Saturday, May 11, 2024

Review: Vinyl Reissues of 3 John Entwistle Albums

Much like George Harrison, John Entwistle was an excellent and unique songwriter in a band with songwriters who rank among the top-five rock songwriters of all time. Sometimes you just can't win, but Harrison at least deserved the last laugh when The Beatles split and he released what is arguably the best Beatles solo album of all. 

Entwistle couldn't quite boast the same thing, considering the extraordinary quality of Pete Townshend's Empty Glass, but I feel pretty comfortable calling Entwistle's solo debut, Smash You Head Against the Wall, second best. Here is a deep dark lake creepy crawling with The Ox's cynicism, macabre humor, multi-instrumental prowess, and quirky way with melody, as well as his often overlooked "is it me for a moment" sensitivity. Dig the melodies of "What Are We Doing Here?" and "Ted End". They are liable to draw tears.

Also like George Harrison, John Entwistle wasn't able to maintain the stunning quality of his first solo outing, although his sophomore stab Whistle Rymes is considerably better than George's often turgid Living in the Material World. Entwistle's songwriting is not as sharp as it had been the first time out, his humor is sillier and lazier, and he makes the odd decision to occasionally sideline his celebrated four-string skills in favor of synth bass lines. Still, it's an enjoyable effort with a bunch of really good songs, one great one ("Apron Strings"), and only one stinker (the meandering and uninterestingly discordant "Nightmare"). Plus, the fairy-tale-gone-wild cover is an absolute gas. 

After two successes, John Entwistle apparently felt as though he needed to keep his solo career going no matter what, which is the only explanation I can come up with for the soggy "old time rock and roll" concept album Rigor Mortis Sets In, which mostly consists of unadventurous covers of nuggets such as "Hound Dog", "Lucille", and "Mr. Bassman" and parodic originals like "Do the Dangle" and "Peg Leg Peggy". He only really rouses himself for "Gimme That Rock and Roll", although he couldn't be bothered to write lyrics worthy of his considerable wit. His solo version of his own "My Wife" is utterly pointless next to The Who's smoldering studio and live versions.

But that might be neither here nor there for Ox junkies, and Entwistle's most devoted cult members will surely rejoice to know that Demon Records is reissuing Entwistle's first three albums on vinyl for the first time in some forty years. They might rejoice a little less after hearing them. I'm sure purists will take issue with the fact that half the tracks on Smash Your Head have been remixed without any indication of this on the record jacket. The other half of Smash, as well as the entireties of Whistle Rymes and Rigor Mortis, practically sound like they've been remixed, even though they haven't been, because the mastering of these albums is so radically different from that of the 1970s originals. Those vintage discs on Decca and Track sound punchy, powerful, and deep. Demon's remasters are clear but brittle, with a noticeable absence of John's signature big bottom. They sound like digital files compared to the analog originals. However, the colored vinyl discs look nice and they're very quiet and flat. 

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