at the British team of J ulie Burchill and Tony
Parsons. who write for Britain’s New Musical Express.
Musically, Townshend plays nearly all the guitars and
keyboards. with a variety of drummers and a couple of
additional musicians (neither Roger Daltrey nor J ohn
_ Entwistle of The Who appear at all). What’s most interesting
is Townshend’s singing, which is every bit as strangulated as
ever. but full of a passion and personal commitment that the
more vocally lavish Daltrey sometimes lacks. “Empty
Glass" is a modest. direct rock record. lacking the ambition
of some of Townshend’s past efforts with The Who. but.
forgmately, lacking some of his past self-consciousness as
,, May 24, I980