The standard joke on The Who’s tenth album is that It’s Hard to listen to. Robert Christgau described it thusly: “Between the synths and the book-club poetry it’s the nearest thing to classic awful English art-rock since Genesis discovered funk.” Allmusic gave it two stars and described it as “an undistinguished final effort” that “featured few memorable melodies and little energy.”
After this, The Who went into semi-retirement, touring sporadically and not issuing another album for 24 years. But returning to It’s Hard today reveals it was the band’s strongest album since Quadrophenia; certainly far better than its previous album, the wretched Face Dances.
The hit anchoring this thing, “Eminence Front,” stands among the band’s best songs while appropriating an early ‘80s sound—no easy feat. The album found Pete Townshend incorporating synths but not as ham-fistedly as he had in the past. Meanwhile, on his second album with The Who, new drummer Kenney Jones stretches into his role enough to evoke Keith Moon but not imitate him.
Bassist John Entwistle, whose songs had been become the highlights of Who albums in recent years, contributes three characteristically tough tracks. Finally, the album’s closer, “Cry If You Want,” ends the album with brittle, driving guitars and wordy verses that give way to a percussive, sparse, simple chorus and an ethereal bridge—classic Who. Who knew they still had it in ‘em?