Who Came First (Pete Townshend) – Album Review (Part 2)

Read the first part of this review here.

I haven’t talked a lot about the tracks that were contributed by fellow musicians yet. “Evolution” is Ronnie Lane’s all-acoustic take on a Small Faces track named “The Stone”, with him playing rhythm and Pete leading the way. For its part, “Forever’s Not Time At All” comprises mostly Billy Nicholls’ vocals and Caleb Quaye’s instrumentation – he handles bass, drums and guitars. “Forever’s Not Time At All”, incidentally, was a phrase inspired by Meher Baba. And the same applies to the coda of “Let’s See Action”, as “The Nothing & The Everything” was one of Baba’s teachings.

As far as Pete’s original compositions go, we have “Time Is Passing”, yet another song from the aborted Lifehouse project and one that did not surface as a Who recording until the remastered “Odds & Sods” saw release in 1999. A note on the Who’s version on that disc: what you listen to is only half the song. The other half (including a French horn and the full bass part) are missing, although the exactly opposite version of the song does exist, featuring the missing instruments and lacking the other ones. Some bootlegger even managed to combine the two mixes and come up with the “definitive” version of “Time Is Passing” by the Shepherd Bush’s combo.

The other original track is “Sheraton Gibson” a small ditty about hitting the road. Whether Pete alludes to touring or striking down the pathway of spiritual enlightenment is up to each listener…

Finally, we have Pete’s own adaptation of Baba’s Prayer. That is often referred to as “The Master’s Prayer” or “The Universal Prayer”. I am not a religious person but I do understand and respect the value it has for believers. At a certain point in the song, though, a synthesizer starts wobbling along and it is incredibly distracting. Just imagine what would happen to “See Me, Feel Me” or any major Tommy track if an annoying synth came in halfway and you will get the idea quite well. Actually, you don’t need to do that. You don’t need to imagine anything since the Tommy soundtrack (1975) was drowned in a heavy synthesized tide.

It is Parvardigar the one track that gives the album on the whole a marked religious touch. If you were to take it off the record, the album would resemble more a mere work inspired by faith. These are different things. “Tommy” was not a religious album in any sense, and the cult the nominal character formed at the end was that – a cult. A cult and a religion are entirely divergent entities. But “Tommy” was inspired by faith – “faith in something bigger”, if we were to quote Pete himself. The same goes as far as “Who Came First” is concerned. It is a work of love, made by different people who sing about what brings harmony to them without proselytizing.

The presence of “Parvardigar” certainly tips the scales a little. But I frankly don’t think it will get in the way. And just for the record, I never skip the track when listening to the CD. I think that if you are listening to songs inspired by something, giving that something a direct try is the natural thing to do. And I also think this album would be treasured the most by the people who adore Tommy. That is 90 % of the ones who listen to The Who (as you know, I am with the remaining 10 %). Since the message of “Who Came First” is fortified by people who have been Baba Lovers for longer than Townshend was, you do have a more focused sight of the equilibrium he probably wanted to transmit the first time around.


Original album: 6/10
Remastered CD (w/bonus tracks): 7/10