Rough Mix (Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane) – Album Review (Part 2)

(Read the introduction to this album here.)

Doing a quick recap, Ronnie Lane handled the folksy bits on this record whereas the Birdman doled out the rock numbers. It is Pete the one to start it all with the delirious sketch “My Baby Gives It Away”. He knows he is singing utter piffle, and he sings it so brazenly and the accompaniment is so joyous and upbeat that it is not as Dave Marsh says: Pete is not sounding as if he were having fun. He is having the time of his life in a studio in a long, long time. The song goes from silliness to silliness set to the steady beat of Charlie Watts and acoustic guitars that are strummed as if they were the cue for the listener to smile.

Ronnie takes the lead and supplies “Nowhere To Run” and “Annie”, with the instrumental title track sandwiched in between. I do like “Nowhere To Run” – its melody is good, but the lyrics are a bit hazy and it is tricky relating to them. “Annie”, on the other hand, is one of these songs about lost love that are impinged with so much sensibility that the melody (and words) paint concrete images into just anybody, young or old.

Back to Pete again. Now, I am going to declare “Keep Me Turning” as the greatest forgotten gem in his catalog. Period. It is a spiritual song. It is a love song. It is a song about redemption. It is the one song where he sincerely laughs at his own seriousness and pomp. And the way he sings “Won’t you leave me till the very last” cannot be described. The only delivery I have listened to elsewhere which is close in tender power is Roy Orbison’s bit on the Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care”.

Once this truly high point is reached, Ronnie offers the honky tonk of “Catmelody” (with Charlie Watts behind the kit again), and then Pete counterbalances it with the goofy/intriguing/lovable “Misunderstood”. Pete says he wrote it with a Johnny Rotten-like character in mind, but if someone fits the description 100 % that’s him. The song is also my favorite example of his “sly” style of singing.

The final cuts are “April’s Fool” (a countrified song that seems unfinished but that has a nice slide solo at the end), the previously-described “Street In The City” and “Heart To Hang Onto”, and the cover of “Till The Rivers All Run Dry” in which Billy Nicholls and John Entwistle are on backing vocals along with everybody else.

If you know me, you know I am very reticent to rank albums higher than 8. This one, though, is so consistent and charming that it just has a hold on me. It also had a hold on anybody who listened to it back then. While “Who Came First” had Pete timidly breaking out of The Who’s shadow and proving a solo career was viable, “Rough Mix” showed us all that a solo career was not only to be viable but also enjoyable and fulfilling. This album spelled the last letter of the writing on the wall. Pete had held for as long as he could. It was time to move on.

Rating: 9/10

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