Various Artists

Substitute: The Songs of the Who

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Considering the Who are without question in the top tier of legendary and influential rock acts, you'd think they deserved better than this dispiritingly poor tribute -- especially because unlike your average tribute album, this one features no shortage of heavyweights, here paying homage to Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle, and Moon. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is how badly one of the band's oldest friends lets it down; David Bowie turns in a slowed-down cover of "Pictures of Lily" that's lifeless enough to make you nostalgic for Tin Machine. However, most of the other hired help fares no better. Give pop lightweights Fastball and jam band progenitors Phish both credit for trying to tackle their cuts -- "The Real Me" and "5:15," respectively -- head-on, but neither band is up for two of the most rocking cuts in the Who's songbook, and the vocals on both tracks are embarrassingly bad. Ditto for Pearl Jam's "The Kids Are Alright," which also sticks closely to the original arrangement, making Eddie Vedder's whimpering all the more ridiculous. Even the Who itself, regrouped for a run-through of the title cut, will try the patience of devoted fans. In fairness, Sheryl Crow does turn in a handsome version of "Behind Blue Eyes," and having fellow mod-loving Brits like Paul Weller ("Circles") and the underrated Cast ("The Seeker") on board was a decent idea. But overall, the best thing you can say about Substitute is that, considering Townshend'd vast back catalog, the inclusion of only 11 songs is a rare act of mercy.

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