Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No. 113: The Who Sell Out


Band: The Who
Album: The Who Sell Out
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The Who's absurdly cynical look at consumer culture is peppered with a few great songs. "I Can See For Miles" has the "8 Miles High" vibe that the Who mostly shunned during the band's early years while "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand" is a thinly veiled ode to masturbation. The seeds of "Tommy" are here, as Townsend and Enwistle's character sketches like "Silas Stingy" and "Odorno" are also part of the record, as well as sticking the concept together with the interstitial commercial songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I find it a little stupid that four (!) Who albums are on this list before their first record. I mean, "The Who Sell Out" is a lot of fun and a pretty good record, but, come on.
Worst song: Both "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand" and "I Can See For Miles."
Is it awesome?: It's close, but it's not awesome. Conceptually, yes. Actually listening to it? Not so much.

It's really stupid that there are four Who albums on this list before they get around to "The Who Sings My Generation." It's my favorite of the Who records.

Nevertheless, the third Who album is a fun little study in thematic constructed. The album is put together as it was a radio broadcast, complete with commercials, station IDs and, of course, songs. The cover is a series of satirical advertisements for products.

(Not surprisingly, the record faced a litany of lawsuits, as the band used brand names and radio IDs without permission.)

What of the record? Of course, the fact that "Rael 1" appears here is another step (after "A Quick One, While He's Away" on the previous record) towards rock opera and narrative songwriting. The thematic approach to the album (the theme being commercialism is bad) is also a step towards "Tommy."

The band's best two psychedelic works dot "The Who Sell Out" in the album opener, "Armenia City in the Sky" (written by John Keen, a friend of the band) and, of course, the top ten hit "I Can See For Miles." Each has a totally different sound from the British Invasion/Mod rock the Who had nearly perfected on their first two records.

"Tattoo" is a cool song later made famous by the version on "Live At Leeds" and "Silas Stingy" is a fun little character study (which Townsend would later perfect on "The Acid Queen"). The ode to self-love that is "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand" builds off the earlier single "Pictures of Lilly" in fine fashion. Complete with a soft organ and light percussion, it's one of the band's most fully-formed records (all puns intended).

It's not "Tommy" and it's not "My Generation," but, it's good. It's a fun concept, but not an easy listen.

1 comment:

fft said...

This album defines the Rolling Stone bias. RS editors loved this band, and this one was in one of their earliest issues (issue #5). The review opens with the sentence "This album is fantastic".

A good album, sure, but way overplayed. Including this one in the Top 500 opens the door for including mid-80's Genesis albums on the list. :)