After a 24-year gap between studio albums, guess who's back? (No, not the Guess Who, Abbott.) Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are finally making Who records again, and here's an irony: Endless Wire sounds like something they ran out of time to finish. Three of the first nine numbers have Townshend singing and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar or piano, demo-style, with Daltrey MIA. Townshend plays some muted percussion, too; sadly, tour drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo's son) shows up to add full-Moon fills on just one track. The CD's second half, a 10-song ''mini-opera,'' has a more consistent band feel, but nearly every promising song fragment gets cut off after about two minutes, like Quadrophenia on fast-forward.
So they've got sprawl and focus issues. But this underproduced mess of an album also has an abundance of magnificent, quirkily anthemic songwriting and Rog remains a great, gruff middleman, on the two-thirds of the material Pete deigns to let him sing. When Townshend's slashing guitar and Daltrey's rebel yell tangle with a bizarrely beautiful lyric as in ''Black Widow's Eyes,'' a song about falling in love with a suicide bomber from across a crowded room there's nothing like it. Compare all this uncompromising eccentricity and ambition with the craven commerciality of certain other boomer bands, and you won't have to think long about who's still got it.