'Endless' wait over for new Who album


NEW YORK - It took 24 years, but Who principals Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both got their way.

Daltrey got what he's desperately wanted for so long -- the first album of new Who songs since 1982's "It's Hard." And, with "Endless Wire," due in U.S. stores Tuesday, Townshend got to craft the music to his satisfaction, in his own studio, without deadlines, expectations or even a record deal.

"Roger and I have a really tricky relationship, but it's very, very clear," says Townshend, the group's guitarist and songwriter. "So, it was clear what I had to do was finish the work and then play it to him. And if he felt it was OK to sing it and put it out as a Who record, that was the way I would like to put it out. If I didn't do that, I probably wouldn't have put it out at all."

"Endless Wire" (Universal Republic) features a number of tracks based on Townshend's online novella "The Boy Who Heard Music." It also includes a 10-song mini-opera, "Wire and Glass," centered around the rise and fall of fictional band the Glass Household.

The Who are playing anywhere from six to 10 songs from the album each night on its current tour, which is averaging nearly $1.2 million gross per show, according to Billboard Boxscore. The track "It's Not Enough" ("I pretty much coldly put it together for classic rock radio," Townshend jokes) is currently No. 11 on Billboard sister publication Radio & Records' Heritage Rock chart.

"The mini-opera reading of this story has just about captured all the nuances and ideas I've been carrying for a long time that I've ever wanted to put out," Townshend enthuses. Musically, there's everything from synth loops a la "Baba O'Riley" ("Fragments"), classic Daltrey/Townshend vocal interplay ("Black Widow Eyes"), muscular guitar rock ("Sound Round," "Mirror Door") an oddball Tom Waits homage (Townshend's growled "In the Ether") and two startling acoustic tracks featuring just Daltrey and Townshend ("Man in a Purple Dress," "Tea & Theater").

Townshend says those stripped-down songs are actually Who firsts. "Back in the days of 'Who by Numbers,' I did a song on ukulele, 'Blue Red and Gray.' But even then, we didn't feel comfortable leaving it unadulterated, so (late bassist) John (Entwistle) added some beautiful brass-band brass to it," he says. "This is clean. If Roger sings and I play acoustic guitar, what we actually have is a band, a brand and acoustic music. It focuses the attention where it should really be, which is on the song."

In a clear nod to the past, "Endless Wire" will come bundled with a bonus DVD, "Live at Lyon," the cover for which mimics the Who's iconic 1970 "Live at Leeds" album. The DVD includes six songs taped this summer in France.

"We decided not to make a video, because we want to encourage people to go out and enjoy the live experience," Universal Republic president Monte Lipman says. "Live, they've been ending with 'Tea & Theater,' with just Pete and Roger. It's incredible. There's so much energy in the show, but to end it like that is something certainly you don't expect."

Extending that theme, the label hid one "golden ticket" inside a random album, allowing a lucky winner to fly to a 2007 show on the band's private jet. And while advertising has understandably been focused on an older demographic, younger fans just discovering classic rock are also targeted.

"Pete has been doing a lot of interviews for (blogs), which would usually never have access to a band like the Who," says Kim Garner, Universal Republic senior VP of marketing/artist development

The Who will return to North America for another leg of touring beginning November 4 in Los Angeles. The international performance slate is already filling up for 2007, leading to the inevitable question of, well, Who's next? Townshend isn't sure, but now more than ever, he's at peace with the band's giant-sized legacy and his ever-evolving relationship with Daltrey.

"In old age, I've realized, this guy Roger Daltrey, he's not the easiest guy to get along with, but he's my guy," Townshend chuckles. "We don't sit and chew tobacco and drink beer, but f---, when we get on the stage, it really does feel like a brotherhood. It's all we've got left of those days."