Review Summary: The group's finest hour and the one art-rock album to buy if you plan on buying only one.Quadrophenia
is the best art rock album ever made. There, I said it. Now, I understand this is purely an opinion, but over the years, it has been the richest art rock album I've ever had the fortune of hearing. Richest in what terms? Well, pretty much everything; the lyrics are, simply put, the quintessence of the teenage mentality, addressing issues such as isolation, anger, love, self-doubt and then self-confidence, maturation, redemption, sleaziness etc. (and can easily be identified with adult life, as well). The music follows suit as there is a vast range of styles and moods found here, ranging from the Who's trademark rocking style to gentle or dark ballads, complex suits, country ditties, anthems and tunes containing all of the above! Finally, this is Pete's finest hour as a composer; sure, he has been phenomenal since at least 1967, but here there is no filler at all unlike, say, Tommy
So, seventeen songs appear here and not one of them is a bummer! Okay, The Rock
is somewhat redundant when compared to the title track, since it is another six minute instrumental reprise of the album's main themes, but who in their right mind would resist these themes anyway? Not to mention that it is a necessary bridge between Doctor Jimmy
and Love Reign O'er Me
, as it would be harder to swallow these two songs back-to-back given the ''heavy'' nature of them. But apart from this minor fault, everything else here qualifies for a number of reasons. First of all, the production is crystal clear; you can hear every small texture from Pete's raw riffs, Keith's manic drumming, John's eloquent runs across the fret and Roger's fully matured roar like they are playing next to you.
Moreover, the synthesizers are used perfectly here, never overdoing the matter, but always punctuating the main motifs and melding with the physical instruments in an effortless way throughout the album. A prime example is Quadrophenia
, where the combination of Pete's melodic soloing with the synths' dramatic underscore doesn't seem like an afterthought, but as a natural way of filling the soundscape. Needless to say that it's the most complex tune the man ever wrote and it shows: anger is succeeded with redemption, then meditation and it all comes to the cathartic crescendo in the finale with remarkable ease; the whole affair never seems forced or strained, but, again, natural and uncomplicated.
But as every intelligent person knows, musical complexity is for pretentious snobs (sarcasm noted)! Gimme me some earthshaking rockers instead! The Real Me
could have been a major highlight even if all it had was the rhythm section. If you ever doubted the Moon/Entwistle duo as groove makers, this is the chance to prove yourself wrong: John and Keith trade off fills and licks with remarkable ease and complement beautifully Pete's ''unpolished'' power chords and Roger's threatening roaring. What is more, there is a gorgeous brass section on the background that punctuates the breaks perfectly.
The rocking vibe hardly stops there though, since after the ''me against the world'' attitude of The Real Me
comes the ''me against myself'' mood of The Punk And The Godfather
:here, the lyrics can generally be considered as an inner monologue between one's recent and former self; when taken into the context of the story, though, they address Jimmy's disbelief and disappointment (the first of many) with his favorite band (The Who), which has neglected the mod subculture for fame, through a fantastic dialogue between the members and him. Musically, it alternates between intense, crisp electric/acoustic guitar interplay and delicate, plaintive passages, giving the tune a ''theatrical'' point of view that's fascinating. 5:15
, on the other hand, finds Jimmy tripping on a train and revealing his sleazy, sexual side, aided by an aggressive, bouncy musical arrangement similar to The Real Me
, but this time Jimmy is not angry. He is laid-back!
Then, there is a trio of jaw-dropping rockers, with Drowned
signaling Jimmy's seeming liberation from his problems and split personalities before he announces emphatically: I am not the actor, this can't be the scene
on top of a heartbreaking vocal melody and fragile soloing from Pete. This part is crucial for the whole plot, as Jimmy leaves behind his former problems and decides to search for inner peace. Bell Boy
stops his meditative state, as he sees his gang leader (Ace Face) working as a hotel porter; this is also a rare chance of hearing Keith singing during the chorus, filling with humor Jimmy's newest disappointment.
finds the protagonist in a low-point, as the recent meeting with ‘’Ace Face’’ has brought up his former self-doubt and letdowns with, well, everything, resulting in him drinking and letting his harsh personality out again. The music complements all these feelings perfectly, as the anguished verses give way to the ‘’glorious’’ what is it?
segment before it all leads to the aggressive, threatening chorus. The big
highlight, though, has to be the plaintive, introspective is it me
theme that showcases the climax of Jimmy’s identity crisis, as he simply doesn’t know what way to lead in his life. Beautiful song from start to finish!
Apart from the rockers now, there are a lot of mind-blowing ballads here, too. Cut My Hair
portrays Jimmy’s troubles with family and friends, as he never seems to fit in nowhere, through a tender and romantic arrangement filled with ‘’weepy’’ clean guitars and economic piano lines before it all culminates in the explosive chorus that expresses his frustration with the whole situation. I’m One
is introspective songwriting at its finest, with Pete employing a country guitar figure and various electric passages on the background that transmit perfectly the thin line between optimism and anguish that Jimmy is going through. Helpless Dancer
is very Spanish oriented, on the other hand, both in the melody and guitar departments; I also like the way the delicate melody and arrangement contrast with Roger’s thunderous performance and the social/political views of Jimmy reflected on the lyrics.
Sea And Sand
finds Jimmy in a reflective mood, as he thinks about his parents throwing him out of the house and his crush, before exploding with self-confidence to win her. As usual, there are three parts musically, according to each lyrical theme: the relaxed, tender verse, the heartbreaking bridge and the rocking chorus. One of the most multi-dimensional and yet, direct love songs ever put to tape.
Finally, it all climaxes with the closing Love, Reign O’er Me
, an epic anthem up there with the best the group ever penned: Roger alternates between fragility and fully realized majesty in the blink of an eye, while Pete delivers subtle and haunting licks on top of the rhythm section’s nuanced work. It is the final resolution, the catharsis of Jimmy’s problems, as he understands that all he needs is love!
And there’s more to the record, for God’s sake! Is It In My Head
is a power ballad that reflects once more Jimmy’s split personality, while The Dirty Jobs
recounts his difficulties with his new job through a gentle arrangement and melody. I’ve Had Enough
is the first time on the record Jimmy feels fed up with the things that bother him, thus serving as a precursor to the meditation of Drowned
. The wired, intense arrangement heralded by Keith’s unstoppable rolls drives the point home, really.
In the end, what makes Quadrophenia
so special is not the thematic it examines, but the way the examination is done. All of the songs here build a diverse, emotional and enchanting masterpiece that has no peers in music history. Hell, everyone can manage to make a song or album about adolescence and delude listeners that he believes what he sings. Only Pete Townshend, though, could take this ordinary theme and expand on it in every way possible with the utmost sincerity and, at the same time, create a universal tale of inner crisis for all ages and purposes. God bless him.