Almost three decades on from his last single, solo release, Pete Townshend is back with lap steel in tow. That is more than enough to rally the crowds, who will soon dissipate as they realise it is another legacy artist track bashing and berating recent pandemic lockdowns with the simplicity that comes from anyone attracted to understanding the modern period. Townshend does well to avoid the pratfalls Van Morrison struggled to push back against and at least makes for a sonically interesting experience, but even then the notions within are difficult. Not because of their emotional range, as Townshend finds himself contemplating the isolation of the time, but because lockdown tracks are sickly, dirty pieces. Can’t Outrun the Truth cannot outrun that.
They are for film and they are for music. It is not that lockdown did not need discussing, vocally or musically, but the same few trodden-down ideals represented as plain and obvious as they always are, makes for dull listening. Townshend manages to scrape together a track that avoids much of that. The Who alumni collaborates on lyrics from musician and partner Rachel Fuller in a track that shares their fear of isolating inside together. Everyone went a little stir-crazy in that period, a little loopy. Some of us took the time to reflect on this inevitable shift in living, others decided the best course of action was to do Jaeger bombs and watch re-runs of Father Ted on UK Gold. Some did both. Those that need to be taken away on a wave of lap steel and comfortable listening can depend on Townshend.
Because that is exactly what Can’t Outrun the Truth is. It is a comfortable listen so long as the suspension of thought is present. Whatever truth Townshend is running from makes no impression lyrically beyond that of running away from an event which has already happened. Beyond the good intentions of the release, past the thoughtful violin and isolated feel, Townshend has crafted a solid track. He cements the mood of the piece well with the instrumentals, a frankly Richard Hawley-sounding blur that then has some shaky but acceptable vocal work from Townshend. People lost themselves in lockdown and Townshend feels genuine when attempting to figure out what that disappearance was, and how it has impacted people.
He is, by his own admission, running out of time. Whether this leads him to a new turn of inspired solo music is yet to be seen. No peace of mind and working that into the song nicely gives Townshend opportune and inspired momentum that has affected everyone. He is one of the few to put it to song and fewer still to make an acceptable project from it. Townshend has waited for the dust to settle, has waited to see what the impact has been and handles his topic with care the likes of Morrison and Eric Clapton failed to understand and utilise. Some of us are just suckers for lap steel, though. Townshend has managed a harmless song, but whether that is because it is a heartfelt and independent look at his time indoors or a toothless, miser-led protest that misses its mark, is up for debate.