Saturday, October 22, 2011

266 Quadrophenia. Rock operas- just say no.

Album: Quadrophenia
Artist: The Who
Year: 1973
Genre: Rock


  1. I Am the Sea
  2. The Real Me
  3. Quadrophenia
  4. Cut My Hair
  5. The Punk and the Godfather
  6. I'm One
  7. The Dirty Jobs
  8. Helpless Dancer (Roger's theme)
  9. Is It in My Head
  10. I've Had Enough
  11. 5:15
  12. Sea and Sand
  13. Drowned
  14. Bell Boy (Keith's theme)
  15. Doctor Jimmy (John's theme)
  16. The Rock
  17. Love, Reign O'er Me (Pete's theme)

Pete Townshend loves Rock Operas. The Who's guitarist, leader and principal songwriter is a huge fan of turning simple music into something grander, something more ambitious, something with a narrative and message, something... overblown.

His first attempt gave us Tommy, an album about a deaf dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball. His second try was the ill-fated Lifehouse project about a nihilistic future vision which Pete was forced to abandon. Attempt three produced Quadrophenia a double album of tracks with a narrative which followed the existential life-musings of a Mod from London. Struggling with big philosophical issues is hard enough at the best of times but when you've got a split personality and all four elements of your psyche represent a member of The Who it's pretty much impossible. It would be hard living as one member of The Who, let alone all four of them.

When Townshend pulled the plug on the Lifehouse project he didn't abandon it entirely. He ditched the narrative, took the best songs and recorded an album called Who's Next which is far and away the best thing The Who ever did. Listening to Quadrophenia I can't help but wish he'd done the same thing here: dump the Rock Opera concept and cull the double album down into one disc of great songs. If he had I think we might have another Who's Next and not an album which has some great moments but is a bit of a struggle to hear all the way through. People had to listen to the two minutes of ocean sound effects that open the album in the age of vinyl before the skip function was invented, but now we can brush it aside with the press of a button does anyone bother?

Not to say Quadrophenia is bad by any stretch of the imagination, measured purely on musical ability The Who were one of the greatest foursomes to ever take a stage and Townshend can write great songs. But this is just too over-blown, especially when you consider what could have been if it was less blown.

Highlight: The Real Me
Lowlight: I am the Sea

Influenced by: Rock music and pomposity
Influenced: Many concept albums since.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Buyers beware!!! This CD is a hoax. I spent the entire sum of it to get a copy to try for my new quadrophonic sound system. But I was hated to say that this bad CD is not quadrophonic AT ALL!!~! "

-Clearly a joke but it got a wry smile from me.

So is this Rock Opera Greatness or overblown and pointless? Let me know below

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