1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#52: Pete Townshend – The Iron Man (1989)
MATT KELLY is aghast at how a genius rocker like Pete Townshend could make such a complete turd. But he did.
I did not even find out this existed until more than a decade after its release. “A NEW ROCK OPERA FROM PETE TOWNSHEND BASED ON THE SAME BOOK AS THAT AWESOME MOVIE? THAT REUNITES ALL SURVIVING CLASSIC WHO MEMBERS AND FEATURES JOHN LEE HOOKER AND NINA SIMONE? WHY DOES NOBODY EVER TALK ABOUT THIS?”
That last question can be answered by listening to it.
When it comes to The Who, it’s Face Dances and It’s Hard that you’re traditionally supposed to give a kicking to. If I’m unexpectedly kind to them it might be because I know this is lurking ahead. It is the pits.
Where to begin? Well, basically it’s a bunch of horribly cheesy Disney-wannabe music with syrupy choral vocals, atrocious lyrics, nasty-sounding synths, no sense of narrative and a criminal wasting of talent.
John Lee Hooker is 77 and sounding every bit of it as he sleepily mumbles his way through his performance as the Iron Man with a mouth stuffed with cotton balls, and one of the songs performed by the reunited Who (Townshend, Entwistle, Daltrey and Simon Phillips as Kenney Jones had left) is a cover of Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’. Wow! The Who cover ‘Fire’! That should be great! But it isn’t! It’s the worst! Whoever decided to give Phillips a super over-produced ’80s Icehouse-esque drum sound should be shot, and its frantic, busy tempo works against Daltrey and ruins the song, without even mentioning the corny burbling synths and tryhard SFX.
Well, ‘Fire’ would be the worst if ‘Fast Food’ wasn’t here. Jesus Christ, ‘Fast Food’ really needs to be better known in the canon of bad songs. In it, Nina Simone plays the role of a people-eating dragon with a thing for naked kids and tattooed pretty girls (don’t ask, unless you’re with the Musical Crimes Unit) over the most tepid of generic funk backings and dreadful, corny backing vocals. Sixty-six-year-old Simone doesn’t sound so much like Simone as Tyler Perry parodying Nina Simone, her unpleasant quack making these horrendous lyrics all the more terrible:
“I’m partial to a chunder over throbbing kangaroos
Now let your women breed, impale the sacred cow
I’m dressed to feed, she’ll breastfeed now”
(These are the genuine lyrics).
Meanwhile, the histrionics of would-be ’80s anthem ‘All Shall Be’ well makes Flashdance sound tasteful and restrained, and happy-clappy feel-good finale ‘A New Life’ sounds like it was produced by The Wiggles and so sugary I nearly passed out.
Even Townshend has acknowledged that this record isn’t great, saying he was distracted by the 25th anniversary Who tour taking place at the same time.
Shockingly bad and inexplicable after the relatively classy White City, this is one Iron Man that should be left in the woods to rust.
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