Classic Rock Review

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The Who Quadrophenia (1973)

gvpnFrom sfloman.com

Another great but seriously flawed album, this ambitious second installment in the Who’s rock opera fetish is Townshend’s tribute to Mod culture as seen through the eyes of a young schizophrenic named Jimmy. Actually, Jimmy is a schizophrenic squared due to excessive pill popping, and each member of the band represents one of Jimmy’s personalities. As per usual, this all gets a bit confusing at times, but overall Quadrophenia tells a far more coherent and interesting story than Tommy.

Now, I’m an American and know squat about U.K. Mod culture, but I was a teenager once, and as such I can easily relate to the frustrated and disillusioned young man’s struggles. Besides, much like its spiritual predecessor it’s the individual songs on Quadrophenia that matter far more than the story itself. Simply put, “The Real Me,” “The Punk Meets The Godfather,” “5:15,” “Doctor Jimmy,” and “Love, Reign O’er Me” are among the greatest rock songs of all-time. Of course, this being a double album, there is some filler, and as with Tommy the band again repeats certain themes throughout the album, stealing a melody from “5:15” for “Cut My Hair” and reprising parts of “Love, Reign O’er Me” several times, for example.

But at least Pete, who wrote and arranged every song, always varies the arrangements, and he also cuts some of his most melodic guitar solos, while the band’s ever-expanding sound prominently features piano, horns, strings, and lots more synths. Granted, at times the album is overproduced, as the songs themselves are sometimes drowned out by the abundance of sounds, and the album on the whole will likely seem a bit monotonous and dreary at first.

Quadrophenia is an album you need to live with for awhile to fully appreciate, after which I for one developed a healthy admiration for album tracks such as the title track (which serves the same purpose here that “Overture” did on Tommy), “Dirty Jobs” (I like the melody and Roger’s vocals on this one), “I’ve Had Enough” (though its several sections don’t really fit together all that well, I enjoy the individual sections), “Sea And Sand” (more multiple sections, tender vocals from Roger, and terrific soloing from Townshend), “Drowned” (a solidly enjoyable take-no-prisoners rocker with some stellar piano work by Chris Stainton), and “Bell Boy” (another excellent melody and Roger vocal, plus Keith “sings” (!!) and it has that symphonic touch that’s such a big part of this albums sound).

As for the certifiable classics, which are easy to pick out, “The Real Me” gets the album off to a rousing start (after the forgettable “I am The Sea” intro), with great riffs, phenomenal bass playing, symphonic horns, a busily spellbinding Moon performance, a raging Roger vocal, and an exciting climax on which the song builds and builds. The also-explosive “The Punk Meets The Godfather” is all about its flawless riffs and catchy, theatrical vocals, but really, the performances of all band members are spectacular here and throughout the entire album. “5:15,” about a particularly memorable train ride, is the albums best-known song (even then it was only a minor hit, though the album itself continued the band’s recent success by hitting #2 in the U.S. and U.K.) and is another knockout, with great use of horns (though perhaps they’re a tad too prominent) making for a dramatic, moving (yet more great vocals from Roger), and flat-out rocking centerpiece. On the epic front, both towards the end of the album, are “Doctor Jimmy” (8:42) and “Love, Reign O’er Me” (5:48).

Both songs are utterly fantastic, the latter perhaps more spectacularly so, with Roger’s striking, earth-shattering vocals, Moon’s pulse-pounding flurries, and those lush synth-strings being the most notable attributes of the song, which provides a stellar climax to the album. I mean, the sheer power of the band at their best can damn near be overwhelming, enough so that the occasionally uneven material and at-times overly cluttered sound become but minor flaws of yet another major work. Note: Get the remastered 1996 reissue, which remedied most of the much-criticized aspects of the original pressings (Roger’s voice being too low, John’s bass too high, etc.).

In fact, the band’s pleasure with the remastered version of the album played a large part in their regrouping (yet again) for a small scale Quadrophenia tour in 1996, which won rave reviews and won back some of the credibility that was lost from the last “cash in” stadium reunion tour of 1989.

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March 10, 2013 - Posted by | The Who Quadrophenia |

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