Pete Townshend celebrated his 70th birthday Tuesday with the release of the politically charged new track “Guantanamo” that will be featured on his upcoming solo compilation Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend. As evidenced by the title, the new song is about the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “Down in Guantanamo, we still got the ball and chain,” he sings. “There’s a long road to travel for justice to make its claim.”
“I thought this song might never see the light of day,” Townshend said in a statement. “But now [that] President Obama has relaxed sanctions in Cuba, it is a happy sign he might go further. Technically this was created in rather a laborious way. I recorded a long organ drone using my vintage Yamaha E70 organ (used many times by me on Who and solo recordings in the past), and then cut it into something that sounded like a song using a feature unique to Digital Performer called ‘chunks.’ This creates blocks of groups of tracks that can be assembled and disassembled easily, like cutting multitrack analogue tape with a razor blade, but with less blood. The lyric grew out of the implicit angry frustration in the organ tracks.”
The only other new track on the LP is “How Can I Help You.” “[It] was inspired partly by the frustrating emotional difficulties experienced by a valued colleague,” Townshend said. “He was in great physical pain and it drove him into depression. I performed an acoustic version of the song on my partner Rachel Fuller’s webcast show ‘In the Attic.’ I began this recording with an acoustic guitar, added drum loops and breaks then Gretsch and Rickenbacker 12-string guitars and John Entwistle’s hybrid Thunderbird-Fender Precision bass.”
Other Townshend solo tracks on the album – which hits stores on June 30th – include “Let My Love Open The Door,” “Rough Boys,” “Sheraton Gibson” and “The Sea Refuses No River.” “I hope it offers a selection that works to introduce new fans to my solo work,” he says. “I am a bit of a dabbler, I’m afraid. I am as interested in building, developing and playing with recording studios as I am with making music. The Who has taken up most of my road hours, and in this year of the 50th anniversary of our first significant year in 1965, we are back on the road again.”
Townshend hasn’t released a new solo album since 1993’s Psychoderelict. “If I did [make a new album], I think I would want it to be something that really addressed everything that’s going on in the world at the moment,” he told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “I’m old enough and wise enough and stupid enough and have done enough dangerous shit to say pretty much whatever I like. It won’t be popular, but nobody can hurt me now, really. When it comes to doing that work, I have to live with it for a while. I’ve written a couple in the last five or six years. I don’t know whether I want to put an album out right now.”
The Who are in the middle of the American leg of their 50th anniversary tour. Townshend recently played a benefit show with Eddie Vedder in Chicago on an off-day from the tour, and next week, Bruce Springsteen well present him with the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award for his work supporting the MusiCares MAP Fund at a New York ceremony.