I’m convinced the term “sophomore slump” is one of those made-up concepts by journalists that put way too much emphasis on the debut album that almost guaranteed a slump no matter what the actual results were – Violent Femmes and the Dream Syndicate have second albums that are equal to those of their (more famous, more celebrated) debuts. (And shit, there’s apparently some phenomenon called “the difficult third album”? Why stop there?) This one, however, is a slump, and in the context of their discography as a whole, one of the more rightly rated ones (whereas I have to go out of my way these days to defend Tommy or bring Quadrophenia down a level). To wit: this one turned 50 last week, and no one cared. Meanwhile, the Who’s debut My Generation got a 79-track, “50th Anniversary Super Deluxe” reissue this year, despite it being 51 years old. They’re not even trying anymore with these things! Fuck! (Another case: they gave Mobb Deep’s The Infamous a 20th Anniversary reissue a year before it was actually 20.)
Well, at least they told you from the get-go: the title even suggests a sort of stopgap before things got more ambitious a year later, and they guarantee the drop-off from My Generation by forcing everyone in the band to contribute at least two songs (the only exception is Roger Daltrey, who only handed in one song), even if they had no business taking songwriting duties away from Pete Townshend. (According to Wikipedia, this was a “marketing push,” but Lords knows why that was even considered as a tactic, nor why anyone would’ve bought it for that reason.) The results are as expected: Roger Daltrey’s “See My Way” is harmless filler (that has a nice rumble-tumble in the rhythm); there’s a useless cover of Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” (protip: when choosing a song to cover, maybe don’t set your sights on something that’s guaranteed to not approach the original). Elsewhere, both Keith Moon tracks are expendable exercises where he gets to go nuts on the kit: the tuneless “I Need You” and the instrumental “Cobwebs and Strange.” And even the good songs sound like other stuff: the opening gate-bursting chord of “Run Run Run” (catchy choruses!) always makes me think of “My Generation”; the opening riff of “So Sad About Us” is the Byrds’ “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.” (Not that they’re the only band that’s taken that riff.)
Again, expectedly, the two tracks that John Entwistle hands in has nice bass-lines, with one of them more prominent than the other (and with a much funner vocal). The best track here is the last one, unsurprisingly written by Pete Townsend and the first glimpse of his love for concept albums as an almost ten-minute, quint-partite medley. “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is simply ridiculous, zany, and in the best possible way. Noteworthy details: Entwistle’s bass in “Crying Town”; the almost Christmas-y fa-la-la of “We Have a Remedy” to contrast with the sludge-fuzz of “Ivor the Engine Driver”; the band singing “CELLO-CELLO-CELLO-CELLO” because manager Kit Lambert wasn’t given the funds to bring in an actual cello; the open-armed hug of “You Are Forgiven.” Truthfully, I was tempted to elevate this to a ‘B+’ based on the closer alone, and it is almost a third of the album, but after writing, I won’t ever hear half of this album again, so a ‘B’ is more appropriate. Their worst album between debut and Quadrophenia.