Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane, ‘Rough Mix’ (10/03/77)

Rough Mix is a sort of double solo album by Pete Townshend and former Face Ronnie Lane. Except on two cuts, where Lane and Townshend sing together, the LP shifts between Townshend’s high, almost preteen vocal sound, and Lane’s rougher, grainier singing: innocence and experience. The combination doesn’t quite come off, but the music’s utterly idiosyncratic insistence on its own validity has its charms. There are no commercial ambitions here; rather, Townshend and Lane seem to be trying to find their places in the scheme of things, casually fooling with rock and roll to make room for themselves.

Rough Mix offers nothing as striking as “Pure and Easy” or “Let’s See Action,” the highlights of Townshend’s first solo LP (Who Came First), but nothing as dull as the rest of it; Lane’s music lacks the luminescence of the joyous British folk-rock on his last album One More for the Road, made with his aptly named band, Slim Chance, but then that album was never even released in the U.S. Here, Lane gets an opportunity to be heard; Townshend gets the chance to once more face an audience on his own, without Roger Daltrey’s increasingly inexpressive singing to muddle his intentions. At least Rough Mix sounds alive, as if it was thought up and set out by real people.The album has its moments: gorgeous organ on Town­shend’s “Keep Me Turning,” which seems to be a quieter way of saying, “Hope I die before I get old”; Eric Clapton’s dobro on Lane’s “April Fool” is as striking as his guitar on the title instrumental is pedestrian. Lane’s “Annie” blends archaic Scottish folk melodies and rock and roll with a natural ease no one in British rock has approached since Sandy Denny left Fairport Convention and Rod Stewart dumped Martin Quittenton and Mickey Waller in favor of American session men. Pursuing the folk impulses that were at the heart of Stewart’s music, Lane is working toward a timeless sound that in a pop context sounds less classical than personal. His music calls up the eternal British country landscape; the purpose is not to promote Village Green Preservation Societies, but to get across determined sentiments about the value of a sense of place, romantic love, family, and friendship. Lane convinces a listener that his music will not wear out, that it need refer to nothing in the mainstream to make its claims stick. And like Townshend’s “Keep Me Turning” or his “Heart to Hang Onto” (sung with Lane), this is a response to passing the age one once hoped to die before reaching: a way of saying (Townshend) I’m not leaving, and (Lane) I’ve found things worth staying for.

Which brings us to the real question: What does all this have to do with the Sex Pistols?

Well, a lot, I think. Rough Mix suggests a way out of the dilemma British punk rock has forced on people like Townshend and Lane. In England the punks have truly seized the time; all older professional British rockers committed to a dynamic relationship with an audience (with Townshend, the terms of this relationship are historical, mythic; with Lane, both financial and sympathetic) are suddenly out of touch, irrelevant. The audience that today is making pop history has moved past Graham Parker without ever really hearing him and left confused, noble figures like Ian Hunter high and dry, stranded. What are people like these to do? Pretend they can’t play? Write down to the audience? They may still find someone to pay them to play, but the credibility they need to make music, the sense that they are part of things, is already being denied them.

If Rough Mix and, say, Elvis Costello’s new album, My Aim Is True, are any indication, the answer to this quandary may be to learn from the punks: to opt out of the mainstream of pop music and the pop industry, which the punks have identified as sterile and repressive—to opt out not through the adoption of a punk stance or style but through the idiosyncrasy of the kind of music Townshend and Lane are making, or through the patent weirdness of a performer like Costello (who writes nice love songs, and also put out a debut single attacking the recent BBC appearance of Oswald Mosely, once the leader of the old British Union of Fascists and today a hero to the neo-fascist National Front). In the face of the punk moment, this many be the only way to stay alive as an artist: to step back, stand off, and start over, bidding that one’s new music can lead to a new relationship with new listeners. Veterans who rely on the commercial certainties of the audience they won years ago will continue to make money, but they are already fading from pop consciousness, already old farts. Rough Mix, in its modesty and dogged refusal of mainstream commercial ambitions, may be of a piece with the punk regression to localism, singles as newspapers, and independent labels. Townshend, of course, is a father of punk rock; he may yet become its heir.

Village Voice, October 3, 1977

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