No, I Wanna Be Pete Townshend!
There’s a scene in the 1986 rock ‘n’ roll mockumentary, More Bad News, where the band members, experiencing their first hotel room, pretend to be The Who, hilariously fighting over who got to be Pete Townshend. The new all-star tribute, Who Are You, proves that is indeed a dream of many, many rockers. With very few exceptions, the sixteen tracks covering their best and most popular tracks are faithful renditions of the originals, as if these artists (legends, many of them) just really wanted to be The Who.
The cast of participants is drawn from all over the music map, but there is a heavy bend towards progressive rock and classic metal/punk. Most of the songs are unexpected collaborations, which could explain why they played it safe with their interpretations. Who Are You begins with John Wetton (Asia) and Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater) providing vocals and keys respectively on “Eminence Front,” but tastefully shredding behind them all the while is Judas Priest’s K.K. Downing. Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere and the Raiders) and MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer show how The Who’s classic works influenced them on “I Can See For Miles.” Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot displays why he is one of rock’s greatest frontmen on “Love Reign O’er Me,” and it doesn’t hurt that he’s backed by Rick Wakeman (Yes), Huw Lloyd-Langton (Hawkwind), and Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge, everyone else ever).
The proficiency displayed in these performances is a testament to the difficulty level of the originals. These musicians are among the best in the world, yet here they are making sure to mimic every nuance as originally put to tape. That includes the precise depth and rate of the flanger on the keyboards in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (oozing fun, compliments of Sweet) and the guitar sound on “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” (reproduced here with eerie accuracy by Todd Rungren).
There are few surprises. One head-scratcher is that Iggy Pop’s version of “I Can’t Explain” does not have a punk rock edge. If anything, it’s more subdued than the original. On the other hand, country diva Gretchen Wilson trades her twang for raunchy rasp in “Who Are You,” supported by Randy Bachman. The only truly original interpretation was the Raveonettes beautiful and haunting take on “The Kids Are Alright.” But the majority of this album sounds like a bunch of Who fans recreating, with great respect to detail, all their favorite songs.