The Who’s disjointed, disappointing It’s Hard never lived up to its initial promise

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Featuring a decidedly un-Who sounding single, It’s Hard arrived on September 4, 1982 with a confusing thud. There were moments like “Athena,” where the Who recaptured old glories, and others where they couldn’t have seemed more disinterested just ahead of a lengthy absence from recording.

Sure, “Eminence Front” boasts a gas pedal-mashing groove. But listen more closely: John Entwistle thunks his bass, but without the murderous intent we’ve come to expect. It’s big, true enough, but it’s too approachable to be tough. And that tense little keyboard figure can’t obscure the fact that Roger Daltrey is nowhere to be found.

Coming, as it does, after vocal features for Daltrey (the too-wordy title track) and Entwistle (the anonymous rocker “Dangerous”), “Eminence Front” should have ended It’s Hard with a sense of newfound direction from the remaining three founding members. Instead, it sounded like what it was: The first Pete Townshend solo song as the Who went dark.

They would remain nothing more than a touring act, with the exception of four single tracks recorded here and there, for almost 25 years. That didn’t do much to counter the idea that the Who should have followed Led Zeppelin into that good night, after the loss of a linchpin drummer.

The Who was, of course, never the same after losing Keith Moon. And yet, they have continued, first as a threesome featuring Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Pete Townshend along with ex-Faces stick man Kenney Jones, and later — after Entwistle’s passing in 2002 — as a duo with various sessions players. The results have been at best uneven, and at worst unrecognizable.

It didn’t help that It’s Hard began with “Athena,” a broken promise of a Who song. With its rumbling guitar opening, thrilling tempo changes, and the way Roger Daltrey’s barking verses bleed into Pete Townshend’s Greek chorus of a countermelody, it seemed to point to a return to form for the Who on its second Keith Moon-less project. Kenney Jones, his oft-maligned replacement, even tosses in a few explosive drum rolls, as a bright brass section weaves in and out.

The Who hadn’t sounded so much like the Who for years, going back to before Keith Moon’s performances began to deteriorate in advance of his sad end. Unlike so much of the previous Face Dances — and, as we would soon see, the rest of It’s Hard, as well — this song was perfectly suited for Roger Daltrey’s staccato rasp. Only this time, his reliably cocksure street tough has become ever more romantically confused, until the song ends with a flourish amid Daltrey’s desperate pleas.

Unfortunately, it’s mostly downhill from there.

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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