Written by General Jabbo
The latest trend among classic rock rereleases is to not only remaster said classic album, but to give it the super deluxe treatment with multiple CDs, DVDs, vinyl, books, and other assorted goodies. Just this year, bands as diverse as Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys, and U2 have had this very treatment done. Now The Who’s classic rock opera, Quadrophenia, is being rereleased as a “Director’s Cut” that includes a 100-page hardcover book with a 13,000-word essay by Pete Townshend, the original album, two CDs of demos, a 7″ single, and a DVD with surround mixes of some of the songs. This review will focus on the four CDs, as that was what was made available.
Originally released in 1973, the album has long since earned its place as not only one of, if not the best, Who albums, but as one of the all-time great rock albums by any artist. The album tells the story of Jimmy, a young Mod growing up in 1960s England. The Who were Mods, of course, and Jimmy’s “quad” personalities are meant to represent each member of the band as well as serve as the basis for the album’s title.
Many of the album’s songs remain staples of classic rock radio from the blistering “The Real Me” and “Dr. Jimmy” — two songs that deal with Jimmy’s multiple personalities, the latter of which “Only comes out when he drinks his gin” — to “5.15,” where a stoned Jimmy reflects on his life while on a train ride, there isn’t a dud in the bunch. The songs are woven together by the theme that ultimately becomes the driving ballad “Love, Reign O’er Me,” where Jimmy searches for redemption.
The band delivers some of their best performances on this material. More than ever, Roger Daltrey’s powerhouse vocals bring Townshend’s music to life while drummer Keith Moon gives a career-defining performance, one he’d never quite rise to again with his death looming only five years later.
The “Director’s Cut” contains two CDs of Townshend’s demos, including most of the album’s tracks as well as a number of unreleased songs. The demos are a revelation. Here the listener can hear the album as its creator originally envisioned it. While some of the tracks, such as “Bell Boy” and “Helpless Dancer” are very similar to their released counterparts, “The Real Me” is radically different in its demo form. Its drum machine and keyboards, along with its different pace make the track sound more like a Peter Gabriel tune than the familiar Who classic. The demo also contains an additional verse not found on the actual album.
The unreleased songs contain a number of characters and storylines that were later removed from the finished product. Stylistically, they don’t really fit on the album, with “Joker James” — a track about the different women who dated Jimmy — being the most “Who-like.” Still, they are not without merit, from the acoustic-themed “We Close Tonight,” where we find Jimmy trying hard to impress a female to the jazzy soft rock of “You Came Back,” these tracks show Townshend’s versatility and just how on top of his game he was as a writer during this period. “We Close Tonight” was eventually released in a full-band version, though that is not contained here. Some of these demos had been released before in Townshend’s acclaimed Scoop series, but having them all in once place presents a nice alternate version of the album.
When Quadrophenia was first released on CD, it was with its original mix. The album was remixed in 1996 and it is that version that has been remastered here. While the new version is a less fatiguing, seemingly flatter transfer of the tapes, fans clamoring for the original mix will be left disappointed once again. A deluxe box such as this is the ideal place to collect all available versions of the album to make it the definitive last word on the music it contains.
In addition, while the performances on the actual album remain untouched, Townshend has added some modern drum overdubs to some of the demos in an attempt to improve the tracks. Purists may cringe, but the overdubs were tastefully done.
The Who was well known for their legendary live performances and, indeed, some shows from this tour were recorded as radio broadcasts. Sadly, none of those are contained here either. The lack of live material and a remastered version of the original mix are what keep Quadrophenia (The Director’s Cut) from being an A+ release. Still, the material included is top notch and well worth having for any Who fan.