Friday, July 10, 2015

Pete Townshend 14: Classic Quadrophenia and Truancy

Back in 1972, The Who’s Tommy album was re-recorded and staged in an orchestral arrangement with an all-star cast. By the time it was recorded a third time with a different cast for the film, Pete Townshend had already spent 18 months putting together the band’s second released opera, Quadrophenia. While it never had the mainstream profile that Tommy has perpetuated, no thanks in part to the first work’s eventual Broadway success, Quadrophenia is the album that resonates more with Who freaks, and likely reminds its author less of his own troubled childhood.
Still, there’s plenty of gold in those hills, and as the band learned once they started performing it again in the ‘90s, technology has enabled them to recreate the album live on stage. Now that he lives with a classical arranger, it was easy for Pete to spearhead an orchestral version of the album.
Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia (the composer having fallen to Paul McCartney’s tendency to put his own name within the title of a piece) is faithful to the original recording, except that there are no electric guitars, bass or drums. The elaborate synthesizer parts have been replicated and expanded by the orchestra and choir, and Jimmy’s lead vocal is tackled by one Alfie Boe, an operatic tenor (born the year the album first came out) who’s obviously studied Roger Daltrey’s parts closely. Pete himself sings the part of The Godfather, careful not to try the high note on “stutter”, while Phil Daniels, who played Jimmy in the film, appears twice in lines attributed to the dad. And Billy Idol, who was in the all-star performances in 1996, shows up four times as the Ace Face slash Bell Boy.
As the album was deemed “ineligible” for the classical charts, it will remain to be seen if this new incarnation will be anyone introduction to the music, and where that may lead. If you like the original, you won’t hate this, but you’ll likely play the original several times before even thinking about throwing this on.

Shortly thereafter, in advance of another threatened solo catalog overhaul, Pete released his second “hits” album, only two decades after the first one (one decade after a double-disc anthology) and a period of time in which he released virtually no new solo material. Truancy runs chronologically and repeats about half of the original set, ignoring some fan favorites and the one “new” song included then. While some of the substitutions are debatable, any Pete album called “very best of” that doesn’t have “Slit Skirts” is false advertising, plain and simple. That said, the songs are all great, with the Scoop version of “You Came Back” a surprising inclusion. But the key selling point is the two new—yes, brand new—songs designed to entice the gullible. “Guantanamo” is further proof that he needn’t be political to be musically entertaining, and “How Can I Help You”, with its opening motif reminiscent of “Cut My Hair”, is suitably empathetic, and the kind of thing we wish he’d get off his duff and do more of already.

Pete Townshend Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia (2015)—3
Pete Townshend Truancy: The Very Best Of Pete Townshend (2015)—4

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