The Who: Endless Wire (PolyGram)

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The Who: Endless Wire (PolyGram)

Right from the opening bars here - a repeated keyboard figure like Baba O'Riley and a crashing power chord - Pete Townshend puts you on notice that the sonic power of The Who, now just him and Roger Daltrey as sole survivors of the original band, is undiminished by the years.

Of course, that's the easy part and when Daltrey enters his voice lacks its former wallop. But that's an impression which doesn't remain. And Townshend is also back on top form penning brittle, angry rock (A Man in A Purple Dress is a swipe at religious figureheads) and some penetrating ballads which stand alongside some of The Who's best work in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

There are many echoes of former greatness here: that opener and the oddly-named Mike Post Theme recall passages from Quadrophenia, and God Speaks of Marty Robbins is a lovely lean ballad. But In the Ether finds Townshend doing his Tom Waits impersonation to no great effect.

Most interest alights on the 11-track mini-opera Wire and Glass, an oddly impenetrable song cycle which seems to be about three kids who become a rock band with all the triumphs and tragedies that journey entails.

Townshend was doubtless thinking of the '79 Cincinnati tragedy (when 11 fans were crushed at a Who show) when he wrote and sang the weary They Made My Dream Come True: People Died Where I Performed.

Daltrey really steps up for the angry, then wistful songs (some of which, like We Got A Hit and Mirror Door, nod back to mid-60s The Who), and the cycle ends with the wistful Tea & Theatre.

After decades of Townshend ambitiously pursuing sprawling concept pieces, these dense songs and the tight mini-opera leave the impression that The Who - like Elton John on his new album - sound at their best when, even 24 years on fromn their last Who album,  they sound like themselves.

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