Pete Townshend, “Guantanamo,” from Truancy (2015): One Track Mind

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Pete Townshend’s “Guantanamo,” one of two new songs on a forthcoming hits package, finds him full of familiar brio — but in a different world where the issues of the day can’t be solved within the confines of a 45’s single spin.

He begins with a growling groove, and a growling lyric, lacing into the plight of prisoners sentenced to an open-ended kind of penance not unlike slavery. A grinding cadence drives “Guantanamo” onward, until Pete Townshend finally takes a breath amid the haunting gurgle of an old Yamaha E70 organ. The song’s middle section arrives like a weird reverie, perhaps in the dead of another endless night, and then his searing howl breaks the quiet once again.

Townshend ends “Guantanamo” on a similarly ruminative note, leaving things — like the prison itself — open ended. As such, it’s a protest song for a different age, one that sketches out a definitive shape of an argument, but can’t bring itself to put a period at the end. It’s a song of impotent frustration, without the kind of nifty conclusion you’d love these type of things to have, a contemporary fable.

And a sign that Pete Townshend, despite long lags in his productivity (most of them, it seems, due to lengthy returns to both the themes and songbook of his band the Who), hasn’t lost his writer’s spark, or his angry voice. At least, when he allows himself to slip the bonds of big-concept themes.

Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend, 17-track compilation that also includes the new track “How Can I Help You,” is due on June 30, 2015. It serves as a sampler of Townshend’s eight-album career away from the Who, all of which is set to be remastered and reissued in the coming months.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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