THE WHO -- Face Dances / It's Hard (MCA)

When Keith Moon died in 1978, many Who fans felt the band died with him. The Who recorded their final two studio albums with ex-Face Kenney Jones on drums--Face Dances and It's Hard--but they weren't the same. The reissues of these two albums recently made their debut in record stores. Musically, both have their moments, but they can't hold a candle to the 'old' Who. Over the last two years, MCA has been upgrading the entire Who catalog, and aside from Quadrophenia (which featured a 'different' mix, and no additional liner notes), they've done a superb job. Unfortunately, it didn't carry through to these two discs. I'll tell you about Face Dances first, and then get into It's Hard.

With the exception of "Another Tricky Day," the best tracks on Face Dances were both written by bassist John Entwistle--"The Quiet One" (a great live version of this song appears as a bonus track) and "You." By this point in the band's career, it seemed the band's principle songwriter, Pete Townshend, had more interest in his solo career than The Who. Overall, the sound quality on Face Dances is excellent. They buried bassist John Entwistle in the mix on most of the tracks, but the drums have been brought forward and sound considerably better. (Reviewer's note: If you want to hear how Entwistle is supposed to sound, check out his new solo disc, also reviewed in this month's Cosmik)

Let's talk about the bonus tracks. One of best is the live version of "How Can You Do It Alone." The studio version pales in comparison to this energetic performance. Recorded in Chicago on the '79 tour--over a year before the album's release--this is a perfect example of what happens when you do too much to a song. It's like a painter who overblends his colors. The result is a boring shade of gray. Another bonus track, "Somebody Saved Me" ended up on Townshend's 1982 solo album, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. This version is interesting, but it lacks the emotion of the solo version.

It's Hard featured 12 new songs from the band--this time, three of them written by Entwistle. Aside from "Eminence Front" and maybe one or two others, Pete's new songs were pretty lame. John's tunes were the highlights once again. Like the new Face Dances CD, they buried the bass on most of the tracks. "Dangerous," one of the best songs on the CD, appears here in a new mix. The keyboards are much more prominent now, and you can barely hear Entwistle at all. A live version of the song appears as a bonus track, but the keyboards are pushed up there too.

The problems with the mix can be partially overcome by turning the balance control on your receiver to favor the left channel. This works pretty well for the live tracks. The studio tracks are another story. The four bonus tracks here are mercilessly chopped from the band's 1982 shows in Toronto (previously available on the Who Rocks America videotape). Liner notes are a major problem with the new discs. All the previous reissues (except Quad) featured expanded liner notes. Granted, this isn't the band's best material, but we should at least get what was there in the first place. Instead, we're lucky to get songwriter credits. If you're a Who fan, you'll probably be disappointed with these two CDs. Hang on to your vinyl.....

1996 Steve Marshall