Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who 9: Quadrophenia

As before, the Who worked their way through a number of possible concepts for the next release, even going so far as to record an album’s worth of tracks in 1972. That project was aborted, though a few singles surfaced, and somehow Pete was able to take a couple of the leftovers and work them into what finally emerged as the epic Quadrophenia. The story within is basically impenetrable—it’s not so much of a plot as a portrait of a Mod kid named Jimmy—and while Pete’s idea of using a different musical theme to represent each member of the band as a different facet of Jimmy’s personality was daring, it doesn’t quite take.
Despite that, the album is excellent. While the Mod concept may not have been clear to anyone who wasn’t around at the time, Quadrophenia retains a universal appeal, simply because Pete managed to convey the desperation and confusion of post-adolescence in his music and lyrics. (Kids aren’t supposed to be this sensitive, but sadly, they are.) Just as the ‘70s began to take over the music business, the album looks back to the period before the British Invasion but keeps its sound contemporary yet timeless, and not a little symphonic.
“I Am The Sea” is kind of an overture, with the main themes poking through the rain and surf. “The Real Me” crashes through just as the rain stops. John’s bass work here is right out of his performances on their covers of “Baby Don’t You Do It”. The title track is more of a true overture, and plays those themes we’ll be hearing from time to time with advanced synthesizers and a couple of melodies that will stick in your head. “Cut My Hair” has two themes that will rise soon enough, with Pete taking the verse and bridge while Roger shouts the “zoot suit” chorus. A favorite moment is when the opening chords (over C major) are repeated at the end (over A minor). Described as a “mini-opera” within the album, “The Punk And The Godfather” piles on the angst and desperation, with Pete taking the midsection to deal with stardom better than Roger Waters ever could.
“I’m One” is all Pete again, voicing doubts awhile remaining determined to stand out. “The Dirty Jobs” returns us to Roger, even though the concept of “karma” doesn’t belong in the lyrics. For some reason a marching band and circus appear at the end, but that takes us right into “Helpless Dancer”, supposedly Roger’s theme. This works much better as an instrumental in the two overtures. “Is It In My Head” was from the 1972 sessions, and it’s impossible to hear it in any other context but this. “I’ve Had Enough” definitely sounds like it’s leading to some kind of decision, particularly with the lyrical detour about how Jimmy’s going to have his jacket cut. The end of the song always sounds like he jumped, in front of a train perhaps? But then…
Side three starts in a train station, reprises the “why should I care” theme from “Cut My Hair”, and starts Jimmy hallucinating on the “5:15”. “Sea And Sand” is a wistful reverie about his lost love, with the jacket detour fitting well. (You can hear “I’m The Face”, their first single, just over the fade.) “Drowned” would never be performed this way again, but it’s still one of Pete’s finest pleas for redemption. “Bell Boy” is Keith’s theme, even though it describes another character. His tender vocal in the middle is heartbreaking.
John’s theme is shoehorned in the middle of “Dr. Jimmy”’s psychotic episode—a shame really, since the theme is so pretty. Roger really does a fair job of straddling all those moods. “The Rock” repeats most of the title track but extends them so they can all come together at the end. And just when they do, the thunder breaks for “Love Reign O’er Me”. Pete saved his own achingly beautiful theme for last. The final seconds, all crashing chords and every piece of percussion Keith could throw, are fantastic.

Six years later, the film version of Quadrophenia tried to put the story together, and used the music in odd ways to illustrate various points. The soundtrack was drastically remixed, and not necessarily improved: “I’m One” gets a piano, “Love Reign O’er Me” gets a flute and strings, “I’ve Had Enough” also gets strings (and it’s the climax of the film) and “Helpless Dancer” is cut to 22 seconds. Plus, a lot of songs are taken out of order and other songs were left out entirely. The rest of the album consisted of a pile of non-Who oldies (left off the original mid-‘90s CD, but reinstated for the 2000 remaster) and what was the first album appearance of “Zoot Suit” (included with “I’m The Face” on both CDs). Three “new” songs were added—the too-long throwaway “Get Out And Stay Out”, “Four Faces” and “Joker James”, which was actually as old as 1967.
Unlike Tommy, and probably because the songs don’t really tell a story, the film doesn’t detract from the album. But even if you like the film, a justified cult classic, you’ll want to stick with the original.

The 1996 reissue caused a lot of controversy among people who insisted the CDs were mastered wrong. With no bonus tracks, the album was split onto two CDs, as the four sides couldn’t fit onto a single disc without editing any precious seconds. To these ears it sounds fine. (For some time there were rumblings about a Deluxe Edition along the lines of Tommy, with surround sound and an SACD layer. Several years after it was first mentioned—and abandoned—a Deluxe Edition did appear, which had the album up to “Drowned” on one disc, and from “Bell Boy” on on the second, plus eleven of Pete’s demos at the end. Those were borrowed from a package that took on an even larger scale.)

The Who Quadrophenia (1973)—5
2011 Deluxe Edition: same as 1973, plus 11 extra tracks (Director’s Cut adds 14 further tracks and one DVD)
The Who Quadrophenia Original Soundtrack (1979)—

1 comment:

  1. Clearly one of the top 5 rock albums of all time.

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