PETE TOWNSHEND Psychoderelict (SPV)

Grappling for once with a concept not of his own making, “The Iron Man” recasts Ted Hughes’ childrens’ fable as a musical (it says so on the cover; not a rock opera, note); later it would mutate the animated film “The Iron Giant”, which Townsend co-produced.

The cast list is impressive, including Townshend’s backroom sidekick Billy Nicholls, John Lee Hooker and Nina Simone, not at all typecast as (it says here) “an enormous anarchic spirit from space in the guise of a dragon”. Of even greater potential interest is the fact that two tracks are credited to The Who: unfortunately, they confirm the band’s wisdom in sitting out most of the 80s and 90s, any raw power the three-cornered band still possessed sapped by production polish and twiddly arrangements, particularly on their cover of The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown’s “Fire”.

Else where the album variously offers twee fare that doesn’t escape (and maybe doesn’t even impress) the source material’s juvenile demographic (“A Friend Is A Friend”) or an abundance of soft rock platitudes, although Simone is suitably venomous on “Fast Food”, despite the encroaching slickness that surrounds her. I feel duty bound to point out that SPV’s reissue adds three alternate takes of tracks from the main feature.

Tortuous as “The Iron Man”’s storyline may be, it’s a model of narrative concision compared to Townshend’s 1993 effort “Psychoderelict”. It’s the story of a journalist’s efforts to reinvigorate the career of washed-up has-been rocker Ray High (played here by…well, do I have to say his name?) through the medium of a borderline paedophilic photograph. This thread is occasionally interrupted, as if by an impatient channel surfer, by sci-fi twaddle about “The Grid”, a kind of hybrid of the internet and “The Matrix” that bears more than a passing resemblance to Townshend’s mooted “Lifehouse” concept album, perhaps wisely abandoned by The Who in favour of the more straightforward kicks of “Who’s Next”. Making the connection painfully explicit, “Lifehouse” and “Who’s Next” demos pepper the album, and at one point High admits to “going over some old music I did in 1970. It’s got something, something special. I could really dream then.”

If “Psychoderelict” is a brilliant, multi-layered conceptual trick it certainly doesn’t sound like one. Instead, it’s kinda like a Roger Waters solo album, except not even that good. The music is clichéd old rocker fare, flailing, noisy and impotent. In what might be considered an overestimate of public interest, “Psychoderelict” was originally issued in two separate forms: “The Play” dramatised the story with dialogue and sound effects, the “Music Only” version, uh, didn’t. SPV’s, um, generous reissue gives us both, along with five bonus tracks (including the interminable “Psychomontage”, which appears to be a 13 minute collage of outtakes from the main feature), dragging the whole experience out to a numbing two-and-a-half hours, most of which seems to be spent listening to the dreadful “English Boy”, with its riff closely modelled on Electronic’s far superior “Feel Every Beat”. As Pete says at one point, “It’s an existential horror”, and maybe he’s right.

The Who