Sunday, 1 April 2007
R2P2 - Polar Foils 
Surely the most anticipated release of the year (and possible the decade thus far), the first album of supergroup R2P2, Polar Foils, has just been released.
For those who have been living under a rock for the last few years, R2P2 combines the surviving members of the Beatles (Ringo Starr on drums/vocals, Paul McCartney on bass/vocals) with the surviving members of the Who (Roger Daltrey on vocals, Pete Townshend on guitar/vocals). The band name, R2P2, comes from the first name initials of the four band members.
Former Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison passed away in late 2001 from cancer, and former Who bassist John Entwhistle passed away in 2002 from a drug-induced heart attack. After the funeral of John Entwhistle, Ringo and Paul met up with Pete and Roger, and in their time of mourning they started jamming together. What was originally thought to be a short-term musical rendezvous became the catalyst for an outburst of musical creativity that none of the individual members had experienced since their former bands' heydays in the late 60's (and early 70's for the Who).
This album could have been a complete disaster; cynics could very easily look at this as a cash-in attempt along the lines of the recently released Love (the Beatles remix album released by former Beatles producer George Martin and his son Giles) or the recent Who album Endless wire. But this album is not a disaster, and I am pleased to say that this is up there with some of the classic Beatles albums like Abbey Road from 1969 (but with a slightly rockier edge thanks to the Who influence). They even managed to have a sense of humour about the whole project -- the album cover is a parody of the With the Beatles cover, with the faces of the dearly departed George and John replaced with the faces of Pete and Roger.
Opening track I don't know why I'm here features a stunning Paul McCartney lead vocal, some great Ringo drum fills, and a classic Pete Townshend windmill guitar solo (Roger Daltrey is relegated to backing vocal status on this song). The lyrics are still up there with some of Macca's finest, and if I had to compare it to a classic Beatles song it would probably be Oh! darling from Abbey road.
Most of the tracks on Polar foils alternate between Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend penned numbers. Paul handles vocal duties on his own numbers, with the exception of Return to octopus' garden where Ringo reprises the classic Abbey road song. On the Pete Townshend songs, Pete generally shares vocals between himself and the gruffer Roger Daltrey.
One thing that the Beatles and the Who had in common was their love of the rock opera -- you only have to listen to Tommy or the second side of Abbey road to hear their love of weaving a patchwork quilt out of unfinished song fragments. And on the 2nd half of this album, they do exactly that. The song cycle We are here, we are everywhere features a stunning collaboration between genius songwriters Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend, where they trade vocals, stories, music-hall brilliance and psychedelic whimsy into a suite of songs that I do not hesitate to say is up there with the classic medleys of their former bands.
For those familiar with the "Paul is dead" conspiracy theories of the late 60's, R2P2 have played on this by hiding clues to a similar conspiracy theory within the lyrics, song titles and artwork of this album (sorry iTunes people, but you may miss out on the artwork clues). Apparently even the bizarre album title Polar foils is a clue. Conspiracy theory lovers can rejoice, and musical lovers can simply enjoy one of the best albums of the past 30 years.
This album is a masterpiece, and I do not use that word lightly. If you are a Beatles or Who fan (and I know there are a lot of you out there), go and buy this album right now. You will not regret it.