In the mid-‘80s, Pete Townshend’s star as a solo artist was high. He’d broken through earlier in the decade with singles such as “Let My Love Open the Door” and “Slit Skirts,” and was beginning to escape the long shadow of The Who. His solo projects included a pair of concerts he’d played in London with his temporary supergroup Deep End. Including such luminaries as David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd) on guitar and featuring a powerful brass ensemble, The Kick Horns, the group performed at London’s Brixton Academy to raise money for treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. The concerts were less than wildly successful — a third show was cancelled for lack of ticket sales — but the recordings were released later, first on video (full concert) and in 1985, in excerpted form, as Deep End Live!, to generally positive reviews.

The tracks selected for Deep End Live! were reordered from the original concert, and today read as a random splash, someone’s attempt to alternate fast-slow-fast-slow without much rhyme or reason otherwise. The flow is clumsy. The album kicks off well enough with a jubilant blast from The Kick Horns, but the track itself (“Barefootin’”) is a weak blue-eyed-soul remake of a Robert Parker classic. Townshend’s love for his blues and R&B tracks is undisputable, but his ability to put them over is modest at best, and though it launches the album with energy, the song hardly seems adequate to engage.

Fortunately, it’s followed by one of the best tracks on the album: “After the Fire,” a Townshend track that became a hit for Who-mate Roger Daltrey the same year. Sultry, hip, impassioned, Townshend’s version is the perfect argument for the singer-songwriter; only the creator can truly understand, and put over, every nuance of the lyrics, every turn of the melody. The musical accompaniment builds from a light keyboard and harmonica to a driving beat and powerful horns. There’s an ache in Townshend’s voice that Daltrey, always king of the big sell and the stadium belt, can’t quite put over. If Townshend lacks Daltrey’s vocal power, he has timbre and range that had gone underappreciated for a long time. Here and elsewhere on Deep End Live!, they are seen to advantage — but mostly on Townshend’s own compositions, e.g. “Behind Blue Eyes.”

The 10-track album goes by in a flash, feeling almost like an EP — unsurprising, given the trim 38:45 run time. There are several standout tracks besides “After the Fire,” among them “Stop Hurting People,” the opener from Townshend’s All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, here re-invigorated and surpassing the original. Synthesized horns are replaced by real ones, and if Townshend’s articulation is less clear, his intensity is brighter. One can imagine the whole stage erupting in a joyous rockout by the time the final lyrical penny drops: “Without your match / There is no flame.

In general, the covers here are the weakest tracks, but one exception is Townshend’s take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” Eschewing the voodoo-laced approach of Hawkins’ 1956 recording for a slow-grow mournful contemplation on infidelity, the track starts with Townshend’s pick-work and swells on a lift of horns to the bridge. Gilmour’s trademark guitar takes over for the long, near-Floydian sweeps of the break, and just a hint of organ joins in for Townshend’s heartache cries of “I can’t stand it!” for the final verse. It puts the song in a different light than we’re used to hearing it, and it both emphasizes the strength of Hawkins’ songwriting and lets us know that Townshend really is capable of more than the humdrum cover of The [English] Beat’s “Save it For Later” which follows.

The album finishes with a vigorous but uninspiring cover of the Sonny Boy Williamson blues standard “Eyesight to the Blind” (previously covered in very different form by The Who, so probably a favorite of Townshend’s). It would better have ended with the penultimate track, “A Little is Enough,” a Townshend original and — with the admitted exception of the unfortunate “body so edible” — lyrically one of his most wild and graceful. “I’m like a connoisseur of champagne cognac/ The perfume nearly beats the taste/ I eat an oyster and I feel the contact/ But more than one would be a waste.” Long the master of the anthem — think “Love Reign O’er Me” or “Baba O’Riley” — Townshend here brings us the bounce of exuberant love, warmed again by the genius of The Kick Horns and what feels like an on-stage party. In a world of “can’t get enough”s, Townshend celebrates the joy of a love so fantastic that “a little is enough.

A fitting summary, really, for an uneven album where the highs are orbital and the lows forgettable bumps in the road. Every track doesn’t work, but the ones that do are transcendent. It’s a gravel pathway punctuated with glimmering gems. And that makes the journey worthwhile.

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