[The Who's Next is] an old-fashioned long-player containing intelligently-conceived, superbly-performed, brilliantly-produced, and sometimes even exciting rock and roll….
[After Tommy, the Who subtly toned down their stage act.] Townshend, whose semi-psychotic need to brutalize his audience used to drive him to smash shit out of his guitar at the end of every performance, has abandoned that mutually liberating strategy in favor of safer and saner climaxes during which he improvises on the ax long enough to render even a speeder comatose….
[Such] changes, it seems to me, derive from the group's perception of a need to demonstrate themselves Serious Artists instead of gimmick-mongering punks—to make themselves a little more accessible and a little less offensive.
That same compulsion to self-validate that's left their stage-show a four-stone apology for what it once was has also led the Who to tidy up their records to the point where they're dangerously close to sterile. It's a monumental testament to their greatness, therefore, that a lot of [The Who's Next], their first studio album since self-consciousness set in heavily in the wake of so many people decreeing Tommy a work of genius, transcends its calculatedness to emerge mostly exciting as well as awesomely admirable.
John Ned Mendelsohn, "Records: 'The Who's Next'," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1971; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 90, September 2, 1971, p. 42.