5 stars out of 5. Immortal album. Pete Townshend’s masterpiece performed and fully realized by The Who.
Sadness, pain, youthful ambition, teenage and young man angst, Mods, Rockers, nostalgia, depression, alienation, unrequited love, anger, loathing, self-hatred, realization but ultimately Quadrophenia is about incomprehension.
Four individual themes comprise the backbone of the album, each representing a band member. The four standing in for a physical representation of a quad, thus quadrophonic. This is no simple matter of an album being mixed for multichannel sound. These four themes become motifs incorporated into the lead character of Jimmy. They comprise the different aspects of his personality so that Jimmy becomes a quasi-amalgam of Pete, Roger, John and Keith in addition to a throwback to their youth. And it isn’t that each was simply assigned to a person. Each was a relatively accurate description of the band member and comprised an element of Jimmy’s psyche. The idea of a band creating a focused single sound now becomes something more than simple performance and storytelling.
These themes are:
- A tough guy, a helpless dancer. (“Helpless Dancer” – Roger Daltrey)
- A romantic, is it me for a moment? (“Is It Me?” – John Entwistle)
- A bloody lunatic, I’ll even carry your bags. (“Bell Boy” – Keith Moon)
- A beggar, a hypocrite, love reign o’er me. (“Love Reign O’er Me” – Pete Townshend)
This is a story told through feeling, abstract thought and events rather than relying on straight lyrical storytelling. Although this last element is actually present the lack of reliance represents a massive creative growth from Tommy, incorporating the new musical strength gathered on Live at Leeds, the abandoned Lifehouse project and the furious intelligent roar of Who’s Next. Quadrophenia is typically referred to as a “rock opera”. But it isn’t. (Rock opera is a stupid term anyway. This labeling kept me from listening to Tommy for ages.) It’s a collection of events that happen to one Mod boy with his inner self represented by word and music. One could argue that this is a natural extension of the moments in Tommy where the deaf dumb and blind boy cannot connect to anything in the outside world but can find things inside himself.
The story as-is roughly follows this path: (Sourced from the well done Wikipedia page, as I couldn’t write a Quadrophenia summary that was under 10,000 words.)
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadrophenia
- “I Am the Sea/The Real Me” – The opera opens with Jimmy Cooper’s introduction with his four personalities. The listener then gets a quick look at his visits to a psychiatrist, his mother and even the local vicar. Mental security is unfortunately not obtained by the protagonist.
- “Quadrophenia/Cut My Hair” – Jimmy recalls an argument with his parents that culminated in his leaving home. We also hear a news broadcast mentioning riots in Brighton between the Mods and the Rockers, events at which he was present the previous week.
- “The Punk and the Godfather” – Jimmy goes to a rock concert (Supposedly The Who themselves). He queues up, pays his money and then decides he is going to see the band backstage as they come out the stage door. Sadly, the group is rude to him. He realises that there is nothing really happening in rock and roll; it is just another thing in his life that has let him down.
- “I’m One” – Jimmy contemplates how he has not really got much going for him, but at least he has the Mod lifestyle.
- “The Dirty Jobs” – Suitably disenchanted with his former “religion”, he gets a job as a dustman. Unfortunately, his extremely left-wing views are not appreciated by his workmates and he is forced to pass on to greater things.
- “Helpless Dancer/Is It in My Head?” – The listener gets a real look at where Jimmy’s aggression comes from, as he switches into one of his multiple personalities (The Tough Guy). Jimmy has a conscience that bites fairly deep. His frustration with the world only makes him angrier than he already is. The listener sees that he also possesses self-doubt; he worries about his own part, and feels that his outlook is clouded by pessimism.
- “I’ve Had Enough” – Jimmy finally snaps when he sees the girl he likes with one of his friends. In a desperately self-destructive state, he smashes up his scooter and decides to go to Brighton where he had such a good time with his friends chasing Rockers the week before (as recited through the news broadcast earlier in the story).
- “5.15” – This song recites Jimmy’s train journey down to Brighton, sandwiched between two city gents and notable for the rather absurd number of amphetamines he consumes in order to pass the time. He goes through a not entirely pleasant series of ups and downs as he contemplates the gaudier side of life as a teenager.
- “Sea and Sand/Drowned” – Arriving at Brighton, Jimmy’s mood heightens. He talks about the rows at home and is a little sarcastic as he recalls the evening on the beach with his former girlfriend. The Mod scene is already falling apart and all he can do is stay in Brighton just to remember the days when the Mods came to Brighton; it was only three weeks ago, but he is already living in the past. It is here that Jimmy contemplates killing himself by drowning in the water.
- “Bell Boy” – He meets a former Ace Face who now holds the position as a bell boy at the very hotel the Mods tore up. He looks on Jimmy with a mixture of pity and contempt. The two argue, as Jimmy feels the Ace Face has “sold out”. Jimmy is now feeling that everything, even the Mod lifestyle, has let him down.
- “Doctor Jimmy” – Jimmy begins to damage himself so badly on drugs and alcohol that he gets to the point where he is so desperate that he will take a closer look at himself. This part of the story shows the lunatic within him. The chorus line “Doctor Jimmy and Mr. Jim” is an ambiguous reference to “Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde“, which closely links to the multiple personality theme running through the story.
- “The Rock/Love, Reign O’er Me” – Jimmy steals a boat and takes it to a rock in the middle of the sea. Here, when he comes down off his high, he finds the boat has drifted away and that he is now stranded, alone and forgotten. As a storm rages around him, Jimmy has an epiphany. After all the different people he has been, he finally knows for sure who he is: “himself”.
The band is ferocious as usual, but carefully restrained so that the performances become almost titanic. This goes especially for Keith Moon, whose drumming becomes so marked in depth that his pounding becomes a thunder of toms. Just listen to his use of the toms and hi-hat and you can hear a definite difference in his playing technique. In addition he blends in the snare and cymbal effortlessly so that his drumming both propels and blends into the sonic landscape. Townshend’s ferocious guitar fades in and out of the acoustic riffs being ripped out. John Entwistle is almost invisibly guiding the band.
Roger Daltrey’s vocal is the most emotional on any Who record. It’s honestly his greatest performance.
Then we come to the cover and packaging. The original LP was in a gatefold that housed an entire photo book inside. This book of photos chronicled and accompanied the entire story of Jimmy in grainy, stark black and white. The full image and size of the book (nearly as big as the 12″ LP) really add to the overall experience and give a visual to go along with the highly detailed material. The photo that features the band coming out of the Odeon seems to correlate that they are the band Jimmy is disappointed in. The cover is stark, simple but revealing of the band’s construction and influence on Jimmy. (Their heads are in the mirrors of the scooter, perhaps a reference to the Tommy cover?) It is an ominous thing to behold, just as the album itself hits you on the head with a concrete block on the first listen. Then you get to the rear cover with an empty sea in B&W surrounded by the title on all sides. And at the bottom is Jimmy’s motor scooter sinking into the ocean.
I’ve never really listened to much of anything post-Quadrophenia because it didn’t seem like the same band. In recent interviews, Pete has said something similar because after Quad, many things changed. They really weren’t firing on all cylinders like the 65-73 period. This isn’t to say that their 74-82 material is bad, but it certainly is the work of different people at different stages in their lives. (And material that needs reconsideration, myself included.)
The mixing of this album has always been a source of contention. As per the album’s title, the intent was to mix and release this record in quadrophonic sound. (4.0 channel) This was such a new and innovative technology at the time that it was still in the early process of becoming readied. Unfortunately the band’s record label had sided with an inferior technology and the quad mix that was produced didn’t meet anyone’s expectations most of all Townshend. So, the engineer and Pete hurriedly cobbled together a plain stereo version that was released in 1973. This is what we’ve listened to all these years, and honestly it gives the album character. All of the great Who albums have been partial failures in some way. This is what makes The Who more human, because they can fail and because they can screw up allows the music to seem all the more real to the average listener. It is the attempt to do something different that becomes important, and not the definition of the project.
The sound of the record floats in and out of the inter-song ambient pieces filled with sound elements of the crashing waves and rain combined with the four themes which we are teased with just as if they were in our own minds. The original mix is better in this state because it suggests at quadrophonic but isn’t. This stereo image with added elements thus suggests to the listener the state of being “bleedin Quadrophenic”. (Source: original LP liner story.) It flows as a cohesive whole from Side to side, LP to LP. And once finished, you only want to begin again and drown. In cold water.
Quadrophenia is just as if not more relevant today than when it was originally released. Perhaps this is because it so deeply connects with the emotion of the listener. In an increasingly homogenized and digital world, Jimmy seems more like a real person than a nostalgic agonized Mod. Quadrophenia is the definitive album of teen angst and rebellion because it doesn’t make itself to be anything than honest. It accurately reflects the individual ups and downs of being at that stage in your life and all of the insecurities that are included along with the emotional baggage. And they never truly go away. Thus, Quad is one for the ages. It is everything learned, experienced and conceived by Townshend from Tommy and Lifehouse combined with the get it done survival aspect of Who’s Next with the primal frustration of Live at Leeds.
Throw your scooter into the sea and lie on The Rock to watch your life bleed away time.
Love Reign O’er Me.
In 1996, the album was remastered for the band’s full catalog reissue. This was released as a two disc CD with notable sonic “improvements” most notably clearer and more upfront vocals. While this may have pleased Roger, it doesn’t have the same character of the original album. In addition, there is decreased dynamic range and several of the original effects have been changed or replaced altogether.
As you may have guessed this review was brought on by the release of the Director’s Cut boxset this week. The set features a newly remastered mix, Pete’s original demos, a nice hardcover book, 8 songs mixed in 5.1 surround but ultimately is just as pointless as last year’s Live at Leeds mega boxset. The album is a new version of the remastered album, horribly compressed as far as audio fidelity is concerned. So that’s out. The demos are a great bonus, but the big draw of a surround mix after 38 years of waiting is limited to only 8 songs. Why you ask? They could only find 8 multi-track master tapes! The book is nice, but ultimately this is an overpriced wasted opportunity. And I still want it. Fuuuuuuuuuuuu!
Nothing beats the original UK Track LP A-1 B-1 stamper 1st pressing. There are needledrops of the UK that are heavenly. The US original and German Track pressings are close but not equal. Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs did a Gold CD version, and there were 180 gram and 200 gram LPs by Classic Records. I haven’t heard the Classic, but I’ve heard some of the MFSL. To my ears, I side with the original issues and my glossy near mint German Track is the best thing until I get a UK original of my own. This German LP was the first I ever bought. Years ago, I didn’t even know Quadrophenia except that it was a Who album. That dark ominous cover just spoke volumes and I had to have it. $15 for one of the immortal albums. Skip the Director’s cut, and save your $130 for a UK Track original.