Quadrophenia completed the mega-creative trifecta for The Who, which peaked with Who’s Next in 1971 but was bookended by the two greatest rock operas ever – Tommy in 1969 and this album in 1973, both double albums. The term “Quadrophenia” was coined by the band’s sole composer Pete Townshend, as a play on the word “schizophrenia” with a specific meaning of someone with four distinct personalities. On a deeper level, the title was meant as a nod to the new quadrophonic sound (the earliest form of “surround sound” which never quite caught on in its day) and is also a representation of the four band members themselves. The linear story that runs through the album comes from the psychological perspective of an English teenager in the early 1960s, making the album also a loose tribute to the group’s earliest fans.
Townshend has stated that the idea for Quadrophenia evolved from an idea for an autobiographical concept album titled “Rock Is Dead, Long Live Rock!” in 1972 with songs such as “Join Together”, “Relay” and “Long Live Rock” along with the first compositions that ended up on the album. Townshend instead decided to create a character named Jimmy with four personalities that reflected those of the band members, each associated with a “theme” which recurs throughout the album.
While not as cohesive or focused as Who’s Next and not as popular as Tommy, this may be the ultimate Who album due to its sheer breadth and ambition Townshend expanded fully from his traditional guitar-centric approach to include pianos and keyboards as prominent lead instruments. Meanwhile, lead vocalist Roger Daltry is in top form, carrying many of the songs while delicately working through the multiple character parts reflected in several of the extended songs. Further, Townshend considers this the best produced Who album ever, due in part to the professional techniques of Kit Lambert along with the innovative ones done by himself.
The instrumental “I Am the Sea” acts as overture with snippets of vocals of future songs over ocean and rain sounds, Townshend went out and recorded these sounds personally at various locations in England. “The Real Me” is the first “real” song, driven by a guitar riff and an impressive bass performance by John Entwistle, which was recorded in one take. Lyrically, this song acts as an introduction to Jimmy Cooper, his four personalities, his visits to a psychiatrist, and his domestic situation. Another long instrumental follows with the title track “Quadrophenia”, which kind of distracts the listener by having another instrumental so close to the intro, especially since this one is so theatrical.
The first side finishes with two very strong tunes. “Cut My Hair” is the first song to introduce a historical perspective, as the lyric details the Mod fashion and a radio broadcast near the end speaks of an actual riot in Brighton between Mods and Rockers. Sung by Townshend, this is a real good theatrical tune and contains great synth effects. “The Punk Meets the Godfather” is a pure climatic rock with great sound and lyrics and the first of several great performances on the album by drummer Keith Moon. In fact, this song may be “Exhibit A” that The Who can never really be The Who without Entwistle and Moon.
“I’m One” begins the original second side with a country-ish acoustic ballad with great ethereal guitar tone in the background, before it breaks into a much more upbeat tune. The introspective lyrics contemplate how the protagonist has not much going for him except for the Mod lifestyle. “The Dirty Jobs” is one of the great unheralded songs on Quadrophenia, led by a fantastic vocal performance by Daltry and innovative, melodic synths throughout, which pretty much replace guitars as the lead instrument on this song.
“Helpless Dancer” is the oddest song on first two sides, a march-like approach with horns, piano, and a short acoustic part in the middle. All four members have a theme song relating to one of Jimmy’s personalities, and this one is Daltry’s theme as the “Tough Guy”. The song ends with a short snippet of one of the band’s earliest hits, “The Kids Are Alright”. “Is It in My Head?” is a moderate and catchy acoustic song, which leads to “I’ve Had Enough”. Going through several phases, like some of the extended pieces on Tommy, “I’ve Had Enough” morphs from from a driving rock verse to the string infused “Love Reign O’er Me” part to the banjo-led hook part. Daltry carries the tune vocally, aptly setting the differing moods of the song.
5:15 single by The WhoOne of the only “hits” on the album, “5:15″ goes through a melodic journey telling a story that mainly observes the outside environment while traveling on a train. The song contains great horns, beautiful vocals, and especially great piano by guest Chris Stainton. The dramatic ending contains intense drums and thumping piano notes. The scene moves to Brighton with “Sea and Sand”, which alternates between folk-ish acoustic and pure, Who-style rock with lyrics that portray Jimmy’s affinity for the beach as an escape from the unpleasant realities of home and life in London.
The narrative continues with “Drowned”, a philosophical theme about losing one’s self in the ocean, in a suicidal attempt to become one with God. Set to upbeat music with great rotating piano, guitar licks, and more great drums. In fact, this may Moon’s best performance on the album, and that is saying something. “Drowned” is also the oldest song on Quadrophenia, initially written as an ode to Meher Baba in early 1970. Moon’s theme, “Bellboy” completes side three. It starts as a standard rocker with Daltry at vocals before the song gets taken over by Moon’s comical yet effective vocals. Lyrically it tells of a former Mod hero of Jimmy’s who has “sold out” and become a pathetic bellboy at a Brighton resort.
Entwistle’s theme is the “Is It Me?” part of “Doctor Jimmy” (which also shows up at various points of the album). With synthesized fiddle effects, horns, and great bass, this ambiguous loose reference to “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” speaks again of the multiple personalities running through the story, but with alcohol being catalyst for the change. The longest song on the album, Daltry effectively plays both roles vocally. “The Rock” acts as both a long intro to final song and recap of much of the previous material, much like “Underture” from Tommy. In truth, “The Rock” is a bit of over-indulgent filler. The final song “Love, Reign O’er Me” is Townshend’s theme on the album, which again delves into the philosophy of Meher Baba as Jimmy finds his “true self” while on a stolen boat, during a storm in the sea. The song begins with some classical piano and orchestral instrumentations, later giving way to great synth effects and lead guitars, all by Townshend. But it is Daltry’s vocal performance which has gained the best critical response, with many considering this song the finest performance of his career.
Quadrophenia reached #2 on the U.S. album charts, the highest ever for The Who, kept from the top spot by Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. In 1979, the film Quadrophenia was released but focused more on the story than the music, which was relegated to mere background during certain scenes. Although the band viewed the original tour in support of the album as disastrous due to ineffective techniques of including synthesizers live in 1973, they revisited Quadrophenia in the future with a dedicated tour in 1996, and most recently this past November (2012), where the album was played in its entirety along with a few selected hits during the encore.
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.
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.
With internal bust-ups and tranquilizer overdoses punctuating a continuous creative power-struggle, The Who’s ‘rock opera’ Quadrophenia pushed the definition of a concept album to its limits while demonstrating the transparency of youth subculture.
The album told the story of Jimmy, an archetypal Sixties mod. With sharp gear, tailored suits and slim-line Italian scooters key to mod life it was difficult for kids like Jimmy to keep up with the head ‘faces’. It was the inadequacy felt by those unable to meet these high expectations that provided the album’s narrative, particularly on ‘I’m One’ and ‘Cut My Hair’. For inspiration, Townshend revisited the band’s early days when, in 1964, they fell under the watchful eye of a new manager. Pete Meaden, a publicist and major mod ‘face’, had a vision to make The Who the focal point of his scene. He dressed them in Ivy League and Levi’s, cut their hair, and taught them how to dance, walk and talk, projecting his image onto the group.
Unable to keep up with the ‘faces’ Jimmy spirals out of control, descending into quadrophenia – a form of schizophrenia dividing the patient’s personality into four. This also represents the clashing personalities of The Who’s four members. After trashing his scooter and absconding to mod hacienda Brighton on ‘5:15’, Jimmy is saved by the realisation that Brighton’s iconic Ace, who he idolised, is just a hotel bell boy, a discovery that forces Jimmy to accept the transparency of a scene that for him has been a religion. After realising London’s existing recording studios would not be able to accommodate the scale of Townshend’s vision, the band chose to build their own state-of-the-art facility in Battersea which, although still unfinished when the sessions began, was capable of meeting the sophisticated production demands of ‘Sea And Sand’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’.
The studio was awaiting a new sixteen-track desk that would enable Townshend to create the most complex work of their career. However as work commenced the place looked like a war zone and it was necessary to bring in [The Faces’] Ronnie Lane’s mobile studio in order to record around the unfolding chaos.
As the album was recorded among the debris it became clear to the band that Townshend saw ‘Quadrophenia’ as ‘his’ record. After six months of megalomania and no finished product, other members spoke to Townshend about his autocratic control. The most vitriolic complaint came from singer Roger Daltrey regarding his vocals being recorded low in the mix. At the time, Townshend merely dismissed these complaints as “ungrateful” but during the rehearsals for the ‘Quadrophenia’ live shows the bad feeling boiled over into violence. Pete swung for the singer several times before Daltrey, a tough Shepherds Bush bruiser, hospitalised him with a well-timed uppercut.
This animosity leaked into the sold-out live shows, cultivating a tense and bitter atmosphere where the smallest of mistakes could blow the band apart. With the album’s material relying heavily on complex technology to be reproduced live, disaster soon struck. During a show in Newcastle the spot tapes failed, spiralling Townshend into a state of anger and despair.
As the band took the live show to America the problems festered like an open wound. The behaviour of drummer Keith Moon was causing grave concern. While playing in San Francisco, Moon suddenly collapsed on stage after having been ‘spiked’ with an alarmingly high dose of monkey tranquilizer, which hospitalised him for three days.
Following the jailing of the whole band in Montreal, Townshend banished ‘Quadrophenia’ from their live shows for twenty years, adding a ghostly mythology to the story of a young mod’s mind coming apart at the seams.
The story, all self-destruction and mental breakdowns, bore an eerie resemblance to the life of Pete Meaden who, after losing control of the band in 1964, descended into a downward spiral of drug abuse and depression. which saw him detained under the Mental Health Act during the early Seventies.
However, fast-forward to 1978 and Meaden was again working with the band on the film version of ‘Quadrophenia’. Working on the film reinvigorated his passion but he never really recovered from losing the band and unfortunately, the character who many believe Jimmy to have been truly based upon, soon succumbed to the album’s curse.
He was found in the bedroom of his parents’ house in Edmonton after taking a barbiturates overdose. In 1979 NME’s Steve Turner described Meaden’s death – in the teenage bedroom of his parent’s cramped terraced house – as a very mod way to die. What is clear is his untimely death drew parallels with Jimmy’s demise in ‘Quadrophenia’ in that it explained the emptiness of his chosen religion’s utopia and proved, to both Meaden and Jimmy, that mod was nothing more than deception and pretence.
Meaden, who said of ‘Quadrophenia’: “It’s me, Townshend’s writing about my life”, was laid to rest at Southgate Cemetery, where his scattergun mind finally found peace.
Nearly 40 years after its original release, Pete Townshend has sat down with The Who’s second rock opera Quadrophenia to give it a polish. The full results come in the Director’s Cut – the album spread over two CDs, another two discs of demos, plus 5.1 (quadrophonic) DVD audio of the standouts. Those of us without regular royalty cheques have to settle for this Deluxe Edition, which has the complete album as remastered by Pete, plus 11 demos.
In the liner notes, Townshend notes that the record “continues to excite interest in new listeners”, which is probably true. If this latest repackaging gets a few more on board, it just about justifies the swanky box-set that’s there for the dads in time for Christmas. Plus, those cleaned-up demos are a tidy add-on which gives a snapshot of the record as a work-in-progress.
Most buyers will have listened to this at some point over the last four decades, but for those new to the party, Quadrophenia is a surprisingly straightforward Rock record. Roger Daltrey’s voice is appropriately pitched between storytelling musical theatre and full-on Classic Rock tonsil-rattling. The well-deployed synths and samples were ahead-of-their-time (and a right pain to recreate live), but despite the ambition and grandiose scope, there’s nothing here musically that will shock the 2011 listener.
Newcomers may be surprised at the lack of ‘hits’ on such a well-regarded record. ‘The Real Me’, ‘5:15’, ‘Bell Boy’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ are the only things that you might hear out of context on the radio. Obviously it works much better as a piece, anyway. Like other operas/musicals, the loveliest moments come as the best refrains sift in and out across the production. The synthy strains of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ melding into the heavy country rock of ‘I’ve Had Enough’ halfway through the record certainly get you tingling.
At just over 80 minutes and without the natural breaks between four sides, parts of the album do drag. Quadrophenia lacks the youthful exuberance of My Generation and the in-your-face power of the original Live at Leeds. Unlike its peerless predecessor Who’s Next, you certainly couldn’t argue that every track here is a classic.
But what makes Quadrophenia such a success is that The Who play it completely straight. It’s easy to laugh at how straight on occasion. “Why should I care/If I have to cut my hair” our young mod schizophrenic seriously ponders at one point. But clothes, drugs, haircuts, scooters, parental bustups, love and confusion are deadly serious when you’re Jimmy’s age. “We didn’t need light and shade,” Pete says. “We didn’t need irony or humour, we hardly needed sadness.”
Ever since Johnny Strabler (Marlon Brando) rode into town as the leader of The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a troubled James Dean dared to show outwardly open angered contempt towards his hopelessly inept parents or Bill Haley rocked around the clock to usher in a new dawn for music and teen culture there has always been a captive audience wanting, and in some cases needing, to see the portrayals of life as a disillusioned or dysfunctional adolescent.
Capturing the angst and frustration felt by certain groups who yearn to be heard and understood not only gives them validation and a sense of identity but it also makes their seemingly intolerable isolation and misunderstood life make far more sense. The unifying quality of a well versed song or an actors ability to channel the mood and feeling of the youth of the time can not only be a very powerful thing it can also serve as a great way of preserving a piece of history through a medium that doesn’t rely wholly on news reels, facts, speeches or statistics.
The sense of belonging and collective comradery, a feeling of being part of a movement and that somehow your life feels that much more enriched are all part of the teenagers rite of passage whether you’re a Goth, Punk, Shoe-Gazer or Metal head. Each generation has its own particular set of musical genres in turn spawning a seemingly inevitable sub-culture that manifests itself in clothing, clubs, attitude, drug choice, language and even political bias. During the sixties the two predominant sects of the musical spectrum were most definitely defined as either Mods or Rockers. The former sharp suited, moped riders and the latter leather clad ‘proper’ bikers were easily identifiable not only by their dress and transport but by the bands which fell under their particular umbrella.
The mood of the time was one slightly at odds with itself. Whilst prosperity increased and freedoms came more readily there was also a sense, for a portion of youth at any rate, that they deserved more and that what they were due couldn’t come fast enough. At the time the ‘teenager’ was a relatively new phenomenon and as such they were plotting uncharted territory with their ever growing sense of identity, easing of parental authority and above all the monetary means with which to enjoy themselves. Quadrophenia captures the mood and spirit of this time brilliantly through the life of its main protagonist Jimmy Cooper.
Originally released as a double album back in 1973, Quadrophenia has been brought bang up to date, polished and extended with a double CD box set that also contains some of the early demos as well as unused songs. Now inextricably linked to the film which was born out of the album, Quadrophenia is a truly British piece of artistry. The second of The Who’s rock opera’s has some of the grandiose arrangements and orchestral backing of its forbear but at the same time still maintains a real earthiness and realism to its character. The songs are far more pithy and draw on the bond you develop with Jimmy’s mentally unstable personality.
It’s more-or-less impossible to listen to the album without picturing Phil Daniels, Ray Winston, Toyah, Leslie Ash or Sting as the film uses all of the musical references to make real Jimmy’s life. What is breathtaking however is just how good these songs are in isolation from the celluloid. The clarity and complexity of the tracks is stunning. The instrumentation from all involved is nothing short of fantastic with every note, every movement and every vocal intonation making for a magnificent aural delight. The title track alone is mesmeric in its entirety with Pete’s guitar and Keith Moon’s drumming being of particular brilliance.
Throughout the album, as the tale of despair and drug fuelled desperation progress, you get a real sense of Jimmy’s growing frustration. Roger Daltrey seems to take on Jimmy’s persona as his voice echoes the ups and downs he goes through. In fact the whole record has a cohesion that is easy to lose on such ambitious projects. Whether it is because a lot of the themes were drawn from near autobiographical references, or whether it is just because the band were at a creative peak, it means that the passion and purpose of each tune is equally well expressed. ‘The Real Me’, ‘I’m One’ (Recently given an a solo acoustic outing for ‘Later’), ‘5.15’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ are such well crafted songs that it is easy to see why ‘Quadrophenia has been described as The Who’s last great album. Each song can stand alone on its own merit but when showcased as a body of work Quadrophenia is terrific.
The finished product was clearly a work in progress when the demos were laid down. They seem far more bluesy than the final cut and it is interesting that one of the better demos, ‘Anymore’, never made it onto the album. With the added dimension of some of the demo’s, as well as some of the original photography, and Pete’s sleeve notes this newly packaged version is a fine collectors piece.
Quadrophenia is now, more than ever, a fantastic historical commentary on a volatile era in our musical past, but also a great album that can, and should be, appreciated for its own incredible musical quality.
There are certain albums from the 1970s the brilliance of which must be taken on trust by listeners of today. If you weren’t in the neighbourhood of Ladbroke Grove in 1976, The Clash’s first LP sounds fairly far from revolutionary. If you weren’t around to hear the Ramones emerge as the fastest band in the world – before Bad Brains came along, that is – then the New Yorkers’ self-titled debut sounds slower than a solar-powered milk-float on a December morning. But certain albums of the time have managed to retain their untamed quality. Never Mind the Bollocks is one; Quadrophenia is another.
Available here in an almost pornographically sumptuous box-set edition, featuring the original 1973 album, two CDs worth of demos, a 5.1 surround DVD mix, a poster and a beautifully presented 100-page hardback book which also features a brand-new essay from Pete Townshend (there is also a cheaper two-disc version for anyone not looking to blow 70 sheets five weeks before Christmas – said set’s tracklisting, to the left), this is the album that refuses to die. For while Tommy may have made it all the way to Broadway, it is Quadrophenia which has aced the test of time better than any other album released by The Who.
Thematic if not quite conceptual, the original double-LP – which in freshly re-mastered form sounds both sharp and clear – frames England in an time of uncertainty: the uncertainty of the class system, the uncertainty of youth as it greys into older age, the uncertainty of an economy in its first shudder of industrial decline. As befits an album bursting with conflict and even violence – “I’ve seen my share of kills,” sings the narrator of the impossibly brilliant I’ve Had Enough – Quadrophenia’s music is performed by a band who seem to be not just at odds with their country but also at times with each other. These are songs with very little space in which to breathe – when the denouement of a fully-aerated Love Reign O’er Me does arrive, the effect is almost cleansing – all played out to a backdrop of psychiatrists, priests, furious fathers, amphetamine-filled teenagers, fallen idols and enough sharp suits to cut open a whole army of greasers on the seafront at Brighton.
Soon to celebrate its 40th birthday, Quadrophenia is one of the few albums of its time that sounds as good today as it must have done then. For once, the term ‘masterpiece’ is not sold on the cheap.