The Who may be painfully aware of their elder statesmanship, but they are aging gracefully and they ain't sold out yet. That's the concisest assessment possible of [The Who by Numbers], which is a tight piece of commercial and very 70's-technological rock craftsmanship; but beneath the sheen there's real agony….
We can break Townshend's new compositions down into three general categories (wimp, rave, world-weariness)…. [Townshend's] preoccupation with his own aging is by turns eloquent, self-indulgent, and plain syrupy. If all we had to go on was "Imagine a Man" and "Blue Red and Grey," we might easily write him off as soft in the head….
What he is beginning to forget is how it really felt to storm the barricades, or even fantasize it. "Slip Kid" is "Magic Bus" fueled by technology, with socially self-conscious lyrics: "I'm off to the civil war / Slip kid I'm a soldier at 13 / Realize there's no easy way to be free." Townshend is getting corny at this stuff….
[But] in "However Much I Booze," as Townshend instrumentally proves that he's still capable of the intricate bitterness we've always relied on him for, while handing Daltrey gems like "The children of the night they all pass me by / Try to drench myself in brandy and sleep all night / But no matter how much I booze / There ain't no way out."
Lester Bangs, "Pete Townshend's Last Detail," in Creem (© copyright 1975 by Creem Magazine, Inc.), Vol. 7, No. 7, December, 1975, p. 62.