The second album following the death of drummer Keith Moon, and the last until 2006’s ENDLESS WIRE, The Who’s album IT’S HARD isn’t as highly regarded as the group’s late 60’s and 70’s output. Released in 1982, the band wasn’t considered “relevant” anymore by most mainstream rock critics. Radio stations and casual music fans greeted IT’S HARD with ambivalence when it came out, and the album languished at #11 in the UK and #8 in the US. Of course, most bands would kill for their album to reach #8. But IT’S HARD wasn’t released by “most bands,” it was put out by the legendary Who (or what remained of them).
A few years ago I got into this phase where every time I took a long car-trip I’d go buy a Who album to listen to while I drove. After a few long-ass car rides I’d purchased just about every single Who album, except for FACE DANCES and IT’S HARD. I chose IT’S HARD over FACE DANCES because I’d heard “Eminence Front” on the radio growing-up and remembered liking it.
Despite being deemed a failure upon it’s release, I found IT’S HARD to actually be not only a pretty solid late-period Who album, but actually a pretty good Who album-overall. IT’S HARD is an extremely passionate record. Roger Daltry is no slouch when it comes to conveying emotion through his legendary rock-howl…but on IT’S HARD his voice is downright visceral.
I also read a review somewhere that said the album was full of complex songs with meandering structures that, for the large part have no strong melodies. I agree with some of that. The songs do have long, almost prog-rock like structures, but this enhances the album and is a detraction. I will admit that the hooky lyrics and melodies of the early Who albums aren’t as strong here. But what the album lacks in “hooks” and choruses you can instantly sing along with, the album makes up in passion.
The album’s two singles–the before mentioned “Eminence Front” and “Athena,” aren’t really very reflective of the album as a whole. Whenever this happens (a band’s single not representing the bulk of an album’s content), that artist is nearly always in trouble. Perhaps the main record-buying public balked at IT’S HARD because of “Athena” and it’s bubbly, adult-contemporary-ness. Serious Who fans who were floored by the groovy white-guy soul (that only Brits can pull off) of “Eminence Front” were probably turned off by the rather non-groovy white-guy soul of the rest of the album. Both groups are hard to please, but with the passage of time and absolutely no expectations I walked into this album complete and utterly shocked. And amazed.
As stated earlier, this is a record dripping with passion, and passion and politics go hand-in-hand. No stranger’s to politics, The Who once again dabble in fiery protest rock with “I’ve Known No War.” Equal parts anti-war/pacifist, this song chillingly points out that even if a person doesn’t want to fight in the great war it won’t matter…because the next great war will be fought by two people with there fingers on “the button.”
Also political, is “Why Did I Fall For That?” which seems to directly answer the band’s earlier “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Listening to this song reminds me some of my relatives who voted for the current president…then voted for him the second time. The song reminds us that history will hold ALL of us accountable for falling for the same old line time and time again. In other words, twenty years later, it STILL touches a nerve. That, my friends, is awesome.
The album’s title track is fucking amazing. It’s completely 100% classic Who. It has the nice, rollicking guitar. It has the pounding drums. It has the classic Who-background vocal-chant. The lyrics, while a little cumbersome at times are still pretty good. Who (not the band) after a particularly bad day hasn’t asked the heavens above to be dealt a better hand? The Who (band) have:
“Anyone can do anything if they hold the right card
So I’m thinking about my life now
I’m thinking very hard
Deal me another hand Lord, this one’s very hard
Deal me another hand Lord, this one’s very hard”
The guitar work on this record, while a little more restrained (compared to previous Who records) is still very good. I’m not a fan of the ridiculous Rocky-Theme-sounding horns at the beginning of “One At a Time.” These horns were never cool, not even in 1982. Crappy horns (they’re seriously only there for like 5 seconds) aside, “One At a Time” is actually a pretty good song, in the same vein as “Squeeze Box” and “You Better You Bet.” But my biggest gripe I have about IT’S HARD is that it’s production is a bit dated (read: sounds like the 1980’s) and the band uses a bit too much synthesizer for my taste. I’m sure at the time; this wasn’t as big an issue as it is now. Like black and white film, the sound of a synthesizer really turns a lot of young people off. To be fair to The Who, IT’S HARD makes good use of the synthesizer. Still, I think the production/synthesize-issue are the two main reasons this record’s reputation takes such a hit compared to the bulk of the Who’s recordings in many people’s esteem.
Despite a lackluster public and critical reception, IT’S HARD is actually pretty fucking amazing now that I think about it. Next time you find yourself about to listen to WHO’S NEXT, TOMMY, or (if you’re really cool) QUADROPHENIA, pop in IT’S HARD instead. This album demands a second (or third, fourth, etc.) listen.