[Review] Pete Townshend: White City (1985)

You can wait to see the movie, but the album is one of Pete’s best.

Kronomyth 6.0: White place, white time.

White City had the misfortune of being allied with the inscrutable short film of the same name, though outside of that context it’s a stirring album of top-notch material. Forgetting the movie for a moment (handily done), these songs represent the most polished rock tunes to come from Pete Townshend’s pen in some time. “Give Blood,” “Brilliant Blues,” “Hiding Out,” “Secondhand Love” and “White City Fighting” belong with his best: rousing, resilient rock songs that treat self-assessment as a contact sport.

In fact, you could make the case that White City is his best solo album, song-for-song perhaps his strongest collection since Who Are You. The tracks are well laid out, alternating between impassioned rockers and more melodic pieces, enabling songs drawn from the same well to develop different tastes. It’s a less wordy affair than All the Best Cowboys, returning to the guitar-driven energy of Empty Glass, which should delight fans of that album.

What it all means, though, is anybody’s guess. The references to soul-searching at a critical point in life seem obvious, peace is made with the world, and the narrator returns re-charged to his home (finding his purpose in the process). At least, that was my take on White City until I saw the film, which just kind of follows some guy around in his home town, devoid of much action or interest. Townshend’s desire to again fuse music and theatre into an epic whole has been his unreachable itch in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The efforts, long in the making and generally uneven, have marginalized his impact in popular music. Yet, as an album of music, White City is a towering success.

Original elpee version

A1. Give Blood (5:44)
A2. Brilliant Blues (3:06)
A3. Face The Face (5:51)
A4. Hiding Out (3:00)
A5. Secondhand Love (4:12)
B1. Crashing By Design (3:14)
B2. I Am Secure (4:00)
B3. White City Fighting (Pete Townshend/Dave Gilmour) (4:40)
B4. Come To Mama (4:40)

CD reissue bonus tracks
10. Secondhand Love (live)
11. Face The Face (live)

All songs written by Pete Townshend unless noted. Kick Horns arranged by Kick Horns.

The Players

Pete Townshend,  Steve Barnacle, Mark Brzezicki, John (Rabbit) Bundrick, Tony Butler, Peter Hope-Evans, Dave Gilmour, Kick Horns (Simon Clarke, Roddy Lorimer, Tim Sanders, Pete Thoms), Chucho Merchan, Pino Palladino, Simon Phillips, Clem Burke, Phil Chen with Jackie Challenor (backing vocals), Mae McKenna (backing vocals), Lorenza Johnson (backing vocals), Emma Townshend (backing vocals), Ewan Stewart (recitation). Produced by Chris Thomas; engineered by Bill Price.

The Pictures

Design and art direction by Richard Evans. Front cover photography by Alex Henderson. Inner sleeve photography by Richard Evans, Malcolm Heywood, Stephen Pyke.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc in November 1985 worldwide (Atco, 252 392), the US (Atco, A2-90473), Canada (Atco, 79 904731) and Japan (Atco, P-13209) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #70 on the UK charts and #26 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-released on expanded compact disc in 2006 in Japan (Imperial, TECI-24350) with 2 bonus tracks.

1 thought on “[Review] Pete Townshend: White City (1985)

  1. Both this and Chinese Eyes would have been better records without the weird essays on the covers. The triangle expands and explodes! WTF? It just sets you up to expect pretentious nonsense, when both records are actually really good bunches of songs.

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