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The Who - Quadrophenia CD (album) cover

QUADROPHENIA

The Who

 

Proto-Prog

4.48 | 411 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
5 stars (Can You See the 5+?)

Okay, I’m sorry, but THIS is the greatest opera ever written period. The Wall? Hardly. That “Remembrances” from the Carmen album that no one’s ever heard of? Don’t make me laugh. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway? Never even heard it. The Magic Flute? Give it a rest, Mozart!

Okay, so maybe that’s a little bit of an overestimation of my man Townshead there. I mean, we still do listen to Mozart, who’s to say we’ll still be listening to the Who three hundred years from now? Well, we should. Absolutely. And this thing? This “Quadrophenia?” Not even a real word Pete! Oh well. The first time I heard it, I just thought it was good. Then, I realized I’d heard it backwards, so I listened again, first disc first. And then it blew me away; this is the ultimate expression of romantic art rock.

This is, of course, a rock opera. Which means it has a plot. So that means you actually have to pay attention to the words. I know, but trust me, it’s totally worth it. See, it’s all about this dude named Jimmy (right?), except that he nuts, and thinks he’s four people. And he loves this girl that hates him. Which essentially means that I can TOTALLY sympathize. Anyway, every member gets to be a different Jimmy, and...hmm...maybe I’d better just get into the music.

“I Am the Sea” opens us with some ghostly atmosphere. And, if you listen real close, you can hear the four themes upon which the opera is based. Don’t listen too close though, ‘cause this spills flawlessly into “The Real Me,” a rip-roaring rocker that essentially bubbles down to a massive duel between Keith and John over who rocks harder. Not that it’s some kind of bass/drum solo, there’s symphonic backing, Roger roaring, and Pete keeping us all grounded with riffage (which is what the whole damn album’s about! YEAH!). Then we slide into “Quadrophenia” itself, which is really an overture. It’s instrumental, and we get to hear all the themes of the opera fleshed out, as well as Pete’s experimentation with synths. Not to mention a pretty cool guitar solo at the end. Amazing.

“Cut My Hair” is a really cool orchestral bit, with an opera rock chorus. There’s a nice radio/tea kettle transition into “The Punk and the Godfather,” a really brilliant piece of acoustic driven hard rock. There’s also a nice climby chorus, and this pretty midsection. Nice lyrics, going back to “My Generation” in a way... “I’m One” is a nice piece of bloozy acoustics, then Keith steps in, and it gets all heavy. Cool.

“The Dirty Jobs” is another orchestral rocker, great use of strings on that one. And the chorus part? “My karma tells me, you’ve been screwed again?” Brilliant. “Helpless Dancer” is just a piano and Roger, but it’s just...so...ANGRY! It’s fantastic. Great lyrics too. Heh. Listen at the end for a snippet of the Who playing something “classic” sounding...

“Is It in My Head?” is a good, lingering, desperate hard rocker. “I’ve Had Enough” is a great amalgamation of everything in the opera so far, twisting from heavy to pretty to funny. See, everything’s been getting more and more downbeat? Well, we leave the first disc on a hopeful note. Until the sirens. Heh. Well, anyways, great tune, great use of progressive banjo.

The catchy “5:15” is probably the big ole fan favorite of the record, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Great riff on those horns, with Entwhistle matching ‘em every step of the way; opera rock at its most rhythm and bluesy. And the best imitation of a train since “Locomotive Breath,” dig the way Keith sounds like the train cars slowing down at the end. “Sea and Sand” returns us to the water motif (which is far more prominent on the second side; if the first side is the city, this is the beach). That probably symbolizes something. There’s so many themes and layers to these tunes it’s hard to really call things “verses” and “choruses,” but in parts it rocks, and in other parts (“The girl I love is a perfect dresser”), it’s gorgeous.

“Drowned” is a pretty basic hard rocker...not that musicians as virtuoso as the Who could honestly make anything “basic,” especially in one of Pete’s operas. It’s “basic” in that it’s a natural (albeit bloozy) extension of “Sea and Sand.” Although there’s a nice snatch of “5:15” locked in the middle. But the number everyone has been waiting for is “Bell Boy.” We start off with some acoustic strumming, backing with a synth...and then Keith starts singing! It’s awesome, with a great sing-along chorus. In fact, his goofy singing coupled with Roger’s roar and Pete’s desperation is a great balance. And the drums are good too, of course; Keith really swings on that one.

“Doctor Jimmy” is a hard opera rock classic, with the band handing the melody off to a pocket orchestra for the chorus. That climby part, “What is it? I’ll take it!” Probably the best use of orchestra on the whole album. And the desperate “Is it me for a moment” bit? Rog really sells it, it’s beautiful. But screw individual sections, the whole damn thing works.

“The Rock” is, quite possibly, the only throwaway track on the album. And not because it’s bad, just because it’s sort of a retread of “Quadrophenia,” just this time, with more dicking around on the synths. Of course, “Quadrophenia” rocked anyway, so why am I complaining. “Love, Reign O’er Me” starts slowly, but then we’re finally hit with that damned theme we’ve heard over and over again through the opera. And you know what? It does not disappoint. The only downside is that Pete probably (and unwittingly, I hope) created the power ballad. Oh well, power ballads suck. This does not. It’s intelligent in melody and lyrics, and the emotion is real, and we’re (literally) hit with a desperate conclusion. The end. Wow.

Now, of course, the question is, did little Jimmy off himself? Well, I think—wait, no! That’s not the real question. The real question is, what’s the best song on this thing? Well, the whole thing. Yep. I mean, I could quibble, and come up with a few good suggestions (“Dr. Jimmy,” “The Real Me,” “Quadrophenia,” “Love Reign O’er Me”), but in the long run, you just can’t. It’s all too close. The flow is immaculate. All those little transitions? Beautiful. Two discs? Ha! I’ve heard stuff less than half as long as thing that’s a thousand times as tedious.

And do I even have to describe the players? Entwhistle is the greatest bassplayer on earth; his lyrical lines are matched only by Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond’s very best work. Keith Moon comes off as the most varietous drummer on the planet; the styles he cycles through here with just a drum kit, no fancy percussion, is amazing. He’s able to keep in time with the band AND the orchestra flawlessly. Roger Daltry takes the term “operatic” to the limits, playing it both for soft and heavy emotion. And Pete? Well, he was never the best guitarist in the world, but on this album he actually sounds pretty good. He also does keyboards, which somehow don’t sound as dated as you’d think. Besides, he’s the founder of the feast! We have him, and him alone, to thank for all this music and lyrics, which is an achievement unto itself.

Yep. The great Quad. I can think of few other albums that are this bombastic, this resonant, this melodic, this...good! Argh! I don’t even know what to say anymore. It rocks. It rolls. It tugs at the heartstrings. Keith Moon sings! A flawless example of progressive music. Essential.

The Whistler | 5/5 |

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