A well-intentioned satire on commercialism and consumerism, or a rare mis-step by The Who in an otherwise flawless run of albums leading up to their first masterpiece, Tommy?
This album isn’t without its highlights, and the cover is fantastic, but I do think that for all its good intentions, it’s a step backwards after A Quick One. The final song on that album, A Quick One, While He’s Away, points towards the direction Townshend would go with Tommy and Quadrophenia, but The Who Sells Out tries to do something else. It is a concept album – well, it’s more of a concept album than Sgt. Pepper’s (released a few months earlier), in that most of the album deals with the subject of advertising, but the songs just aren’t as good as they are on those two later albums.
I do like the ultra-compressed effect they use on the radio announcements between songs (making use of a device called the Sonovox), and I’m sure Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter would appreciate this too – a similar effect is employed on Daft Punk’s Homework debut.
I like The Who, but I like to keep them at arm’s distance. I’m always suspicious of bands where the vast majority of material is written by somebody other than the lead singer, and I guess The Who are one of the best examples of that dynamic. I also regard Pete Townshend as a little too full of himself. If I had seen The Who play back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it would have been Keith Moon I’d have been going to see
When I bought The Who’s greatest hits, on CD in the mid-‘90s, I really liked some of their singles but others (I’m A Boy, Pictures Of Lily) I just found soft and weak, which is surprising given that they’re supposed to be this hell-raising rock band. Those songs turned me off taking a further look at their studio albums, but I seem to doing more and more of that these last few years. I’ve always liked this album – it rocks big time – but I’ve developed a new-found respect for Tommy, A Quick One and Live At Leeds recently. Who’s Next seems to catch the band at their peak, with their most consistent album – probably because the album is neighboured on both sides by their weightier ‘rock operas’.
Who’s Next has been plundered by the producers of the CSI television series, with two of its tracks (Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley) appearing as the theme music to and CSI: Miami and CSI: New York respectively. I’m still waiting for Boris The Spider to be used as the theme to CSI: Scranton.