Friday, March 29, 2013

Aerosmith - Music From Another Dimension! [album review]

Released In November

Prior to Aerosmith putting out Music From Another Dimension!, their first album of new material since 2001's Just Push Play, expectations and anticipation from fans was sky high, especially after the release was delayed by four months. Decades of band dysfunction and more recent acrimony between lead singer Steven Tyler and bandmates Joe Perry (guitar), Brad Whitford (guitar), Tom Hamilton (bass), and Joey Kramer (drums) made it seem as if one of America's legendary rock bands would never get their shit together and deliver a new record. In the week before the album's release, a perusal of a couple of Aerosmith fan forums indicated that the fanbase was not pleased whatsoever with what they were hearing via either leaked downloads or pre-release streams of the album, with griping about the abundance of ballads and lack of memorable rockers dominating the conversation. Apparently a lot of the Aerosmith faithful voiced their displeasure by taking a pass on purchasing it - the album sold an anemic 63,000 copies in the U.S. during its first week, a steep decline from the 240,000 copies sold (also in the U.S.) of Just Push Play in its first week, even when you factor in the much shakier state of the music business nowadays.  

I'm right on board with the aforementioned assessments of Music From Another Dimension! Of the album's bloated fifteen tracks, five of them are ballads, with another song (the mid-tempo "Tell Me") bordering on ballad territory. I actually quite like a number of the power ballads that Aerosmith has recorded in the latter half of their career (like "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing"), and a couple of the lighter songs here make for the album's most memorable material (the epic "We All Fall Down" and "Another Last Goodbye"), but stocking a full third of your record with such safe fare feels like shameless pandering for a radio hit. The worst example of this is the colourless "Can't Stop Loving You", with Carrie Underwood duetting with Tyler (and I say that as an Underwood fan). Despite their American Idol connection, the pair's 35 year age difference (adding an uncomfortable creepiness to the 
romantic back and forth wordplay), along with Tyler's career-long reputation for raunch-heavy lyrics and Underwood's devout Christian background make it a bit of an unlikely pairing, even if things are kept clean on the song. That's not the case for a lot of Music From Another Dimension!'s other lyrics, though, as the "A sign on the wall that hung on a tack said liquor in the front and poker in the back" line from the decent "Out Go The Lights" illustrates. The funk-drenched song, augmented with female background singers, horns, harmonica, and cowbell, provides one of the rare bright spots of heavier music on the album, although the repetitive and nearly three minute long coda that drags it on to almost the seven minute mark undercuts the overall end result. Only "Oh Yeah", "Lover A Lot" and parts of "Street Jesus" stand out amongst the rest of the tracks, and just barely so. "Street Jesus" is a bit of an odd duck - portions of it are plodding and bland, but then it kicks in a couple of different times to a double-time shuffle that recalls the band's classic "Toys In The Attic", producing the most energetic moments on the album. In some textbook examples of "why did they let the guitar player sing?", we have the truly awful "Freedom Fighter" and "Something", with Perry on lead vocals. Including their newest, I've listened to all 15 studio albums Aerosmith has recorded and "Something" was hands down the worst song I'd ever heard from the least until I subsequently heard one of the bonus tracks from the album, the Perry-sung "Oasis In The Night". His thin and off-key warble is completely devoid of the rough-around-the-edges charm of other rock guitarists who sometimes take over lead vocals, like, say, KISS' Ace Frehley or the Stones' Keith Richards, at times stepping into the unlistenable territory of a Lou Reed. And Perry terrorizes the microphone on yet another ghastly bonus track titled "Up On the Mountain". It's amazing that after more than 40 years into Aerosmith's career, Perry still hasn't realized he should just stick to the six string and his bandmates haven't also adamantly demanded that he do the same.   

Even without the unpleasant stain of the Perry-sung tracks, Music From Another Dimension! is disappointingly forgettable, especially from a veteran band with a lot to prove after a lengthy absence.   

Rating: D

Related post: my January 2012 review of Tyler's Does The Noise In My Head Bother You? autobiography

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Metallica - Quebec Magnetic [Blu-ray review]

Released in December

Metallica's Death Magnetic album came out in 2008, but there's been no shortage of official live home video releases from the metal icons since then documenting a few stops on their 26 month World Magnetic Tour. First was the Francais Pour Une Nuit release in November 2009 (here's my review of it), then a week later came Orgullo, Pasión, y Gloria: Tres Noches en la Ciudad de Mexico. The former was released only in France and the latter only in Latin America, although both could be picked up as pricey imports or downloaded (*hand up*) by anyone with a rudimentary understanding of how to use Google. October 2010 saw the worldwide release of The Big Four: Live From Sulfia, Bulgaria on Blu-ray and DVD, featuring Metallica and the other three bands considered "the big four" of thrash metal: Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth. The newest one is Quebec Magnetic, shot in Quebec City on Halloween night and November 1st back in 2009. Now, four home video releases in one album cycle (even one as long as Metallica's tend to be) probably sounds like complete overkill to most folks...but they're probably not Metallica fans, who are happy to get their hands on anything the band puts out (except for the ill-advised Lulu album). But wait...there's more! There's another Metallica concert-related project set for theatrical release this summer, a 3D and IMAX film entitled Metallica - Through The Never, which will incorporate live footage shot in Vancouver last year with fictional elements starring Dane DeHaan (best known from the movie Chronicle). It's being teased as something akin to Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains The Same film, so I'm prepared for the project to be either really amazing or stupendously terrible.

Quebec Magnetic expectedly doesn't differ markedly from the other three post-Death Magnetic live video releases, with the most notable deviation being the arena-sized setup for their production at Colisée Pepsi, as opposed to the stadium settings that the other videos were filmed in. Unlike, say, the St. Anger album's songs that were scarcely played on its accompanying tour, the band's rightfully strong belief in the Death Magnetic material translates into exactly a third of the 18 song setlist being made up of the album's compositions, with two more appearing on the Blu-ray's bonus content. All of them sound excellent and right at home in the setlist with other Metallica classics like "The Four Horsemen", "The Shortest Straw", "One", "Master Of Puppets", "Battery", "Battery", "Seek And Destroy" (featuring the band members sporting amusing Halloween masks), "Enter Sandman", and "Whiplash", although concert opener "That Was Just Your Life" doesn't get the visual punch it deserves, with a lackluster lighting design that finds only one small upwards-facing spotlight on frontman James Hetfield and the rest of the stage lighting coming from a rather ineffective display of laser beams. And the concept involving part of the lighting system being encased in four large mobile coffins doesn't really work for me, either - it's a little on the Spial Tap-ian side. The main concert set features a nice rarity during the band's portion of the show where they pay tribute to a group that influenced them, with an aggressive "Killing Time" by Ireland's Sweet Savage getting the nod here. An always kickass performance of Budgie's "Breadfan" turns up on the bonus content, with a performance of Metallica's relatively rarely played  "Phantom Lord" also appearing. Another welcome surprise on the bonus portion is The Black Album's "Holier Than Thou", one of the few tracks from that release that qualifies as a "deep cut", considering the album spawned six singles. Additional bonus content includes an eight minute featurette titled Quebec City Love Letters, a boring throwaway made up of a mutual love-in of testimonials between Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, lead guitarist Kirk Hammet, bassist Rob Trujillo, and their fans.

My standard source of annoyance with nearly all contemporary live music video releases taints Quebec Magnetic even more than usual: the short attention span video editing. Quick picture cuts suits the breakneck nature of Metallica's music, but the rapid-fire editing used here is patently ridiculous. I rewatched the first three songs of the main set to see just how bad it was and didn't count a single shot that lasted longer than three seconds. A viewing of Led Zeppelin's recent Celebration Day video release provides stark contrast to this frenzied visual approach, as shots are allowed to linger and details actually allowed to be absorbed. Celebration Day also barely shows any audience reaction shots (another pet peeve of mine), something Quebec Magnetic goes way overboard with. There's just no good reason to have as many shots of middle-aged men showing off their tattoos, banging their heads, throwing the devil horns, and hilariously flicking their tongues like Gene Simmons while the concert is unfolding as is included in this production. One cool and unexpectedly heartwarming moment does occur during the extended sequence after the band has finished playing and are shaking their fan's hands before departing the stage, where Hetfield takes off his sweatbands and gives them to a visibly appreciative young man with Down's Syndrome.

So sure, Quebec Magnetic isn't exactly necessary and the seizure-inducing visuals are a chore to endure, but it's still an official Metallica video release, which is good enough for anyone (like myself) calling themselves a hardcore fan of the band. Finally, I need to acknowledge the pristine sound on this Blu-ray. I don't know diddly squat about home video sound formats, but the Uncompressed PCM 2.0 setting I listened to Quebec Magnetic on, which I had cranked through an excellent pair of headphones, sounded spectacular, delivering a distinct separation of the instruments and vocals (extra impressive when you consider the volume and speed at which the group plays) and providing the best audio I've ever heard for a live Metallica recording.

Rating: B

Related posts: my November 2011 review of Metallica's Lulu album and March 2012 review of the group's Beyond Magnetic EP

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Enlightened [television review]

Season one now available on DVD and Blu-ray; season two concluded on March 3rd and is currently re-airing on HBO and HBO Canada

Well, another great underappreciated TV show bites the dust. Almost two months ago, it was 30 Rock (which I reviewed here) and now HBO's Enlightened falls victim to viewer apathy, as the announcement came earlier this week that the comedy-drama would not be renewed for a third season after its now-final show aired on March 3rd, for a total of just 18 episodes. The announcement shouldn't have come as a surprise - Enlightened's premiere in October 2011 attracted just 210,000 U.S. viewers and the March 3rd finale just 220,000 viewers, numbers which are very low by HBO standards. By comparison, the buzz-heavy Girls on the network drew 632,000 viewers for its season two finale this past Sunday and even those numbers are considered poor for HBO. Keep in mind that all of these numbers only reflect the premiere airing of those episodes and not the additional viewership from repeat airings and online viewing. As Enlightened's co-creator/writer/director/executive producer/co-star Mike White told before the cancellation, "Girls has so much buzz and not great numbers. We have less buzz and less numbers. It actually hurts us. In a way, Girls is the show that they go, 'Well, even if the ratings aren't great...'. If Girls was doing huge numbers and we were still doing bad numbers, then we could be more the pro bono case. But Girls is like the pro bono case." 

The show stars (sorry, starred...I'm still working through the denial process after Enlightened's passing) Laura Dern as Amy Jellicoe, a forty-something corporate executive at the fictional Abadonn Industries whose self-destructive tendencies lead to a meltdown at work, necessitating a 30 day stay at a holistic rehab centre in Hawaii. Returning spiritually awakened and eager to be "an agent of change" in the world, Amy's optimistic attitude is tested by her financially forced living arrangement with her difficult mother (played by Diane Ladd, Dern's real-life mother), the fast-paced and often-times mean world, a contentious relationship with her troubled ex-husband Levi (played by Luke Wilson), and a humiliating demotion at Abadonn to their Cogentiva subsidiary, where Amy finds herself working in the bowels of the company's building doing a soul-sucking data entry job for a horrid boss named Dougie (played by Timm Sharp). Season two's main plot found Amy enlisting the computer expertise of mousy co-worker Tyler (played by White) to help her blow the whistle on the corporate malfeasance of Abadonn that she stumbles across. 

It's not too difficult to see why Enlightened didn't connect with HBO subscribers. Dern's Amy is naive, overearnest, self-absorbed, abrasive, and just plain flaky - that's a tough sell for a protagonist in a 30 minute show. The show's understated New Age-y affectations probably didn't help, either. But as insufferable as Amy could be, she was also completely fascinating to watch, a character of extreme contradictions whose newly found big ideals of peace, love, and righting injustices clashed with an innate impulse to rage at the world and, more often than not, alienate those close to her. Dern, who created the show with White and also serves as an executive producer, is outstanding in the role and it's a crying shame the character's arc will be such a truncated one. The surrounding cast is top-notch as well: White's uncomfortable-in-his-own-skin loner character delivers many sweet and poignant moments, Ladd's nosy and rightfully worried mother adds just the right amount of headaches for her daughter, Tripp's douchey Dougie provides some welcome comic relief, Wilson's addiction-embattled Levi serves up enough bitter cynicism to counter Amy's rose-coloured aspirations, and the addition of a surprisingly impressive Molly Shannon this season only strengthened an already exceptional cast. Even Dermot Mulroney, who I normally absolutely hate in anything he appears in, turns out to be quite good as both the journalist conduit for Amy's whistleblowing plan and her romantic interest. 

White, knowing the show was likely doomed, brought things to as satisfying a conclusion as could be hoped for, especially when he had only eight episodes to work with in a shortened season two. Hopefully, the darkly funny, contemplative, and gone-too-soon Enlightened finds a cult audience in the years to come. 

Rating: A

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Skyfall [film review]

Released theatrically in North America in November; now available on all home video platforms

Like The Rolling Stones, another heavyweight British entertainment export marked its 50th anniversary late last year, as the James Bond franchise rolled on with its 23rd film and most successful commercial release yet, Skyfall. The Daniel Craig-starring movie raked in $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office and is now the highest grossing theatrical release in UK history. At almost two-and-a-half hours, it's far longer than it needs to be, but there's a few twists on the familiar formula of the franchise and some decent fun to be had. Aside from the expected Bond elements that appear in every film (that familiar theme and the "Bond...James Bond" introduction), Skyfall also marks its milestone anniversary with nods to other significant hallmarks from the series, with the appearances of an Aston Martin and Walther PPK pistol, plus the old "shaken, not stirred" martini line. The ubiquitous opening title sequence set to the newest theme song is a standout here, as a visually arresting showpiece of animations and images is set to the pleasing "Skyfall" by Adele. 

Craig's Bond, the direction of Sam Mendes, and the screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan explores deeper into the darker aspects of the character that were touched on in Craig's first two outings, with the framework for that being set up via one of the series' most dire scenarios for 007. Bond's downfall (quite literally) occurs during the movie's thrilling opening sequence set in Istanbul, when a mistake by a fellow agent results in what is believed to be his death. The M.I.A. spy resurfaces after an explosion rips through the headquarters of his employer, MI6, who have recently been under cyber attacks that compromised the secrecy of a number of operations being carried out by some of their undercover agents. The man behind the attacks is a disgruntled former MI6 agent named Silva (played by Javier Bardem), a tech wizard (because if your movie boogie man nowadays isn't a Middle Eastern terrorist then it's probably going to be a cyberterrorist) who has a particular grudge to settle with MI6 director M (played by Judi Dench). Bardem does a respectable job as the Bond villain, although he does lay on the camp a little heavy. Certainly, he's a by-default improvement on Mathieu Amalric from the last underwhelming film in the series, Quantum Of Solace, whose French villain was easily the most boring the franchise has ever seen (I've had five years to live with the title of that last movie and it still sounds awkward). Supporting help comes from Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory, M's superior, Ben Whisaw as gadget man Q, Naomie Harris as an MI6 agent and Bond romantic interest (their chemistry isn't terribly memorable, though), and Albert Finney as Kincade, a man from Bond's early years who helps 007 and M hide out at Skyfall, the spy's childhood home and family estate in Scotland.

That trip to Skyfall allows for a mini origins story to play out, which meshes nicely with the more vulnerable and introspective side of the character that has already been revealed since 007's return to action from injury, where he finds himself needing to prove himself again and regain his top form. It's as unconfident and fragile as we've ever seen the cocksure Bond in the entire series. Of course, all of that takes a relative backseat to the customary Bond standbys of sexual conquests, globetrotting adventures, and ridiculous over-the-top stunts within big, loud action pieces, with the centrepiece being an overly drawn out end showdown between the spy and Silva that left me unfulfilled.

Not quite as magnificent as it was made out to be, Skyfall lands quality-wise in the Daniel Craig-as-Bond era of somewhere between the electrifying resurgence of 2006's Casino Royale and 2008's muddled and disappointing Quantum Of Solace. 

Rating: B-

Sunday, March 17, 2013

David Bowie - The Next Day [album review]

Released March 12th in North America

David Bowie's return is definitely a big deal, although he hasn't been quite as reclusive over the past decade as some media outlets covering his just-released The Next Day album might have you believe. Granted, The Next Day is his first collection of new material since 2003's Reality album (whose supporting tour had to be cut short in 2004 due to Bowie's emergency angioplasty surgery), but the past 10 years has seen the British icon reveal himself occasionally. Bowie has made a handful of acting appearances (notably as himself in a very funny cameo in Ricky Gervais' Extras TV series, as well as a role playing Nikola Tesla in the Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman-starring film The Prestige), guest appearances on several albums from other artists (including one by actress Scarlett Johansson), and about a half-dozen one-off live performances, with the last of those being a brief set at a 2006 charity concert. But sure, I'll agree that in the fast five years or so Bowie has been about as low profile as a music figure of his stature can be in this day and age. So that The Next Day arrived in such a wonderfully stealthful manner only adds to the enjoyment of hearing new music from him after so long, because heaven knows that there isn't much mystery left in rock 'n roll any more.

Unencumbered by record label deadlines, Bowie decided to wait until he had something meaningful to say musically, eventually starting recording sessions about a year-and-a-half ago at New York's Magic Shop studio with long-time producer Tony Visconti and musicians from his past, including drummers Sterling Campbell and Zachary Alford, guitarists Earl Slick and Gerry Leonard, and bassist Gale Ann Dorsey. Everyone involved in the sessions, including studio employees, had to sign non-disclosure agreements and the project's existence amazingly stayed a secret right up until the bizarre video for the album's first single "Where Are We Now?" (viewable here) was posted on Bowie's revamped website on his 66th birthday in January, along with the album's surprise announcement. True to form, Bowie's marketing strategy for The Next Day is, for the most part, highly unusual: he's done zero interviews to promote it, won't be touring or doing any live performances to support it, and he put out some head scratching full-page ads for the release in British newspapers. This one displays all of the album's lyrics in four columns of unbroken text (as it appears in the CD booklet) and doesn't even mention his name or the title of the album. More conventional has been the release over the past week of The Next Day's lyrics on Facebook and Twitter, plus the release in late February of the oddball video for second single "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", starring Tilda Swinton and directed by Hamilton, Ontario-raised Floria Sigismondi. 

And let's talk about that puzzling album cover before we go any further. Only someone who keeps you guessing as much as Bowie does would think to re-release one of his old album covers (1977's Heroes) obscured by a big ugly white box containing the title of his latest work. If you can believe it, the cover is actually the end result of hundreds of concepts from graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook, who explained on his blog that the chosen artwork "is about the spirit of great pop or rock music which is 'of the moment', forgetting or obliterating the past." I may not be buying, so to speak, what the designer and Bowie are selling in this particular case, but Barnbrook gets a mulligan on this one from me, based on the awesomeness of his album cover for Bowie's 2002 Heathen album, whose image I have framed and hanging on my wall just above the computer I'm writing this review on. 

So with all that background detail out of the way, is The Next Day worthy of the "greatest comeback album of all time" tag that some reviews have claimed? I won't go quite that far with the hyperbole, but it is damn fine and very much an album that feels in step with where Bowie left off with the excellent Reality. Of The Next Day's 14 tracks, only five clock in at over four minutes and none of that lot come close to pushing the five minute mark. Like the 24 other studio albums from Bowie's diverse catalog, The Next Day's artsy experimentation and dense lyrical and musical ideas make it a slow one to take in initially, so the concise running times of the songs almost seem to add an extra hurdle in easily digesting the work ("Dirty Boys", in particular, fades out much earlier than you expect it to, just as some honking baritone sax riffs are picking up steam). For most artists, the slow-moving "Where Are We Now?" would be a highly illogical choice as a first single (especially from someone who's been out of the game for so long), but chart hits are clearly something Bowie is long past caring about. The beautifully arranged song also features one of his best vocal performances on the album (God, how I missed that distinct vibrato!) and is one of the more lyrically introspective tracks, as Bowie recalls his time living and recording in Berlin in the 70s. Multi-tracked vocals sung in a weirdly monotone style dominate the funky title track, which Visconti suggests may take its inspiration from Bowie's relatively new fascination with medieval history (other left-of-centre references on The Next Day: writer Vladimir Nabokov, Belgian Symbolist poet and novelist Georges Rodenbach, and part of a soliloquy from Macbeth). The former Thin White Duke's blue-eyed soul side (or should I say blue and brown-eyed soul?) also comes out on the rhythmically off-kilter "Dirty Boys" and "Boss Of Me". There's a distinct 60s vibe to the solid "I'd Rather Be High", wherein the song's young soldier protagonist wishes he were living a normal teenage life instead of "training these guns on the men in the sand". The topic of celebrity culture superficiality isn't exactly novel, but it's a perpetually relevant one and gets examined here on The Next Day's finest track, "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)". The song harkens back to Bowie's 80s sound, which is also evident on the bouncy "Dancing Out In Space", "Love Is Lost", and "How Does The Grass Grow?", which would have been right at home on 1983's Let's Dance album. "If You Can See Me" steps back to the frenetic drum 'n' bass territory explored on Bowie's late 90s Earthling album, with Dorsey contributing some absolutely soaring background vocals. Glam rock lives again on the epic ballad "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die" (featuring a coda that nicely uses the drum beat from 1972's "Five Years") and "Valentine's Day", probably The Next Day's catchiest track. The song's sunny melodies contrast with its dark subject matter about a teenage boy about to go on a school shooting spree and while I mostly love the track, I positively hate the baffling addition of background vocals yelling "yeah!" and "whoa!" over the last third of it. Less categorizable in relation to Bowie's past work is the cracking "(You Will) Set The World On Fire", a guitar-driven stop/start number set in the Greenwich Village scene of the early 60s, with Slick turning in a blistering guitar solo.         

Normally I don't cozy up to decidedly weird music and the artists that make it - David Bowie, however, I make an exception for. The man has consistently intrigued throughout his long career with his visual flair and reinvention, inherent coolness, and ambitious music. That musical ambition and risk-taking doesn't always work for me (such as on "Heat", The Next Day's only stinker that dawdles for four-and-a-half minutes of moody keyboard soundscapes, acoustic guitars, and jazzy fretless bass), but it's all part of the package, I suppose. The Next Day offers plenty to devour for longtime fans of the enigmatic artist (as I realize I'm just about out of synonyms for "eccentric" on my online thesaurus page), touching on many of his past eras, while still very much continuing the progressive ethos that Bowie has rigidly followed for four-and-a-half decades in the music business. A most welcome return.

Rating: A

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Pete Townshend - Who I Am [book review]

Released in October

Pete Townshend took 15 years to write Who I Am, a somewhat uneven memoir that recounts his difficult life and colourful career as the guitarist and creative force behind The Who. The book's early sections document Townshend's years growing up in the suburbs of London as the son of a bandleader who had a minor hit in 1956, dealing with the infidelity and alcoholism of his parents, and his feelings of abandonment after being sent to live for a period with his abusive grandmother as a young boy. Townshend refers a number of times throughout Who I Am to further sexual abuse inflicted by some of his grandmother's romantic companions - those details, however, are rather vague. Obviously, I'm sympathetic to how difficult it must be to dredge up such painful memories, but this alleged additional abuse informs an important latter section of the book and the murky intimations leading up to those parts undermine some of its narrative. It's especially puzzling when you consider how bluntly honest Townshend is throughout the rest of Who I Am, even when that candour frequently leaves the musician looking utterly foolish (like his cringe-inducing account of a show on his 1993 Psycho Derelict solo tour where he broke 11 years of sobriety by downing half a bottle of vodka to calm an anxiety attack before going on stage, was literally fall-down drunk while performing, ranted into the microphone at times, and caused many fans to ask for their money back). The hardships of Townshend's youth drive him to music as an escape, with an interest in the visual arts leading him to enroll in art school before abandoning education for a life as a working musician. That's a well-worn path also taken by a number of former art school students who went on to become central figures in the British Invasion movement, including John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Ray Davies, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards.  

The early Who years are marked by rapid commercial success and tours supporting The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, where Townshend recalls a bizarre detail that I was amazed I'd never heard before about the venues smelling strongly of urine after the concerts, due to the female hysteria incited by the acts (also bizarre is that within a week of reading this in Who I Am, I heard the exact same detail mentioned in the recent Rolling Stones Crossfire Hurricane documentary). Some other notable recollections from The Who's early years:

  • There's the story of how Townshend got the idea for his windmill stage move by watching Richards limber up with a similar motion before a mid 60s Stones show. Townshend incorporated it into his own performances when he saw that Richards didn't use the move during Stones gigs. Later in Who I Am, Townshend remembers the time on The Who's 1989 reunion tour where the guitar's tremolo (or "whammy") bar actually impaled his hand after an overexuberant windmill, causing his wife to ask him "Now will you stop all this stupid shit?"
  • A recount of the band's infamous 1976 stay in Flint, Michigan, where they were banned from Holiday Inns for life after drummer Keith Moon, in high spirits while celebrating his 20th birthday, started a huge food fight with his birthday cake, drove a Lincoln Continental into the hotel pool, threw a lamp at an autograph-seeking fan that hit them squarely in the head, and ended up having emergency dental work after knocking out some of his own teeth. Townshend interestingly neglects to include the additional detail usually told with this story about Moon also allegedly blowing up his hotel room toilet.
  • Also in 1967, Townshend recalls The Who's legendary appearance on The Smother Brothers Comedy Hour, where Moon loaded up one of his bass drums with gunpowder to add some extra showmanship to the end of the band's performance of "My Generation" and caused a huge explosion that singed Townshend's hair and seems to be ground zero for the guitarist's long history of hearing problems. 
  • Townshend's unkind words for 1971's Who's Next album title ("pathetic") and the cover (which I always loved) that showed the band zipping up after relieving themselves on a slab of concrete ("...a joke in bad taste...I was utterly confounded when so many fans and friends I respected loved the title and the sleeve design.")
  • Townshend writing about his attraction to Mick Jagger, with a somewhat unsettling description of Jagger's manhood underneath "loose pajama-style pants without underwear".
Townshend's 70s and the 80s with The Who are marked by hugely ambitious creative ideas (his proposed Lifehouse rock opera proves to be too unwieldy to organize, with some of the material from the project eventually finding its way onto future Who albums), many further occurrences of standard rock 'n roll excess (furniture being thrown out of hotel windows, copious amounts of alcohol and drug consumption, including one story about a three yard line of coke being snorted, too many mentions of Townshend's infidelity to keep track of, etc.), the guitarist becoming an early adopter of new recording and computer technology (The Who were also the first act to use lasers in rock shows), tragedies (including Moon's 1978 death from a drug overdose and 11 fans being crushed to death at a 1979 Cincinnati Who concert), and Townshend's growing unhappiness within the band. He quits in 1983, reluctantly returning in 1989 purely for the lucrative payday that will fund his solo musical projects and the expenses for a planned baby with his wife. Details on The Who's musical output throughout the book are surprisingly and disappointingly lacking in detail, especially coming from the man responsible for being the primary force behind most of it. Townshend does offer revelatory details about his perpetual uneasiness with his place in the band; his depressive personality and severe issues with self-esteem fascinatingly result in the guitarist always feeling like the odd man out within The Who, which clashed with the outside perception of him as their leader. 

Townshend's work outside of The Who finds him channelling his creative energies into further solo projects, publishing some of his short stories, working as an editor at a British publishing house, giving time to a number of charitable causes, and developing The Who's Tommy for the theatre. Despite the quantity and variety of these endeavours, Townshend's recollections of them fail to stir many moments of great interest, however. With reservations, Townshend rejoins The Who numerous times after first leaving, participating in their 2002 tour only because singer Roger Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle had financial problems. On the eve of the tour's first show, Entwistle dies in his hotel room from a cocaine-induced heart attack. Townshend's reflections on the bassist's life and their friendship turns out to be one of the few moments in Who I Am where Entwistle gets much of an in-depth reference. Even by the usual rock bio standards that inevitably seem to frame the bass player as a very peripheral character, Entwistle is mostly absent in Townshend's memoir, although it is worth noting that along with "The Ox" and "Thunderfingers", one of the bassist's other nicknames was "The Quiet One".

Some of the most compelling reading in Who I Am revolves around Townshend's dissection of his legal problems in 2003 after being arrested for paying £7 with a credit card to a website advertising child pornography in 1999. He maintains that the transaction was meant for research purposes (tying back to those childhood sexual abuse claims, which led him to get involved in charities combatting child sexual abuse and speaking out many times on the issue), that he instantly regretted his decision, and never browsed the website after paying for access. The colossally bad decision catches up to him with his eventual arrest, the seizure of 11 of his computers, and the inevitable media circus. After a torturously slow four-and-a-half month-long investigation that found no further incriminating evidence on Townshend's computers, he accepts a "caution" plea deal from British police that sees him placed on a sex offenders registry for five years. As interesting as this chapter of Townshend's life is, I must admit that I was hoping for a little more more insight into why Townshend curiously accepted a deal instead of fighting harder to clear his name (he says he wasn't up to the media scrutiny of a trial, but his reputation has never recovered) and also why he waited so long to give his full side of the story that is finally provided in this autobiography (Townshend writes that he had a hard time making sense of his "insane" behavior and thought briefly of suicide).

Pete Townshend's fully-lived life and his many contradictions should make for a slightly more grabbing read than Who I Am delivers. Along with the musical-genius-plagued-by-massive-insecurities factor is Townshend's ongoing clash between his self-destructive behaviour and notoriously prickly personality, and an almost lifelong quest for spiritual enlightenment and salvation through the teachings of Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. I also have to lay criticism for the book only providing a passing reference to one of the better rock stories out there, involving a Who show from 1973. Moon passed out on stage after overindulging in some drugs and alcohol and Townshend asked the San Francisco audience "Can anyone play the drums?". A fan named Scot Halpin stepped forward and played with The Who for the rest of the show (you can watch some of it here) and apparently stayed in contact with Townshend until passing away in 2008. Surely, a story that good is worthy of more than the brief mention it gets here. Although it doesn't match the more cohesive flow of say, Keith Richards' Life memoir, Who I Am is still well worth a read, though. Better yet, seek out the audiobook, read by the author himself. Shortly after beginning a tablet version of Who I Am, I switched to the audiobook and was glad I did, as hearing Townshend's words firsthand significantly strengthens your connection to the material and adds extra insight just from his intonation in certain parts, such as the emphasized disdain he adds to his voice when reciting the Who's Next album title.

Rating: B-