Friday, February 10, 2012

Pete Townshend 13: Quadrophenia Demos

Following the overblown and heavily expensive Live At Leeds Super Deluxe Edition, Pete revived another old project for a similar expansion. Unlike the Lifehouse Chronicles box, which he sold through his own e-commerce site, Quadrophenia got the full support of one of the last remaining major labels. A Deluxe Edition presented the album bolstered by eleven of Pete’s demos, but real fans would be tempted to skip that for the so-called “Director’s Cut” version, which retailed for about $150. This doorstop of a box included the 1996 remaster of the album, a DVD of some 5.1 surround sound tracks to emulate how the original quadraphonic mix might have sounded, a 45 of the “5:15”/“Water” single with the French picture sleeve, a poster and a packet of replica documents (a la Leeds). Oh, and there was also an inch-thick LP-sized book of liner notes by Pete, and two CDs of original demos.
That right there was the kicker. We’d heard teasers from his tape cache on the Scoop albums, but a glimpse into the evolution of his last true masterpiece hadn’t gone beyond a couple of tracks, and only a smattering had made it out on bootleg. While marketed as a Who album, Quadrophenia: Director’s Cut offers up 25 of Pete’s demos chronicling the development of the concept, including several ideas that, in the long run, were wisely abandoned.
The sequence mirrors the final album, with some of those alternate threads placed within an approximate context. What’s more, many of the Who’s completed versions were built from Pete’s demos, so we can hear how much was in place to start with. As expected, many of the intricate synthesizer parts were carried over, while John and Keith were able to lend their respective bass and drums stamps in place of Pete’s guides. Similarly, John’s multiple horn parts are only hinted at on the demos.
As mentioned, Quadrophenia is more of a portrait than a story with plot, but that didn’t prevent Pete from trying to give Jimmy the Mod some history. Many of the discarded songs were intended to flesh him out somewhat, and they certainly would have slowed the album down had they stayed. Interestingly, the three “new songs” included on the film soundtrack LP made up that back story: “Get Out And Stay Out” is a simple sketch sung by Jimmy’s parents, “Four Faces” explores the split personality angle, and “Joker James” (written years before) showed his failure with women. Another romantic song, “You Came Back”, had been on Scoop with no info on when it was recorded, so this context gives it and entirely new perspective. “Get Inside” and “We Close Tonight” (the latter included on the expanded Odds & Sods with vocals by Keith and John) were supposed to depict Jimmy as a frustrated musician; luckily this was replaced by the confrontation of “The Punk And The Godfather”, which here is sung as a dialogue simply titled “Punk”.
The remaining “three sides” worth of songs follow as we’re used to them, with a few exceptions. “Anymore” is a soul-searching ballad replaced by the already-completed “Is It In My Head?”, and two unreleased instrumentals fill the spot where we’d expect to hear “5:15”. (There was never a demo for that song, as it evolved from a studio jam.) The book reveals “I’ve Had Enough” to be a dialogue between Jimmy and his father. Another dialogue comes in “Is It Me?”, which concerns the Ace Face turned “Bell Boy” and his father; the Broadway delivery doesn’t do justice to the theme, which was eventually only presented as part of “Doctor Jimmy”. “Drowned” appears fully formed from a March 1970 demo session. (In another revelation, “The Rock” was originally supposed to end the album, swapping places with “Love Reign O’er Me”, the loud finale of which was spliced from the original band take of “The Rock”.)
If there’s a quibble about these discs, it’s that several pieces are missing. Two tracks that appeared on Scoop aren’t here, and his liner notes make references to additional demos that would be available on Q-Cloud, an online repository of photos and documents related to the project. As of this writing, a message on the site declares that those extra demos “have had to be omitted.” (Pete always did have trouble talking before thinking.)
Quadrophenia was never a happy album, though generations of confused teenagers have been able to take strength from it. Listening to the elements of the Director’s Cut, we’re left feeling even more sorry for Jimmy, with so many of his conflicts spelled out instead of merely mentioned. Indeed, the process of writing and completing the album took its toll on Pete’s sanity and threatened the future of the band. But overriding all that is the wonder that a guy in his late-20s, armed only with instrumental ingenuity, a fertile imagination and the latest technology he could cram into a room in his house, could create something so universal all on his own.

Pete Townshend Quadrophenia: Director’s Cut—The Demos (2011)—4

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