It’s Hard (The Who) – Album Review (Part 2)

Read the introduction to this review here.

The songs on The Who’s final record with Kenny Jones have a distinctive characteristic: many were written “to order” by Pete. That is, Roger and John requested that certain issues were touched upon and that is why we have a song about the health system (“Cook’s County”) and one about war (“I’ve Known No War”). These work in tandem with John’s “Dangerous”, about urban violence and security.

“Cook’s County” has the sad merit of being hailed by fans as one of the worst songs ever recorded by the band. The other is “Armenia, City In The Sky”, though to be fair that one was penned by Pete’s chauffeur at the time, Speedy Keene. ”I’ve Known No War” is better as it has a longer running time in which motifs are established and both the instruments and the vocals peak, culminating in an orchestrated fade.

The title track was actually reworked from an opera of Pete about each person being a soul under siege, and it has some mixed wordplay. But it is mostly compelling when taken as a whole.

The leadoff single was “Athena” and the song was offed by the public. I do recall reading somewhere it was originally called “Theresa”.  I find the song a bit clumsy, although the middle section (sung by Pete) partially saves it from the archives of oblivion.

I think Pete’s best songs here are “A Man Is Man” and “Why Did I Fall For That”. They deal with human values (and lack of) in a way that is preachy but also very heartfelt. These two songs bring a true sense of closure, and I am glad they were featured on the album that was their last one for almost two decades.

The one “hit” was “Eminence Front”, which is nothing but a Pete solo tune backed by Kenny and John, with Roger negligibly along for the ride. The song also takes up the mantle of Pete’s compositions about identity, only that this time there is a societal approach at play.

A love-it-or-hate composition is “One Life’s Enough”. Those who hate it exclaim “Huh? Where’s the rest of the song?” as it runs its short 2-minute course. Those who love (I do) find it a tender ode to maturity and days gone by.

Besides “Dangerous”, John has the brassy “One At A Time” and a song about the music scene back then named “It’s Your Turn”. The former is actually quite enjoyable, as he sings it as raucously as possible. The latter reminds me of his contemporary solo album “Too Late The Hero” – not bad, not good, but quite a bit of a grower.

The album was produced by old associate Glyn Johns, and (like “Face Dances”) it received some mixed reviews. In hindsight, Roger has expressed his attachment to “Face Dances” while naming “It’s Hard” as “a complete piece of shit”. To me, the album always reflected how uneasy and strained music had become to the band. They were merely pumping product, and that drove Pete off the wall. I am glad he capitulated. It was the right thing to do. And “A Man Is A Man” along with “Why Did I Fall For That” are the two songs that (to me) make the disc worth a try. If you are a hardened fan, of course. If you are not, I am afraid you are not missing on a lot. “It’s Hard” is rarely represented in compilations.

The remastered CD, by the way, adds four live tracks and a shameful booklet. The live tracks do nothing but underline how poorly assembled the farewell disc (“Who’s Last”) was. That was the band hitting the bottom. “It’s Hard” was them tripping, keeping the balance for a minute or two and then falling down.

Rating: 5/10

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