When the band's writer goes solo

20:52, Jun 26 2013

I've been reading Pete Townshend's autobiography. Finally. It had been on my shelf since it was released - a switch to Kindle seemed to make it easier to dip into (for whatever reason). And after wading through the boring introduction I found myself frequently enthralled. I don't want to use the word "gripping" because that doesn't seem right when talking about Pete Townshend. But the book has plenty of strengths. He does a good job of evoking eras, of contextualising - even though he's leaving out loads of the story, and of course only telling his side (I guess that's all he can do).

So often when you read a music book - a bio - there's a return to the music. Well, I didn't really listen to anything by The Who when reading Townshend's book. But that's because I'm a fan, I know this music well - I still listen to a lot of the early singles by The Who (brilliant) and I still have a soft spot for Who's Next and Quadrophenia. But the book did have me interested in Townshend's solo records. I've collected up a few of them, most of them even. But I've not spent a lot of time listening to them. There's something about hearing the band's writer in a new context - I'm far more interested in that than the inevitable solo career by the frontman/lead-singer.

In other words, Roger Daltrey might have made a great solo album but I don't care.

That said, I'm not sure that Townshend's solo albums really do offer up anything new as such.

Actually, the album I listened to the most while finishing off Who I Am - for no other reason than it arrived as I was knee-deep in the book, and the album is so good I want to play it always - was The Primrose Path by Jonathan Bree.

Bree was - kinda - to The Brunettes as Townshend is/was to The Who; in that Bree was the clever-clogs, the writer, a (sometimes) reluctant leader (perhaps). But the decision-maker, ultimately; the creative force. Well, that's how I always heard it anyway. That's certainly not to suggest that the other members of The Brunettes weren't of value. I liked the band a lot, though I did tire of the twee.


And the other members of The Who were crucial to that band's sound too - each member a soloist, an individual, a huge personality; essentially that band was four virtuosos arguing over one another to be heard. But you're kidding yourself as much as Daltrey probably (still) does if you don't think it was Pete's band.

Anyway, Townshend's solo albums have some okay moments, but there's not a lot to separate out what he was doing with The Who. His solo records seem to exist to shift backlog as much as anything. Extra ideas; more than one of his albums is the musical equivalent of a DVD that existed purely for the deleted scenes.

So often that's the case when the writer of the band goes solo - unless they make the break completely.

Like Peter Gabriel.

The early solo albums by Paul McCartney and John Lennon (and George Harrison) felt, mostly, like the songs they would continue to offer up to The Beatles (if the band still existed). The Mick Jagger and Keith Richards solo albums may have many faults (and actually I'm fond of the first two Jagger albums and the first Keith album, especially) but the songwriting is so obviously just an extension of what they would have served up for Stones albums.

Townshend's voice is different from Daltrey's - so that's something. But then he sang on some of The Who songs too.

Bree was one of the singers in The Brunettes, the main male singer too. But what's wonderful about his solo album is the - instant - feeling of progression, of moving forward, of moving on. Again, nothing wrong with the band, but it's great to hear someone who had been the principal writer for a group moving on and up and away from just aping that same band-sound.

Bree's album has a feeling of instant-classic about it. It's been on high rotate since I received it. It's been something of a revelation, even.

So - in this roundabout way - I just wanted to mention that. Here's my review of Jonathan Bree's album, The Primrose Path. Have you heard it? Are you interested? I thoroughly recommend it.

And what other examples can you think of where a band's (main) writer has moved on and up and away with their solo career?

Blog on the Tracks is on Facebook and Twitter.

You can also check out Off the Tracks for The Vinyl Countdown, reviews and other posts.