Wednesday, December 5, 2007

No. 266: Quadrophenia

Band: The Who
Album: Quadrophenia
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The second of The Who's Rock operas, "Quadrophenia" is something of a coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of the late-1950s London mod/rocker scene. In it, Pete Townsend examines the nature of a split (four ways, in the case of the protagonist) mind in nothing less than an interesting way.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: "Quadrophenia" is nothing if not pompous and far-reaching. The storyline is muddy and the album is wrought with filler.
Best song: "The Real Me" is fun, as is the album ender, "Love, Reign O'er Me." "Drowned" is a wonderful Townsend early rock number (in concert, sometimes Townsend played it acoustic).
Worst song: "I've Had Enough" and "The Punk and the Godfather" aren't great. There are a few other songs ("I Am The Sea," "The Dirty Jobs" and "I Am The Sea" come to mind immediately) that are there to move the plot along/complete the opera. Those songs aren't good, either.
Is it awesome?: It has its highlights, but it's not the band's best album, by any means. It's better than a lot of stuff.

I often talk about "xx-year-old Ross" versus "current Ross" in terms of various things. Not to hop on the couch here, but I was looking over an old blog I wrote towards the end of college and was struck by how different I am from 22-year-old Ross (22YOR). 22YOR was somewhat upbeat, not nearly as cynical and, most striking, incredibly optimistic. 22YOR had dreams (I wanted to be the sports editor for a large daily newspaper), something current Ross has no time for.

So, with the idea of a younger Ross in mind, I'm going to write something now that 16-year-old Ross would recoil in horror: "Quadrophenia" isn't one of the Who's best. It's got highlights, certainly, but to call it bloated is like saying Donald Trump is self-assured. It is anything but a great rock opera.

I saw the Who play "Quadrophenia" with my mother and my first real girlfriend when I was 15 at United Center on Halloween. I remember it quite fondly, but I'm sure I would find it ludicrous were I to see it now. Billy Idol was involved, as was noted pedophile Gary Glitter.

The plot is tough to follow. In short, Townsend bit off more than he could probably chew in explaining how one could have multiple aspects of a personality (four in protagonist Jimmy's case). Certainly, the idea that rock and roll could save someone from this sort of mental illness ("Quadrophenia" is a play on schizophrenia) is silly, though, it appears to be Townsend's thought:

"I think that our album clarifies who the real hero is in this thing - it's the kid on the front. He's the hero. That's why he's on the front cover. That's why he's sung about. It's his fucking album. Rock 'n' Roll's his music. It's got nothing to do with journalists, and it hasn't really even got anything to do with musicians, either." - Pete Townshend, 1973

On some level, I fancied myself that kid from the cover when I was 16 and listening to this album daily. Rock and roll was that big of a part of my life (it still kind of is), but that sort of tunnel vision is silly.


I mentioned, in writing about "Who's Next," that the Who went on a steady decline from "Tommy" on, and "Quadrophenia" is the second step in that progression. As much as "Who's Next" sounds like a stadium rock record, "Quadrophenia" expands on that sound. Instead of just Moogs and pianos galore, the horn and layered guitars make The Who, ostensibly a punk band, sound like Journey. Not good.

And that brings it back to the point, "Quadrophenia" is too far reaching for this band. It's giant and when a band like The Who experiment like this, it doesnt always hit. "Tommy" did and "Who's Next" sorta did. "Quadrophenia" didn't.


Justin said...

Have you seen the Quadrophenia movie? About the same as the album... underwhelming.

But it does have Sting. And penises. And, honestly, I shut it off halfway through.

I like "Bell Boy" quite a bit, but that's about it.

fft said...

I actually like this album a lot. Its not as consistent as Tommy but maybe not as pretentious either. I'll take "The Real Me" and "Love Reign..." over a lot of Tommy which doesn't have a lot of rockers.