All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (Pete Townshend) – Album Review (Part 2)

by Emilio Pérez Miguel on February 9, 2010

This is the second part of the review. Learn about the context the album is circumscribed in and the first four tracks here.

“Exquisitely Bored” is the fifth song on the album. It is one of the two direct analyses on fame and stardom, the other being (obviously enough) “Stardom In Acton”. “Exquisitely Bored” is Pete’s lyrical take on a theme assayed by The Eagles not long before: life in the “Hotel California”. The message is basically the same, although in “Hotel California” it is implied that no-one can get out, whereas Pete’s song seems to be saying that the ennui is a true choice, that it is comforting, and that “there are good times walking in Laguna…” before finishing the excellent chorus with the line “but it rains in my heart”. One is tempted to ask the question first posed by Creedence Clearwater Revival there and then, namely “Who will stop the rain?”.

The fact is that things don’t look too sunny either when we talk about the London scene. As described by the song “Stardom In Acton”, local success seems every bit as vitiated, and also more transfiguring in the long run. The one song that describes all the vices you can imagine is this one, not “Exquisitely Bored” – “want my stash, want my cash, want omnipotence”, “the long cigarette full of hash”, “don’t admire anonymity”… It seems that making it in your hometown is the most dizzying event that could ever occur. It probably has to do with the fact you can then look down your nose at those who put down your aspirations all your life, and snort “I made it!” in their very faces.

Communication is certainly another big issue for those who succeed in show biz, as they only talk in demands from a certain point onwards. They also lose the human touch by communicating with people at the farthest distance that they can. Now that has become the norm, of course – the Internet makes it easy and (to a certain point) even acceptable. But back then, stars that isolated themselves until they became utter recluses in places like California (such as Steve McQueen) were common fare. The song “Communication” tackles such topics, and the conclusion is that people is unable to express anything, but relationship somehow proceed without hesitation, in spite (or maybe because) of this.

A song that is a true lyrical tour de force is “Uniforms”. The music is also ear-catching, with a bumpy organ stealing the show. The song (in which each word is rhymed from line to line) spells Pete’s vantage point on identity so clearly that I can but imagine him slumping to the ground after writing it and exclaiming “There! At last! I’ve said it all!”. He sings “In uniform I feel like a king”, but the ending is ineluctable “God knows, I need new clothes”.

The final tracks include “North Country Girl” (yes, the traditional tune that Dylan immortalized, only that there are some lyrical changes that set a sort of apocalyptical atmosphere in Pete’s version), and the most autobiographical composition Pete ever penned: “Somebody Saved Me”. The song details his years as an art student, and a relationship that marked him for life. Had he not been luckier, he might have killed himself altogether. In the end, he seems to conclude that the only kind of guardian angel he has ever known is his music. Note that there is a also a phenomenal version of this song by The Who which has been issued on the remastered “Face Dances” CD.

The final song is the highly-successful “Slit Skirts”, and now I am pronouncing it the millimetrical flipside to “My Generation”. While the Who’s early classic was derisive about growing old, in “Slit Skirts” Pete can do nothing but lament that life as turned “awful c-c-cold”. That is because “no one respects the flame quite like the fool that has been burned”. The song has a build-up worthy of a textbook or two, and when Pete sings “Can’t pretend that growing older doesn’t hurt” it is equally soothing as it is devastating. It is soothing because it makes evident that Pete is one of us, and always will be. He is not superhuman. But it is devastating for the pain in his voice, and the fretful solo that he plays at the end just nails the thought hard enough to ever be removed from your mind.

This album culminates the first stage of Pete’s solo career. He was to release his first Scoop shortly, and that disc has always stood to me as the key unlocking his Who-free solo days. No more would he listen to Roger complaining “That is a great album the Who has missed” when he issued a solo disc. Pete was to become liberated from something that had grown onerous, something that had made Pete hurt himself and all he loved. “In uniform I’m up on a throne”, he sang here. What he didn’t say was that such a throne destroyed his back, and the ability to carry anything on it. A break was the sane thing to do. Life went on for everybody, but the legacy of the Who was just too voluminous to be shaken for too long.

Rating: 9.5/10

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