With multiple disc packages from artists as diverse as U2, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Leonard Cohen to choose from, this year’s holiday boxed set season has been a particularly rich one — especially for classic rock fans.
But perhaps none of these deluxe editions are as deserving of the re-imagined treatment as the Who’s landmark 1973 album Quadrophenia.
As Pete Townshend’s second rock opera, Quadrophenia has historically played second fiddle to its more celebrated older brother Tommy, and even to the more commercially huge Who’s Next.
But most diehard Who fans know better. Not only does the original double album contain some of the Who’s most explosive performances as a band — particularly from bassist John Entwhistle and drummer Keith Moon — it also features some of the best, and most personal songwriting of Pete Townshend’s career.
Quadrophenia’s storyline, about an alienated mod youth growing up in swinging sixties, post war England, mirrors the Who’s own story closely. Jimmy’s four “Quadrophenic” personalities are designed to represent the four members of the Who. On the album’s original grey jacket, you can even see their faces in the rearview mirrors of the scooter he drives.
Even so, you can see where Jimmy’s story might make for a less compelling, cinematic narrative than the more famous deaf, dumb and blind boy of Tommy. Where Tommy rises — and eventually crashes and burns — as a messianic sort of figure, Jimmy’s road to redemption comes through the more difficult path of trying to carve an identity out for himself by fitting in with the mod youth culture of sixties England. It’s not hard to see why both Hollywood and Broadway embraced the romantic and sympathetic Tommy, over the more complex character of Quadrophenia’s deeply troubled, and admittedly more depressing Jimmy. It also didn’t hurt that Tommy came first.
The “Director’s Cut” of Quadrophenia isn’t perfect. In fact, many Who fans have been publicly grousing about both the album mix on the box (from a 1996 remixed version, rather than from the original tapes), and the lack of live material from the same period (even though it is fairly common knowledge that the live Quadrophenia shows from 1973-74 were hit and miss). What is more curious though, is the decision to leave several songs off of the highly anticipated 5.1 Blu-ray/DVD mix included here.
All nit-picking aside (and it really is nit-picking), the original album still sounds great though. On songs like “The Real Me” and “The Punk Meets The Godfather,” John Entwhistle’s bass runs serve more as a second lead instrument, than merely providing a bottom end to Townshend’s slash and burn power chords.
Keith Moon’s drumming is also a revelation here. On the powerful album closing suite of “The Rock” and “Love Reign O’er Me,” Moon’s drums thunder through the mix like controlled symphonic waves of sound, a stark contrast to the more wildly chaotic rock style he is most often associated with. Roger Daltrey is likewise in fine form here. The scream at the end of “Love Reign O’er Me” alone still sends shivers down your spine.
But it is Townshend’s masterful writing that makes Quadrophenia quite possibly his greatest achievement. Tucked neatly in between this album’s storytelling about youthful alienation, you’ll find plenty of songs with biting political commentary (“we’re the slaves of the phony leaders, breathe the air we have blown you”), romantic longing (“I just wanna’ die with you here, I’m feeling so high with you here”), and spiritual discovery (“only love can bring the rain, that makes you yearn to the sky”).
In addition to the 1996 and abridged 5.1 mixes, there are also two discs worth of the original demos for Quadrophenia. In their stripped down, original form, these demos of the original songs provide a unique perspective into the creation of this great Who album. When played in sequence, they also serve as a cool alternate version, that shows just what this album might have sounded like in some parallel universe. Songs that didn’t make the final cut like “Joker James” and “We Close Tonight” are also included. A 100 page hard-bound book and a lengthy new essay from Pete Townshend about the making of the album round out this fine, if slightly flawed package.
With six discs worth of both familiar and never before heard material, Quadrophenia – The Director’s Cut will be a bit pricey for some fans. But slight imperfections aside, this is an ambitious, and mostly very well done re-examining of what is arguably the Who’s greatest album. For hardcore Who fans, the “Director’s Cut” of Quadrophenia is a must.