If Empty Glass, an album filled with songs that could have been performed by the Who, was a solo album because it was too revealing and personal, All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes was a solo record since it's impossible to hear anyone but Townshend wanting to indulge in this deliberately arty, awkwardly poetic bullsh*t. Where his other albums showed an inclination toward classical-influenced art rock, this is defiantly modern art, filled with stagey prose, synthesizers, drum machines, angular song structures, and a heavy debt to new wave -- in short, Townshend's vision of what modern music should sound like in 1982. This kind of record taunts cynics and critics, being nearly impenetrable in its content even if the production and the music itself aren't all that inaccessible. The problem is, this is Arty with a capital A and Pretentious with a capital P, yet Townshend never seems embarrassed, never shies away from indulging himself in his own ego. While autobiographical to a certain extent (how else to read "Somebody Saved Me" or "Stardom in Acton," which drops the Who's home borough?), it's hard to tell exactly what he's on about. So it's easy to see why many listeners are exasperated instead of intrigued (or even admire its damn impenetrability), but it's also easy to get fascinated by the album's very obtuseness. This is very much of a piece and, apart from the gems "North Country Girl" and "Slit Skirts," it's hard to separate individual songs and see them as their own works. Indeed, separating All the Best Cowboys from its era is even difficult, since the album's surface glistens with new wave synths and guitars; this is clearly a record Townshend could only have made in 1982, emboldened by new wave, the reaction to Empty Glass, new sobriety, and general hubris. For these reasons, this is very much loved by a certain portion of Townsend's fan base -- and for the same reasons many, many people despise it. And any record that fractures an audience so considerably is worth a spin. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

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