Peter Townshend Dave Schulps - Essay

Dave Schulps

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

On Who by Numbers, perhaps the most intensely personal recording ever made by a major group, Townshend's bitterness toward his role in the rock world was unsettling, to say the least. Lines like "Goodbye all you punks, stay young and stay high, hand me my checkbook and I'll crawl off to die" haunted the listener. Despite most songwriters' complaint that they're being over-analyzed, lines like those could only lead listeners to anticipate the next offering like a housewife eagerly awaiting the next installment of All My Children….

Townshend-watchers will be delighted that Rough Mix shows him in a slightly more healthy frame of mind than Who by Numbers. Maybe his self-imposed exile from the scene has done him good; while the songs here aren't bubbling with bright-eyed optimism, neither do they sound suicidal. The rampant pessimism seems to have made way for a jokingly ironic cynicism. If there's still an air of desperation about his lyrics, at least nothing here leaves you as gloom-ridden as "Imagine a Man."

"My Baby Gives It Away" is a lyrical companion-piece to "Squeeze Box," dealing once again with conjugal life. Unlike the ambiguous "Squeeze Box," however, "My Baby" is so incredibly sexist-sounding ("You might go pick up a girl on the street, but my baby gives it up totally free") that he's got to be taking a very personal poke either at his own attitudes or those of his wife….

"Misunderstood" and "Street in the City" break new ground for Townshend. "Misunderstood" is a tongue-in-cheek reggae-influenced ditty…. The words are great; his last line, "I'm such an ordinary star," is a straightforward expression of a lot of what Who by Numbers was about.

"Street in the City," however, is the album's tour de force…. A city street is observed by an emotionally involved, yet physically detached observer ("There's a man up on that ledge cleaning windows / What a shame, who's to blame for the pain we're missing? / Gonna lean back on the wall and wait for him to fall"), in a stunning, potent musical setting. (p. 76)

Dave Schulps, in Crawdaddy (copyright © 1977 by Crawdaddy Publishing Co., Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), October, 1977.