The Who - Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut
Back in 2009 when Pearl Jam began their Backspacer tour, they were performing a pair of songs from the Who's Quadrophenia album; "The Real Me" and "Love Reign O'er Me". Both performances found singer Eddie Vedder's evoking sheer liberation. It wasn't the sound of a man on a stage but a boy in his bedroom singing into the mirror wanting to be understood. We've all been there, along with nothing but the music in our ears yearning, hoping and dreaming someone, someday will understand us. Heavily influenced by the Who, Pearl Jam has made a career of creating more than radio-ready anthems but self-expressions that haunt. The Who were and always will be about self expression and no project was more daunting than their sixth record, Quadrophenia released in October 1973.
Quadrophenia is a distinctive album in the Who cannon. It's not their greatest (Who's Next), their most brutal expression of rage (Live At Leeds) or even their most operatic (Tommy). However, it's often viewed as the band's hailing masterwork. It captures the four members as their musical peak. What differentiated the Who from most other bands of their time is an argument could be made for each individual member as being preeminent force in each of their respective instruments. John Entwistle was peerless on the bass and while there were drummers with better rhythm and steadiness than Keith Moon, his spirit and technique was unmatched. Roger Daltrey may not have been the main lyric writer of the band but he was the definitive front man with possibly the greatest set of rock n' roll pipes every created and the perfect conduit for Pete Townshend's lyrical lunacy. Townshend is more than a top-tier guitarist but a mad scientist often driving himself to the point of a mental breakdown to bring his unparalleled vision to life. Take one listen to the demos for Quadrophenia (included here on both the two disc and five disc sets) and you hear an utterly entrancing and mesmerizing work-in-progress inside the mind of Townshend. Despite being in a band with Roger Daltrey, Townshend is no slouch in the vocal department evoking great depth to his lyrics through his own voice.
Quadrophenia documents the breathtaking strengths of the Who better than any other record. Townshend's personal yet lyrics were never more prophetic, Daltrey's whelping vocals more florid, and Entwistle and Moon more infinite in their mastery of furious rhythm. The story evolves around a distant and alienated mod youth named "Jimmy" searching in post-War England, but the truth is the location could be anywhere in the world at any time. The four "quadraphonic" personalities of the main character reflect the four distinct personalities of the Who making this opera more personal than Tommy which is why four decades later these songs and the album as a whole resonate. The album is more thematic than conceptual, the sum of its parts are stronger than sole songs. To appreciate its depth, its best experienced as a whole body of work and not through individual songs. Can you find yourself in a world whose sole purpose is to keep you down? The paths we trek down and search often seem insurmountable and we seek mentors and Jedi's to help us find our way. Jimmy's journey is often more identifiable and relatable than the lead character of the Who's first operatic venture, Tommy. The uncertainty of the future is something everyone can seize and relate to. There's an internal struggle we all endure at some point If we conform, do we lose a piece of ourselves in the process? These are questions that pop up throughout the seventeen song record which captures the insecurity and splendor of life as great as any long play ever made.
I could talk endlessly about the record but the truth is there are plenty of earlier reviews and books dedicated to the album, so my time is better spent telling you about the recent reissue of the album; Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut. The package is superb but has a few tiny drawback. The new 2011 remastering is from the 1996 mix of the album and the earlier mix (which most listeners grew up listening to) is nowhere to be found. The elaborate box set includes 5.1 mixes but doesn't capture the whole album for reasons never explained (and possibly because the original masters may have had some flaws not allowing for a 5.1 conversion). Depending on how long you've listened to this record, these flaws may be major or minor to you. Personally, it's not enough for me to overlook at what is included. In my opinion, this is possibly the greatest extended edition of any Who album to date. Granted, it could have been more, but the 100-page book and more than two dozen demos take it to another level. Even if you are a casual Who fan, the extended five disc edition is worth the investment. While many view deluxe collections as money grabs, to my ears, they provide invaluable insight into the artistic process as we hear the steps in the process that brought about a masterpiece to full fruition. The demos, which cover nearly two dozen songs on the expanded box, are beyond mesmerizing. "The Real Me" feels like an alternate spacey detour instead of a full-up rocker and most of the other songs while bearing similarities to their finished counterparts are dramatically different. They provide a vision of what a talented and obsessive solo artist Townshend was and is, but it's also a astonishing document in comparison to the final product. As the other three members of the Who add their irrefutable touches we hear a grand vision become a luminous one. That being said, I have spent countless hours in recent months awestruck by Townshend's fully formed demos. The Who are one of the greatest bands to ever grace a stage and record, but Townshend is truly a one-of-a-kind musician always upping his game and he delivered a knock-out with Quadrophenia and for the first time, we can hear it as he initially did in his own head before Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon came in and infused their personalities and talents onto these recordings.
Quadrophenia has never sounded more pristine and the extras included within the box set place the album in a wholly new light. If anything, it further demonstrates the brilliance of Pete Townshend and his manic mastery of the studio. The twenty-six demos included in the larger box set (eleven of these are on the standard two-disc edition) are worth the money for the massive box set. These demos provide the listener with a first hand view into the conception of one of rock n' roll's most personal and illuminating records. There's a reason why the album is still studied and discussed all these years later, it struck a nerve and is an audacious and absolute masterpiece. While the Who have never shied away from deluxe reissues they may have outdone themselves this time. Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut is a revelation to old and new fans alike and an essential purchase to anyone who considers themselves a fan of the Who.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
The Who - Quadrophenia: The Director's Cut