Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane
Rough Mix (Atco 9009)
Rough Mix is an underappreciated gem, and definitely my favorite album associated with Pete Townshend, probably because his more testosterone-drunk fantasias are tempered by Ronnie Lane's pensive lyricism. It's an album that will never be a "classic" because it lacks AOR "hits," but will endure precisely because it will never be overplayed.
The album has a splendidly loose feel, communicating to the listener the joy of making such a fun album. Freed from the pressure of making a Pete Townshend Album, Townshend relaxes into a less intense mode, while Ronnie Lane uses the higher profile to really shine.
Most of the songs were written by one or the other, with only a few co-written tracks. "My Baby Gives it Away," Townshend's opener, is as close as the album has to a classic rock track. Its Townshend-ness is balanced by Lane's "Nowhere to Run," which features a great rapid-fire rhythm banjo and a great vocal melody.
"Rough Mix" is an instrumental rocker that mainly serves to showcase (yawn) Eric Clapton, who plays on several of the album's tracks. Very chooglin', though I don't think I mean that as a compliment. "Annie" is a simply lovely ballad sung by Lane, and in an ideal world would be the album's best-known song (if not a standard). Beautiful, weepy ol' song. Very affecting.
"Keep Me Turning" is a great Townshend contribution, demonstrating everything that is good about his songwriting: witty, memorable and meaningful lyrics fused with an absolutely catchy melody. Deserves to be better known.
"Catmelody" is a Lane pub rock tune that you could definitely see Rod Stewart tearing into back in the day. (I think I just lost big points for using "Rod Stewart" and "back in the day" in the same sentence. Oh well, I'll make it up in the bonus round, when I declare George Benson to be the greatest singer of all time.)
"Misunderstood" received its spotlight on Pete Townshend's recent greatest hits collection Coolwalkingsmoothtalking it is my favorite of his compositions, and while I usually object to a harmonica in any context, I don't mind the "bluesy" soloing on this cut. This song best illuminates Townshend's oft-referred-to sense of humor while avoiding his trademark bitter tone. "April Fool" is a nice, somewhat less memorable Lane tune featuring some nice dobro work by (yawn) Clapton.
"Street in the City" finds Townshend in "must write rock opera, no, must resist" mode, providing an orchestrated mini-epic that is at once one of his most ambitious and beautiful songs. Quite a successful song by any measure, artily covering a lot of spe cific images without becoming too abstract. "Heart to Hang Onto" is a Townshend song sung by both vocalists, and is a very smart, somewhat dark expression reminiscent of Who's Next era Who.
The closing song, "Till the Rivers All Run Dry," is a singalong not unlike "Mull of Kintyre" and provides the perfect ending to an album full of underdog "songs that could."
People who love Tommy might think of this record as being slight, but I'd have to advance the notion that less is often quite a lot more. It does suffer a bit from 1977 "sunniness," but at least it's not the motherfucking Eagles.
Review by Jerry Hannah Poussé