Classic Rock Review

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The Who Quadrophenia (1973)


Concept albums piss me off. Every single time a band incorporates a storyline into a record, they are suddenly proclaimed to new heights, regardless of what the music itself reflects. Look at American Idiot, by Green Day. Interesting story, but a step backwards for the band ( I know that and I don’t even like them). And suddenly, BAM every teenage girl is wearing a shirt, listening to only three songs on the radio/ MTV.

A lot of bands who make concept albums can talk the talk, but do not walk the walk, and that’s why they can produce a concept album- to make money, because they know the media are suckers for it. If I hate concept albums, then why have I reviewed a lot of them, and given them high scores? Because of a factor called originality.

The Who were a band that attempted many concept albums over the years. Sad to say, one of them failed. But the two that prevailed brought the band to a new height in their career, musically and commercially. Of the two, the earlier Tommy, and the successor, Quadrophenia, Quadrophenia earns my pick for Pete Townshend’s best project. Its juxtaposition of musical tastes, as well as pure songwriting brilliance, is far superior to Tommy, in my honest opinion.

Quadrophenia opens with “I am the Sea”, a flurry of serene oceanic noises. The roar of ocean waves crashing upon the seaside, and sand wistfully blowing around, and seashells, just talking to you through the wind. Perfect way to open a tale about a boy named Jimmy, and much like Tommy, Jimmy has a challenging life, and a less than perfect childhood to go through. “The Real Me” might as well be the best song on the album. John Entwistle and Keith Moon give what is proclaimed to be their best performance, with a powerful bassline, and a crazy drum beat that fuel the song. Add Roger Daltrey’s soaring, growly voice, and you’ve got the best song on disc one, hands down. The title track is different from anything on the album, and probably one of the best instrumentals. The use of a violin, intertwined with guitar solos and thumping bass is spectacular, and the violin playing is exceptional.

Roger Daltrey’s voice is climaxing on “Quadrophenia”. What his voice used to be is long gone, the little growl, and replaced with a far more masculine, and throatier voice. It just soars. His screaming alone is powerful enough for you to enjoy the album. Some of his best vocals are on songs like the rhythmically insane “The Real Me”, “Cut My Hair” which is a thoroughly rocking tune, and “5:15″which combines keyboards, heavy guitar solos, and Roger’s wail to sculpt one of my favorite Who songs. Plus, the live version features a mammoth bass solo.

Every instrument here does its job beautifully. Whether it be a bluesy number, an acoustic ballad, like “I’m One”, a hard rocker, or just an ambient track, all four members shine. Entwistle shows his chops every few seconds, with blindingly fast runs, and Pete Townshend’s guitar is what provides some awesome melodies. For instance, “The Dirty Jobs” is what every working man can relate to, about being pushed around at your job, but is one of the more diverse tracks, with chants and clapping, keyboard driven, yet it also includes blues guitar while a violin solos. And this only the first disc.

As the album progresses, “Helpless Dancer” touches up on a darker side of the narrative. Jimmy is starting to feel anti-social, and feeling hatred towards different people. However, it sounds as if the song was written from a neo-nazi’s point of view, with unneeded verbal blows at different races. Racial profiling is not something you’d expect from this album. But “It’s in My Head” and “I’ve Had Enough” are the perfect ending to the first disc. As Jimmy gets ready for a dance, looking like a total badass, his love for a girl is ruined when he sees her with his friend.

Roger’s voice is strong, and his screaming is awesome. Backed by an acoustic guitar and some cool percussion, Roger’s voice progresses from soft into full blown power, and with the tempo increasing, the guitar and vocals explode with wonderful interplay.

The Second Disc is just as powerful as the first, and opens with a mammoth song, “5:15” which is where Jimmy rides the train to Brighton, and gets stoned. Musically, it’s one of the best on the double album, with soaring vocals, cool keyboard parts, and John’s trumpet playing the melody. But the guitar solos are UBER cool. The guitar playing on the rest of the second disc far surpasses the first, chopped up with distortion and some awesome solos.

“Sea and Sand” is a rocker where Townshend’s guitar playing diversity is most apparent, and switching from acoustic finger picking to blues rock. Add awesome drumming and thumping bass, marked by Roger’s voice and you’re set. “Drowned” is Jimmy’s propaganda for suicide, and the repetition of “Let me go back to the sea, and set me free. I want to drown in cold water” is your clue that it’s a pretty dark song.

“Bell Boy” marks the climax of the album, as the last few songs are easily the best point on the album. Keith Moon makes some humorous vocal appearances, and Roger’s voice, with keyboards carry the remainder of the song, with an acoustic picked guitar. “Doctor Jimmy” is an 8-minute mini-opera with another juxtaposition of tastes. Between different moods, the pace dramatically changes with guitar solos and screaming being followed by a dramatic orchestral arrangement, and laid back piano. But it’s the finale that shakes you.

“Love Reign O’er Me” is a powerful song that dramatically ends Quadrophenia with Jimmy’s death. One of the more rocking songs on here, and a highlight of The Who’s career, it is the perfect ending for the album.

As you can see, this might be my pick for best concept album ever, for a pure, raw power that the Who have expressed on all their albums. Great instrumentation, great story, great vocals. A near perfect album. Period.

March 4, 2013 - Posted by | The Who Quadrophenia |

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