Home Read Albums Of The Week: The Who | Who’s Next / Life House

Albums Of The Week: The Who | Who’s Next / Life House

Meet the new version of Pete Townshend and the band's powerfully ‘portentous polemic’ — a supersized 10-CD box with nearly 100 previously unreleased tracks.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “More than half a century ago, Pete Townshend of The Who crafted a suite of songs that foresaw the internet,  virtual reality and pandemic-style lockdown. Now, for the first time, those prophetic tracks can finally be heard as he intended on the lavish, multi-format Super Deluxe Edition of Who’s Next | Life House.

Featuring 155 tracks — of which 89 are previously unreleased and 57 feature fresh remixes — the set will delight longtime Who fans with its complete picture of Townshend’s incredibly prescient songwriting, while captivating a new audience with his visionary description of a future that has, in many ways, come true. It features all of his songs, in their many stages of development, from the abandoned, audacious Life House project — started in 1970 as a follow-up to The Who’s epic Tommy — and from the undisputed rock classic of 1971 that it evolved into, Who’s Next.

Across the course of 10 CDs, Who’s Next | Life House sets out Townshend’s extraordinary vision of a world beset by climatic catastrophe and pollution, leading to a curtailing of personal freedom that will be all too familiar to the pandemic generation. Decades ahead of his time, he details how the population is then seduced and sedated by access to an entertainment grid, piped into every home via the use of virtual reality experience suits.

In his introduction to the new editions, Townshend describes Life House as “a portentous polemic about the coming of a nation beaten down by climate issues and pollution.” He then explains how “an opportunist and autocratic government enforce a national lockdown in which every person is hooked up to an entertainment grid.” Music itself then becomes an inconvenient diversion, “a very real distraction to the subjugation of the population in suits,” with fascinating consequences. Songs that depicted a dystopian world in which faceless corporations control our lives may have been fiction at the time, but they have come to be more like documentary.

The unfulfilled project, which Townshend conceived as one part film script and one part blueprint for a live musical experiment, brought him to the edge of a breakdown. But, as he writes, “some wonderful music came from the project, and the idea has always held me in thrall, partly because so many of the strands of the fiction seem to be coming true.”

Listeners will hear, for the first time, how that concept folded into Who’s Next, widely regarded as not only one of the greatest albums in the band’s astonishing catalogue, but a seminal moment in music history. Here, The Who’s instinctive, scintillating cohesion reached new peaks, Townshend’s brilliant creativity as one of rock’s great auteurs brought thrillingly to life by Roger Daltrey’s unsurpassed vocal performances, John Entwistle’s visceral, fluid basslines and Keith Moon’s fiery potency on the drums.

All the music on Super Deluxe Edition of Who’s Next | Life House was remastered from the original tapes by longtime Who engineer Jon Astley.  Along with 10 CDs, the box includes a Blu-ray Audio disc with newly created Atmos and 5.1 surround mixes of Who’s Next and 14 bonus tracks by in-demand artist and producer Steven Wilson.

Highlights of the 155-track format include Townshend’s demos for Life House; The Who’s 1971 session recordings at the Record Plant in New York; sessions at Olympic Studios in southwest London from 1970-1972; and, for the first time, two newly mixed and complete 1971 concerts from London’s Young Vic Theatre and San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium. Timeless highlights of those sessions and performances include Baba O’Riley, Behind Blue Eyes and Won’t Get Fooled Again, on which Daltrey created the most awe-inspiring scream ever heard. Those classics continue to illuminate Who concerts to this day.

The box set also contains a 100-page hardback book with Townshend’s introduction and new sleeve notes by Who experts and compilers Andy Neill and Matt Kent. Also included is Life House: The Graphic Novel, a newly commissioned, 172-page hardback book overseen by Townshend that tells the story behind the project. Completing the set are a 20” x 30” poster of a Who gig in Sunderland, England, on 7th May, 1971; a 25.5” x 34.25” poster of a date at Denver Coliseum, on 10th Dec., 1971; a 20-page concert programme from the Rainbow Theatre in London on 4th Nov., 1971; a 16-page programme from the band’s October/November 1971 tour of the U.K.; a collectible four-pin button set; and an 8” x 10” colour photo of The Who with printed autographs.

The album will also be available as limited edition four-LP and three-LP sets, featuring, respectively, the first-ever complete release of the San Francisco concert from 1971 and vinyl replicas of Townshend’s original Life House acetates. The original Who’s Next album will also be available as a single-LP half-speed remaster completed at Abbey Road Studios, and in other exclusive single vinyl versions.

With the release of Who’s Next | Life House, one of rock’s great last untold stories is finally about to be recounted in full.”