Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 859
Finally, the Beak has exposed himself. With the alter ego Moon-clown dead and the Who alive and running at a healthy commercial clip, Townshend has at last constructed an album [Empty Glass] in tune with the lights which only he sees. Here he comes, then, with Wagner and the Sex Pistols and his synthesizer in his pocket and a lot on his mind.
Poor Pete. He doesn't have the sly loneliness of a Ray Davies or the leather eye of a Jagger or McCartney's mental flab; still spare and sparky and hardly even dazed by his early middle age, he just has his great intelligence, his rampaging doubts, his extreme intensity and his Remy Martin Cognac. This last item, his lubricant these past few years, stimulates the doubly schizophrenic mental state of quadrophenia while it also forces the poetic powers; a very spiritual chap, Pete frets and worries alone in his room, sees ideas and emotions from many points of view, and is forced in all alcoholic honesty to make statements which are as full as they are contradictory. Hence Empty Glass, certainly the least fantastical and perhaps the most poignant album of his career. Devoid of fun-pop whimsy or allegorical bombast or anthems for his or anyone else's generation, it is … strictly personal. Poor Pete: alcoholic, quadrophenic, and honest.
"Rough Boys" is the first cut, and it opens things up in more ways than one. Dedicated to the Sex Pistols who so shamed and attracted and aged and rejuvenated him, and to the children of his flesh about whom he doubtless feels similarly ambivalent, it's a slash-rock ease-back float-and-strike killer. The music, Pistolized but also classic, with as much release as tension, both states his debt to the punks and demonstrates how their energy might be put to a less monochromatic purpose. This is important to Pete; the Pistols and their colleagues did after all shock him out of his long post-Who's Next confusion, so he owes them one, but he's also got his pride and he's not above showing off to the kids. The result is DaddyPunk, a new genre from the man who gave us rock & roll's quintessential boys' band. Revealed in prototype on Who Are You and here developed and personalized, it is fatherly but vicious.
DaddyPunk knows his job and he has a good heart, but he's a mess. In "Rough Boys" he's railing and pleading and boasting and confessing all at once….
The song is very complex. Pete shifts perspective from line to line, talking about both his children and the Pistols boys ("rough toys / under the sheets" is the first connective phrase) and subtly voicing what's important to them as he simultaneously states his own conflicted attitudes. It's quite a feat, very quadrophenic: the man's emotions are really reeling—he's talking desire for buggery and incest accompanied by all kinds of spite and hope here, he's not holding anything back—and you marvel at the discipline he brings to the process of writing and recording it all. DaddyPunk is serious.
DaddyPunk occupies a lot of Empty Glass ("Cats? It's cool for rats!" he thunders in response to both British social conditions and the new mods' nonattitude thereto. "I'm so sick of dud TV. Next time you switch on you might see me … Oh! What a thrill for you!" he snarls about self-hatred, media ennui, and fandom), but he's not the whole picture. In the quadrophenic arrangement, space is also allotted to the confessional fellow, Mr. Love, and the rock & roll worker.
The confessional fellow, like all these characters, is intense…. Set into a Traffic-like waft of delicately spiraling keyboard and synthesizer, ["And I Moved"] is short and strange and ghostly. Something about Moon and Meher Baba and the trance of death comes through it, but mainly it's both sensual and female. You don't know it it's a dream or an incident; you suspect strongly that it may really have happened and that even if it didn't, it should have. You wonder who fucked Pete, or who he would have liked to.
Mr. Love is a good sort, thoroughly Baba. He wants his love to open the door on "Let My Love Open the Door" (which bounces sunnily). He tries to make rock critics understand on "Jools and Jim," humoring them and giving them a puzzle to work on as he puts them down nice and hard (they appreciate it). On "A Little Is Enough" he confesses to being a love junkie too hooked to get either on or off the mainline; it's just too much for him, he's overwhelmed. Poor Mr. Love.
The rock & roll worker wins out in the end, of course; in Townshend's universe he always did and ever shall, despite all complications….
It's nice of him to leave us this way, encouraged and rocked, but it doesn't really invalidate all that overstuffed angst and scary stuff. Empty Glass remains quadrophenic; the Remy bills must have been staggering.
Patrick Carr, "Daddy Who? DaddyPunk!" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © News Group Publications, Inc., 1980), in The Village Voice, Vol. XXV, No. 21, May 26, 1980, p. 67.
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