It took 24 years, but Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both got their way. Daltrey got what he’s desperately wanted for so long — the first album of new Who songs since 1982’s “It’s Hard.” And Townshend got to craft the music to his satisfaction, in his own studio, without deadlines, expectations or even a record deal.
“Roger and I have a really tricky relationship, but it’s very, very clear,” Townshend says. “So, it was clear what I had to do was finish the work and then play it to him. And if he felt it was OK to sing it and put it out as a Who record, that was the way I would like to put it out. If I didn’t do that, I probably wouldn’t have put it out at all.”
“Endless Wire,” due this week via Universal Republic, features a number of tracks based on Townshend’s online novella “The Boy Who Heard Music.” It also includes a 10-song mini-opera, “Wire and Glass,” centered around the rise and fall of fictional band the Glass Household. “The mini-opera reading of this story has just about captured all the nuances and ideas I’ve been carrying for a long time that I’ve ever wanted to put out,” Townshend enthuses.
Musically, there’s everything from synth loops a la “Baba O’Riley” (“Fragments”), classic Daltrey/Townshend vocal interplay (“Black Widow Eyes”), muscular guitar rock (“Sound Round,” “Mirror Door”) an oddball Tom Waits homage (Townshend’s growled “In the Ether”) and two startling acoustic tracks featuring just Daltrey and Townshend (“Man in a Purple Dress,” “Tea & Theatre”).
Townshend says those stripped-down songs are actually Who firsts. “Back in the days of ‘Who by Numbers,’ I did a song on ukulele, ‘Blue Red and Gray.’ But even then, we didn’t feel comfortable leaving it unadulterated, so [late bassist] John [Entwistle] added some beautiful brass-band brass to it,” he says. “This is clean. If Roger sings and I play acoustic guitar, what we actually have is a band, a brand and acoustic music [laughs]. It focuses the attention where it should really be, which is on the song.”