Pete Townsend - Psychoderelict
Pete Townsend - Psychoderelict - The Who
Recently the local used record store started unloading a vast collection of unopened cassette tapes to the public charging the mere pittance of a quarter apiece. As such I’ve taken it upon myself to shake a few twelve year olds down for their lunch money and pick up some tempting obscurities. (I could afford the tapes myself but it’s the principal of the thing.) However, aside from a G.E Smith album I’ve been meaning to get for years and several gorgeous metal albums, there’ve been very few gems in my analogue treats.
One has stood out however, and that’s Pete Townsend’s Psychoderelict,
a post WHO album from the early nineties. Few artists have ever
really mastered the Rock Opera like Townsend, and it’s starting
to seem that it’s the only format he can write in. But while his
earlier Who operas (Tommy, Quadrophrenia) were music
accompanied by bits of text, this thing is more like one long spoken
word with occasional snippets of music. The plot is in some ways
fascinating though at times self serving. The lead character is
a washed up, aging, alcoholic musician (sort of the way the lead
character to Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf was a washed up, aging,
drug addicted writer.) who is being pushed on by his cokehead manager
to try for a comeback. Along the way, he starts communicating with
a fifteen year old American chick who wants to be a rock star and
also has an extra set of nipples. ("Only four nipples?" the lead
character’s manager queries. "Poor underprivileged kid.") There’s
also a ruthless rock journalist who shows far more intellect than
one would expect of her vocation and a whole ‘nother side plot about
some virtual reality program that after at least ten listens still
make no sense to me. All and all, pretty standard Townsend fare
of the "one man against the establishment" variety. When you look
at the entire catalogue of Townsend and for that matter, Roger Waters,
you’re forced to wonder if that’s the only plot device familiar
to the redcoats.
Cliché or not, Psychoderelict is a satisfying story. And it’s backed with some satisfying music. The first song "English Boy" really does have one of the coolest B sections ever written, a disjointed atonal riff that lies somewhere in between John Zorn and Zappa with a Beatles melody on top. The rest of the tunes easily hold their own in the presence of Townsend’s Who efforts ("Who Are You", "Behind Blue Eyes") and are even strengthened by the lack of Roger Daltrey‘s whimpering. Townsend, whom I assume is singing, has a slightly more guttural vox that can still nicely carry a tune.
Interestingly, at the end of the Psychoderelict, Townsend’s character seems to come to the conclusion that the hippies were all right with their peace and love nonsense. Normally that would be all it would take to pull a cassette from my stereo and smash into several pieces, but this is the guy who once sideswiped Abbie Hoffman in the head with his axe, so I figure he’s owed a few indiscretions.