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fromheadtoheart flag England - Full Moon 193 - 06/04/12

From head to heart
Pete Townshend's All The Best Cowboys...

Following our retroscope series of latter years, here we go again! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth the Lunar spotlight revisits a record from 30 years back, by one of the veteran rockers out of the wild and vibrant 60s and 70s. This is the third solo album from one of the wild boys of rock. He's a true English cowboy, with 'rodeo style' stage performace and guitar playing. And, yes he 'fronted', as main songwriter and guitarist, one of the greatest live bands ever.

coverpic

Pete Townshend
All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes
ATCO Records

Finally a celebration of one of them old-fashioned LPs less than 40 years old. On 14 June this album turns 30. But, of course, it's by one of them oldies. One of the best oldies. Pete Townshend at this point finally had quit his alcohol and drug habits. One of Norway's profiled music journalists has claimed that when Eric Clapton got rid of his heroin problem, it was goodbye to his ability to write great songs, too. I haven't followed Eric's career that close and don't know much about that. But it's a different story with fellow traveller, in many ways, Pete Townshend. His two solo albums of the early 1980s Empty Glass and All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes rank among his best and fare far better than the two Who albums released after Keith Moon's death, Face Dances (1981) and It's Hard (1982). If you ask me, the contents of the two solo albums are greater than most of the songs of the last two Who albums with Keith alive, Who By Numbers (1975) and Who Are You (1978), too. And that even includes Homer Simpson's all time Who favourite track "Squeeze Box"...

What first strike me with All The Best Cowboys ... are the lyrics. Pete has a lot to say, in a poetic way. Most of them are much longer than your average rock song lyric. Also, the majority of them are more personal, ambitious and somewhat introvert than most of the ones of the mentioned Who albums. Pete confronts himself with his decadent and self destructive past, destructive to people around him, too. All The Best Cowboys ... seem to mark a new beginning:

I remember being richer than a king
The minutes of the day were golden
I recall that when the joint passed round
My body felt a little colder
But now I'm like a sewer channel - running lime and scag
Let me get at the master panel - let me at my stack

The sea refuses no river
And right now this river's banks are blown
The sea refuses no river
Whether stinking and rank
Or red from the tank
Whether pure as a spring
There's no damned thing stops the poem
The sea refuses no river
And this river is homeward flowing

I have seen a trace of strain
In other's eyes not spoken
I must admit that I enjoyed their pain
But this time it's me that's broken
I demand for you and His
This must be the time
When we decide what freedom is
Turn water into wine

For the sea refuses no river
We're polluted now but in our hearts still clean
The sea refuses no river
We tried not to age
But time had it's rage
We're washed over stones
From babes into clones of the mean
The sea refuses no river
Won't deny this sulfurous stream

There was a fool in a dressing robe
Riding out the twilight hour
Lonely and cold in an empty home
Trying to assess his power
And now he's like a stream in flood
Swollen by the storm
He doesn't care if he sheds his blood
Let him be reborn

The sea refuses no river
Remember that when the beggar buys a round
The sea refuses no river
And rain fills the gutters
No time for stutters
This is our chance
To sing and to dance and to clown
The sea refuses no river
And rivers were sprung to drown

The sea refuses no river
No pecking code respected for the damned
The sea refuses no river
Whether starving or ill
Or strung on some pill
Just 'cos you own the land
There's no unique hand plugs the dam
The sea refuses no river
And the river is where I am

The river is where I am

Pete sings with conviction no matter if it is personal matters he is dealing with (the above "The Sea Refuses No River", "Somebody Saved Me" and "Slit Skirts" in particular), the decadent star life of LA ("Exquisitely Bored" and "Stardom in Acton"), a long lost Scottish love ("North Country Girl") or a merry return to Jimmy and other mods that he dealt with on his and The Who's magnum opus Quadrophenia nine years earlier ["Uniforms (Corp d'Esprit)"].

The music is generally more lightweight and pop-oriented than we're used to, even when the lyrics are dark. The light and slick reggae-interlude of "Exquisitely Bored" fits nicely with the sunny and laid-back feel of the song. A harmonica break here and there on "The Sea Refuses No River" sounds remarkably similar to something from another song about The River, by Bruce Springsteen, released a year or two earlier. The folk-pop of "North Country Girl", too, is something of a novelty from the Townshend camp. Otherwise the songs have familiar Pete Townshend marks all over them and some of them might have been developed into fully fledged Who songs if he'd wanted to. Otherwise, apart from his well known acoustic and electric guitars, he continues his experiments with synthesizers and other keyboards that he started on Who's Next and Quadrophenia to great effect, including the newest and hippest keyboard at the time, the Fairlight - the very first digital sampler. On a couple of songs it is the only element of the album that sounds outdated today.

To my ears, the spoken start of the opening song "Stop Hurting People" and the experimental "Communication" with staccato and flustered vocals, almost an early attempt of rap, represent the only dire moments of the album. Highlights include most of the songs mentioned above, not least the troubled "Slit Skirts" ('Can't pretend that growing older never hurts'), the very playful and uplifting "Face Dances Part 2" (what happened to the first part not included on the album of almost the same name?) (the same goes for "Uniforms") and not least the short and bittersweet piano ditty "Prelude" that unfolds with a complete keyboard orchestration after a while:

Sometimes walking thru the streets of this city
I see all the faces of the winners and the losers

Oh why, can't I see a change just one sign
Before I say goodbye
Before I say goodbye

Well then, Pete's earlier solo albums, his duo project Rough Mix with Ronnie Lane and most of The Who albums have been released in Deluxe Editions by now. About time All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes receives the same treatment!

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