Picks and Pans Review: All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes

updated 08/30/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/30/1982 01:00AM

Pete Townshend

Many of Townshend's heroes in his songs are men of some vision who suffer some defect of the flesh. Tommy was a deaf, dumb and blind boy who played pinball. The angry young man in the anthemic My Generation stuttered, "Why don't you just f-f-fade away!" I'm a Boy featured a hapless lad whose mum insisted on dressing him up like a girl. The central character of this, Townshend's third solo album, is a traditional Occidental hero who views the world with jaded Oriental eyes. The cowboy is clearly seduced by stardom. He slips in and out of relationships (North Country Girl), toys with self-destruction (Somebody Saved Me), wastes time in Los Angeles (Exquisitely Bored), bows to fashion (Uniforms), fights maturity (Slit Skirts). Yet he scratches and claws to make contact with others ("Never never hesitate/Communicate") and pleads earnestly for the big things: PEACE, UNDERSTANDING, LOVE. So what's new? Townshend believes that being a rock star is the modern equivalent of being a cowboy hero, yet has never been comfortable' with the implications. Now, after two decades of stardom, he not only accepts but craves and feels guilty about it. As he should. His work here is full of mawkish imagery: "A spark that burned, then died, leaving cinders to be fanned/By the wind and thrown to flame/Flames like tongues impassioned in a moment's burst." Musically, the tunes are rocky. While Slit Skirts and Uniforms are as pungent as anything he's ever written, Stop Hurting People and Communication are irritatingly unfocused. Still, the ambitious collection bristles with intellectual energy. Instrumentally, Pete is still up to his Eminent Guitarist rank, and as a vocalist he's better at interpreting his own material than Who-mate Roger Daltrey. As his voice quivers and shouts, however, you can almost see this rich middle-aged geezer done up in English mod clothes out on Brighton beach, practicing his quick draw.

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