Such objections aside, The Kids Are Alright, a double-album soundtrack to the recently released documentary film, is an okay record. It’s not the definitive Who collection—there have already been a few botched attempts at that—but a solid retrospective, very mainstream, with hardly a hint of the eccentricity that, at least in the early years, had as much to do with the group’s identity as violence and noise. The Kids Are Alright lacks only excitement and surprise.
Most cuts come from concerts or TV programs. The set begins with a version of “My Generation” taken from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (the emcee’s intro is charmingly stupid, the performance foreshortened). There follow eighteen more tunes, some sandwiched into medleys. The finale is a live “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” complete with muddy sound and a very big scream from Roger Daltrey. The last number has become the most tiresome “anthem” of the decade, and the heat the band puts into it here doesn’t rescue it from its own clichés: the political clichés that were there in the lyrics all along, or the musical ideas that have long since grown stale.
Low points include “Long Live Rock,” which has not exactly grown with the years, and the inevitable Tommy side (saved—and shamed—by the much-bootlegged Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus version of “A Quick One”). High points include John Entwistle’s indestructible “My Wife” and a Ready Steady Go! take (or lip-sync?) of “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.” New music consists of a snatch of “Roadrunner” and a medley squeeze of something called “My Generation Blues,” which is not stunning.
Sorry—this is just not a knock-out punch, or really any kind of statement. The reliance of The Kids Are Alright on the familiar and the enshrined makes the Who’s career seem much more obvious than it was (before Tommy, it was mainly weird), and that distances an old fan. Despite (or because of) Keith Moon’s death, I can’t find it in my heart to feel very sentimental about the band. I still cherish the Who’s ability to surprise the world, and I’m still waiting to find out what the next surprise will be.