Friday, November 25, 2011


Pete Townshend's famous rock opera?  Why, Tommy, of course.  Townshend's best rock opera?  I'm going with Quadrophenia.  For all the beloved bluster for the deaf, dumb and blind boy, song-by-song, the tale of messed-up Mod Jimmy, trying to figure out his place in the culture clash that was 60's England, is a far more credible listen, and probably a more cohesive story.  Although an icon for the fans, Townshend always felt himself an outsider to Mod culture, but his proximity and status made him a perfect biographer, hung up as he was on the complexities of youth as they changed British society, one pill and one punch at a time.

As with Tommy, it is necessary to separate the Quadrophenia album experience from its latter incarnation as a movie, a tour, a soundtrack, and another of Townshend and Daltry's retirement hedge funds.  Just take this new reissue of the music, in its two-CD deluxe version, or the 5-CD, hardbound book and memorabilia-stuffed box set, with tons more demos and a new 5.1 mix.  There is a natural flow between the songs that makes you want to move along in the story, a feeling of beginning and end, a sense of the confusion and depression and the bottled anger Jimmy feels.  You enter the drab and gray world of cobblestones and clouds and cool, cool, rain, Jimmy searching for the real me.  Although their aren't a lot of famous individual tracks from the album (really, only Love Reign O'er Me and 5:15 get that status), almost each one has epic moments, as they tumble by:  Cut My Hair, The Punk And The Godfather, The Dirty Jobs.  I never remember the titles, but as soon as they role, I perk up, and go, oh, that one!

You'll have to be quite the little Who fanatic, or a deep-pocketed music nerd to go for the $130 Super Deluxe Limited Edition. Yes, that's what it's called, such a stupid name.  What you gain over the 2-disc set is 15 more demos, the 5.1 mix of only eight songs (weird), and all the extra ephemera.  I have to think $22 dollars will be the much more appealing option.  Quadrophenia is one of those albums that people don't often throw on, and you might not have even upgraded from your old vinyl, but I'd say it's ripe for rediscovery, Townshend on fire with the musical themes and melodies here, and certainly he was writing these amazing characters for Daltry and himself to inhabit.  The 11 demos on the 2-disc version show the intricate compositions and productions he was doing at his home studio, envisioning Daltry's wails, Moon's thunder, and the band's on-stage swagger.  Already fond of the early synthesizer, his patience and craftsmanship in building these near-studio quality demos is stunning, considering the limited technology of the time.  He had become quite the one man band, and although The Who versions are better, as always Townshend's demos prove great listening.  There are some significant differences from the final version, including lyrics and entire dropped sections.

Quadrophenia never became the same beloved piece as Tommy, largely I think because the subsequent tour was a minor disaster at times, with Townshend's beloved synths and such duplicated on backing tracks that inevitably failed at key moments.  So while the piece itself deserved to be heard in its entire rock opera production, it quickly got pared down to two or three songs among the rest of the hits, and not revived until recently, when The Two had to come up with some other reason to reunite again.  I can assure you I'm having a much better time with this disc than I have with any version of Tommy over the years.


  1. Always been a HUGE fan of Quadrophenia. I'd argue it's very underrated in the Who's Catalogue and rock as well.

  2. My point exactly Mr. F. Oh, maybe I should have said that..