Simon Townshend: Looking Out, Looking In
Simon Townshend’s seventh studio album ‘Looking Out Looking In’ bears the freshness of a debut and the wisdom of a retrospective. Townshend plays guitar and mandolin with grace and great skill. With his son, Ben Townshend, on drums and Tony Lowe on lead guitar/keys/bass, he transports us to a world where feelings rule and life’s puzzles get sensitively examined and sometimes even resolved.
Townshend is an excellent arranger and successful producer. He performs with Pete Townshend, his brother, in the Who, and has toured with Roger Daltrey and Jeff Beck, but his solo career is equally fruitful.
His stories sometimes invite flashbacks of the ironic Harry Chapin or legendary Billy Joel. A self-sustaining writer, Townshend doesn’t require a partner to exorcise the feelings that fill his heart.
And though his previous albums, including ‘Among Us’ (1997), ‘Bare Assets’ (2000) and ‘Something New’ (2011) banked on those primal feelings as well, this current album grabs our attention from the first solid second.
‘Forever and a Day’ builds sensitively towards an elegant crescendo. This testament to true love is brought to life through the life-affirming messages “When years betray you/I will make you feel young” and “When hope is gone/I’ll have the strength to carry you on.” The sonic pay-off is Townshend’s gorgeous falsetto. That said, his voice is as good at conveying incensed rock lyrics as it is proclaiming eternal love.
‘Stay’ is a gentle but soulful ballad with a romantic hook. The title track evokes the innocence of the 1960s with lush harmonies and a laid back tempo.
The ‘Norwegian Wood’-esque story line of ‘She Asked Me’ is complemented by plaintive mandolin. ‘There’s a Girl’ is another beauty that centers on an even more complex relationship - “There’s a girl/ she’s a dream/She’s everything I wanted her to be.” The trouble is she can’t really be pleased - that conflict is really three-dimensionalised by Townshend’s vulnerable performance.
And as is typical of Townshend’s recordings, balance is well achieved. ‘Electric Friend’ merges revelation with an intense truculent beat, courtesy of Ben Townshend’s zeal.
“I neglected you my love/All the things I should have said and done,” Townshend declares, painting a remorseful picture at the onset. But his determination to win this love back explodes in the cut-to-the chase chorus. “Don’t want to be lonely in my bed of roses…” Lowe’s tragically beautiful solo work and Townshend’s dreamy outro also embellish this recording.
Filmic strings uphold ‘Still Love’. The bold ‘Making Waves’ recalls classically based works by Rick Wakeman, and you can also get lost in the killer harmonies.
Diversity is one of the best overall elements here. Even the closing number ’Make It’ channels punk and Kinks-like rock. This album will only gather more steam as Simon introduces these tracks to new audiences. And whether that audience is youthful or mature, it doesn’t really matter because he incorporates multiple musical eras into ‘Looking Out Looking In’, and the emotions he explores are so universal that it’s bound to be a classic.