Pete Townshend claims Quadrophenia is the best album he’s ever written. Released in 1973 and coming after Who’s Next (1971) and Tommy (1969), Townshend’s second rock opera has stood the test of time, spawning a feature length film in 1979 live tours by the band itself and a remixed reissue released in 1996. This version features the 1996 remix along with….depending on which version you shell out for…previously unreleased demos recorded by Townshend and a 5.1 surround sound mix of the majority of the album. I’m working from the two-disc Deluxe Edition that features 11 demo tracks in addition to the original album.
The original album itself is indeed a rock classic. Where Tommy address blind adulation by the masses, Quadrophenia is a more personal work, based around a Mod named Jimmy back in 1965. This, of course, is when The Who themselves were considered a top Mod band and played to audience full of characters like the disaffected Jimmy.
The release of Tommy turned The Who into stadium rockers and lead singer Roger Daltrey into one of rock’s premier front men, rivalled only by Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. Who’s Next only served to ensure The Who’s place as arena rockers, so Quadrophenia is complex, loud and anthemic (the band quieted down on their following album, 1975’s The Who By Numbers).
By now you probably have already made up your mind whether you are a fan of the original album or not, so let’s move on to this reissue.
The package comes with a booklet full of photos and writings from Pete. In the introduction Townshend reveals plans for a sequel to the 1979 film to go into production at the end of 2012. He also alludes to (another) tour by The Who in 2012 playing Quadrophenia in its entirety.
Also interesting are the track-by-track notes Townshend has provided for each of the demos. He explains when, where and under what circumstances the songs were written and the demos were recorded. What’s most striking upon listening to these one-man demos is how well produced they are. These are sparse performance of Pete strumming away on an acoustic guitar, but full-on (band) versions featuring guitar, bass, drums, violin, accordion, piano and synths, all played by Pete. His bass playing is particularly impressive and its also quite illuminating to see how fully developed the arrangements were before he brought them to the band. Certainly Roger, John and especially Keith brought their own talent into the production, but it’s clearly Pete who was steering the boat. The demos include two songs that didn’t make the final cut…Anymore and Is It Me…although a fragment of the latter was included in Doctor Jimmy.
If you’ve already got the 1996 reissue, this version probably isn’t essential. But if all you’ve got is a well-worn 38 year old double LP, then you’ll want this as well.
Click here to listen to the demo version of Is It Me? from Quadrophenia: