John Entwistle - So Who's the Bass Player; The Ox Anthology
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: May 6, 2005
Review by Paul ProvenzanoWebster defines an anthology as "any collection of selected works." For John Entwistle's So Who's the Bass Player; The Ox Anthology, I guess my problem is with who's doing the selecting.
This two-disc compilation of the late Who bass player Entwistle's solo career is chronologically arranged, starting with the heavy first album, Smash Your Head Against the Wall. It finishes with some live performances and, of all things, music from a failed cartoon series "Van-pires." While many of the studio songs from the first three or four albums are what Entwistle was all about, many of the later offerings are the bass player's best Who songs, but unfortunately not with The Who performing them.
Entwistle often complained in the '70s that The Who weren't rocking hard enough in their studio work. Ironically except for a couple of songs on Smash You Head ..., and his second album Whistle Rymes, most of his solo work was much tamer musically than Pete Townshend was delivering. Compare "Heaven and Hell" from the anthology to The Who's version on the B-side of the "Summertime Blues' single. Puzzling was also the absence of memorable bass lines in any studio work. You have to go to the live versions on Who songs in the anthology to find any examples of Entwistle's virtuosity as a bass player. In my opinion, he is one of the finest four-string (OK fans, also eight-string) thumpers ever to strap on a Thunderbird. Yet his solo work is dominated primarily by keyboards. Being an accomplished French Horn player, though, did promote the use of brass throughout the early albums. A great example is "I Wonder," with Entwistle (and his carpenter on trombone!) blasting through kicking horn lines.
The anthology's first CD takes us through the four initial albums, with a couple live tracks from 1975. This where you can hear the dark humor that was Entwistle's song writing niche. His black humor comes through on songs like "Made in Japan," with lines such as, " I didn't buy the car so I decided to get married instead." The great " I Wonder," pondering childlike with "I wonder what would happen if my fish could fly, would he leap from the tank and hit the cat in the eye?" but finishing Entwistle style, "Out through the window into the sky, I'm so glad sharks can't fly." Entwistle's dark wit can be found in most of his early solo works, e.g. "Pick Me Up (Big Chicken)" a song about being barely conscious drunk, "Who Cares" extolling the virtues of being a slacker, or "Thinking It Over" about a suicidal husband deciding if unfaithfulness is worth killing oneself over, while worrying about wasting the police's time. You need to listen closely to Entwistle's songs. And then we have "Peg Leg Peggy," an appendage challenged girlfriend described "when it comes to dancing she's the queen, she sounds just like a sewing machine." The Ox was never politically correct, unless there was a funny song in being so.
The second disc is where I have the most problems with the anthology. While I may have chosen a couple different songs from the first four albums (big error leaving "Big Black Cadillac" out), the bulk of the second CD are either live performances or obscure material. What was the reasoning behind including four songs from a 1975 sci-fi album called Flash Fearless Vs. the Zorg Women Parts 5 & 6? Three of the songs only contain Entwistle on bass, and the other "To the Chop" on which he does sing. Entwistle did not write any of that material. I would have preferred his "Gimme That Rock 'n' Roll" from Rigor Mortis instead. The three best songs from his last real studio solo release Too Late the Hero are represented, the best being "Talk Dirty To Me". Following that are a couple songs from an attempted project called The Rock. This is around the time Entwistle stopped singing his songs. It became very noticeable in the eighties his distinctive nasal tone was failing him. While "Love Doesn't Last" isn't a bad song, it would have been much better with John performing the vocals. Henry Small, who does sing the two songs from The Rock, is a bit too much over the top for my tastes. After The Rock songs, we get four live Who songs performed in 1988 by The John Entwistle Band. Here is where you get to hear some of the Ox's best bass fingering.
"Thunderfingers" as some called him, shines on Townshend's "The Real Me". Concluding the anthology is set of songs recorded at various times over an almost twenty year period starting in 1978. They were released for an American TV cartoon series called Van-pires. While the songs are OK, they are really nothing more than a curiosity.
This brings us to the question, to what purpose does this anthology serve? If you want a best of, this isn't it. A good portion of these songs are just here to represent certain times in the timeline. Is it a sampler? The best songs are off of the first three albums, of which 52% of those albums are represented. You would be better off just buying those three. If you're a die hard Entwistle fan, you've already got this stuff, probably in vinyl and CD form, hopefully the autographed Flash Fearless... record. I do (not the Flash... though.) Remember, an anthology is a collection only. It doesn't have to chronologically represent the works. It doesn't have to include a piece of every project. It could simply be just the selected best works, which is what would have been a better idea.
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