In interviews throughout the '60s and '70s, Who guitarist-songwriter Pete Townshend babbled incessantly about his grandiose vision for a unifying rock sound that would fuse his studies of the guru Meher Baba with the democratizing possibilities of synthesizers, all wrapped in the highly personal story of an aesthete growing up on the edges of the British working class. This fevered self-examination didn't manifest much in Townshend's Who songs, aside from the stark "I just vomited on myself" confessionals of Who By Numbers and Who Are You. But on his solo albums, Townshend made more ambitious swings at crafting a sort of straight-from-the-subconscious insta-pop, infused with elaborate science-fiction/fantasy metaphors and the plain talk of an exasperated everyman.
Most of those solo albums are weighed down with self-indulgent filler, but they also contain more than a few of Townshend's best, most personal, and most endearingly quirky songs. The long-overdue double-disc compilation Gold includes just about every solo Townshend gem—and a few too many duds—all arranged non-chronologically, so listeners can't bail after the minor hits from White City. Highlights include the versions of "Pure And Easy" and "Let's See Action" from Townshend's first, under-heard solo disc. Those two multi-part songs popped up later on Who albums, but they make more sense in a looser, less arena-bound format, carried by the same country-jazz-rock fusion guitar that dominated Townshend's '70s work—including Rough Mix, his collaboration with Faces bassist Ronnie Lane, represented best here by the album-rock hit "My Baby Gives It Away").
Naturally, the finest material on Gold is drawn from Townshend's finest solo album, the brittle but poppy Empty Glass, and its immediate follow-up, the frequently silly but just as frequently inspired All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes. But while Gold would've been much improved by the addition of a healthy scoop of Townshend's demo collections, it's still a handy, near-comprehensive portrait of one of rock's true visionaries, from the times when he was relaxed enough to try to realize some of his craziest dreams.