Can it be that Roger Daltrey’s singing career has finally turned the full circle and his time with The Who was merely an aberration? Back before Pete started messing around with riff-driven songs about teenage angst and graduated to rock operas, Roger was an R&B singer through and through, thoroughly at home on those songs from the 1965 My Generation album like ‘I Don’t Mind’, ‘Please Please Please’ and ‘I’m A Man’, not to mention the out-takes from the album sessions that surfaced later like ‘Shout And Shimmy’ and ‘Anytime You Want Me’. And all the way along it often seemed to me that he was at his happiest singing those rock’n’roll standards The Who covered, like ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’ and ‘Road Runner’. Then there was Pete’s ‘Long Live Rock’, a curio really, but it wouldn’t be out of place on this record Roger has made with Wilko Johnson, ailing guitar hero of Dr Feelgood whose back catalogue is plundered by the pair of them in some style and plenty of swagger.
Indeed, the album’s opener and title track ‘Going Back Home’ doesn’t sound a million miles away from ‘Long Live Rock’. Is it sacrilege to suggest that this material suits Roger’s voice better than anything Pete has written since, well, maybe Quadrophenia, or at least since Keith died? That voice, together with Wilko’s trademark stabbing, choppy, echo-free guitar style makes for a rollocking good album, gritty and energetic, foot down, head for home and don’t spare the horses, as you would expect from seasoned professionals like Roger and Wilko, alongside Blockheads über-bassist Norman Watt Roy and drummer Dylan Howe, who have made up Wilko’s most recent touring band.
Going Back Home was recorded in seven days – and there’s nothing wrong with that – at Roger’s home studio at East Burwash on the Kent-Sussex Border, its speedy gestation suggesting an element of urgency in view of Wilko’s fragile state of health. It’s long been a contention of mine that music recorded quickly conveys an urgency that is lost when sessions drag on for months and this urgency can only be good for the music, well music like this anyway, ten no-nonsense old fashioned (Maximum) R&B-styled Feelgood and Wilko originals plus a full-bodied stab at Dylan’s scornful ‘Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window’.
It’s no surprise that Wilko and Roger share a mutual admiration for Johnny Kidd & The Pirates whose influence can be felt in both The Who and Dr Feelgood, and some years ago this became a topic of discussion for them when they met at some awards do. It evidently resulted in a plan to record together at some vague time in the future. Then Wilko’s diagnoses made it a matter of urgency, hence Going Back Home and the live show at Shepherds Bush that accompanied its March release.
I’ve been listening to Going Back Home for a month now, usually on the train between Guildford and Waterloo, and come to like it a lot. There is a vintage feel to the record which in many ways points to the fact that these two were made for one another. Roger is certainly at home on the two Feelgood classics ‘All Through The City’ (I particularly like hearing him enunciate ‘… See you in the morning, down by the jetty’) and ‘Sneaking Suspicion’ but he’s also very effective when he takes his foot off the gas to slow down for ‘Turned 21’. Wilko’s short sharp solos are as invigorating as ever, for which we can all give thanks, and Steve Weston, another Southend-on-Sea marvel, gives it his all on harp too.
Roger himself probably put it best when asked to describe the album for Uncut magazine: “Fast, three-minute r&b songs,” he said. “No bullshit.” Great job lads, and here’s to Wilko staying strong for a good while yet.