Monday, September 16, 2013

Track of the Week: The Who, "Sparks (Live)"

Tommy was the first Who album I ever owned, at it was a terrible disappointment.  I was attracted to it through the concept -which appealed to a teenage outcast- and hearing the propulsive, explosive "Pinball Wizard" on classic rock radio.  I found, and still find, the album to be constipated and uneven. Apart from the aforementioned "Pinball Wizard" and "We're Not Gonna Take It," the second half is mostly uninteresting plot exposition.  The problem with concept albums is that they force songs to be contorted into a framework that doesn't really suit them, or they spawn crummy songs there to move plot.  The Who Sell Out is a far superior album because the concept comes out of the fake commercials and radio promos between songs, which are fantastic and not linked by any common theme or story.

While Tommy doesn't hold up well as a studio album, I continue to be blown away by the live version included on the recent two-disc expanded version of Live at Leeds.  Many weak songs have been excised, the band has perfected their approach after performing it for two years, and they really know how to cut loose.  To hear this, look no further than the instrumental "Sparks," which goes from being loud in a mannered fashion on record to an absolute explosion of sound onstage.  The build up to the climax is exhilarating, and the moment at three minutes in when the dam finally bursts is one the most thrilling things I've ever heard.  When I am trying to get psyched up for the beginning of the work week on a Monday morning, I crank this one up through my headphones while riding the subway, and it never fails to get my heart pounding and my head in the right place.

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