Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Pete Townshend gets honest on Empty Glass

Pete Townshend : Rough Boys


On April 21, 1980 Pete Townshend released Empty Glass, an album that honestly dealt with his issues with drugs and alcohol, a marriage going south, and the death of Keith Moon and other friends, all while maintaining his devotion to the Hindu guru Meher Baba of “Baba O’Reilly” fame.

I called it Empty Glass, 'cause of this idea that when you go to the tavern – which is to God, you know – and you ask for His love – He's the bartender, you know – and He gives you a drink, and what you have to give Him is an empty glass. You know there's no point giving Him your heart if it's full already; there's no point going to God if your heart's full of Doris.

Produced by Chris Thomas, the first sessions for the album occurred at Wessex recording studios, where he'd recorded The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks. The sessions moved to A.I.R. Studios where Townshend says Thomas helped him find "a new voice on tricky songs like 'Jools and Jim', 'Empty Glass' and 'A Little Is Enough'". The latter and the US#9 hit "Let My Love Open The Door" were both inspired by conversations he's had with his wife Karen, who admitted she had reached the point where she maybe loved him a little.

One evening, by some miracle, [my wife Karen and I] were in bed at the same time. Before she dozed off I asked her a question. ‘Do you still love me?’ 
 ‘I don’t think so.’ 
 ‘Not even a little?’ 
 ‘Maybe a little,’ she replied. ‘Now please go to sleep, or go down and work. I’ve got to be up early.’

The album is exceptional. I got my copy as a used cassette from a Reno pawn shop, a year after Dave Marsh's Rolling Stone review in which he wrote:

If Empty Glass suggests anything, it’s that the new Who music might be very different, without sliding into the pomposity of “Music Must Change.” Pete Townshend’s current songs are mostly quiet declarations, not strident ones — another sharp departure from his past. And, after all, those of us who still hold out much faith and devotion for rock + roll at this point must grasp at any straw. The ones offered here are far stronger than most, because they’re bonded with real love.

 In fact The Who's next album Face Dances would pale in comparison to Empty Glass, leading to accusations that Townshend was saving his best material for his solo album.  Roger Daltry might have done better job singing "Gonna Get You", but he never would have sung the homoerotic lyrics of "Rough Boys" ( "I want to bite and kiss you") and "And I Moved".

Even some UK critics that didn't have nice things to say about Tommy and Quadrophenia liked Empty Glass. Red Starr of Smash Hits gave the album 7/10 writing:

This sees Pete well down the road to recovery with its honest songs with real melodies, though the lyrics still lean too heavily on unloading his complexes on to us rather than true inspiration or focused ideas. Hardly essential listening, but the enjoyable raw edge and concentrated energy show he's still a force to be reckoned with.

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