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The Who - Quadrophenia CD (album) cover


The Who



4.50 | 561 ratings

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5 stars Coming of age and Quadrophenia

"But I'm one! I am one!"

I've never had a great first hand idea of what the Mod thing was about in England, but as I began to immerse into Quadrophenia I found it didn't really matter. What we have here is a classic coming-of-age story with only the time and place different from any other. Pain, confusion, lonliness, craziness, violence, isolation, dread, exhilaration. All of the various emotions we deal with during this period of life put to music, and in the music comes the joy to counter the narrative of the story. It brought back some memories of some of the lowest moments in my own life, moments when I scanned the room looking for something to break to quell pain, or a few times where I had to go out into the night just to run, to exhaustion, to try to quiet my mind. I don't remember those moments fondly or idolize them, but I can't forget them, and something within the songwriting of Quadrophenia brings them to the fore, perhaps letting us know it's OK to examine them. And letting us know that they are not unique to us as individuals. The album also looks at split personalities, those of the character and those of the band members. ("He carries four people in his head -- the Who. They carry him in theirs. He feels he should count more when compared to the Ace Face, but he doesn't.")

"I was a mod. No question about it. The other three guys in The Who were not. My best friend at art college Nick Bartlett and his older brother Tim were the sharpest mods I came across, I hung out with them as much as I could. The thing is that anyone could be a mod. You didn't need to be working class. I once hung out with a group of mods in Brighton with a girl, and we slept under the pier and chased rockers. The rest of the band had gone home. I wanted to feel a part of something, I always have. The mods allowed me that." -all quotes Pete Townshend.

As a work of art Quadrophenia is near flawless. Yeah, as some folks will attest, there are certain sections which drag on a bit long, but for the most part this is Townshend at the top of his game. He combines the fresh storytelling of "Sell Out" with the grand scope of "Tommy" and the rock and roll of "Who's Next," attempting to unify the vision in one great work. With the performance skills of the Who members at the top of their creative game, the turmoil in their personal lives could not derail this-they rise to the level of Townshend's writing to create a rock statement of the age, and one which I believe influenced many to follow. As much as I enjoy "The Wall" and even "American Idiot", it has to be said that Townshend beat them both by many years in creating a symphony for the disillusioned.

"When I was a nipper I felt that the guitar was all I had. I wasn't tough enough to be in a gang, I wasn't good looking enough to be in with the birds, not clever enough to make it at school, not good enough on my feet to be good football player, I was a fucking loser. I think everyone feels that way at some point. And somehow being a Mod - even though I was too old to be a Mod really - I wrote this song with that in mind. Jimmy, the hero of the story, is kinda thinking he hasn't got much going for him but at least he's one."

"Quadrophenia" is not someone's life story, and if you try to turn it into that I think the music suffers. The music is everything, it works as the backdrop to a thousand different lives rather than just being the backdrop to a kid called Jimmy."

The songs of Quadrophenia are naked in terms of raw emotion, perfectly designed to express our collective male distress at the world around us. Sometimes it may express a desire for conformity, a repulsion of our weirdness, or a desire to lash out. Pete finds bits and pieces that express these individual tendencies, but then builds them up, and strings them together to create something much more elaborate. The addition of orchestration, character dialogue exchanges, repeating motifs, sound effects, and most importantly, inspired personal performance take the basic naked songs to something quite profound. There is no guarantee that such an approach will ever work, it could just as easily be a god-awful mess. But the band pulls together for perhaps the last time in a way that suggests they still care enough to shoot for something beyond "their next album." The band was really at odds with Pete about the mission of The Who. He was into stuff like this, they wanted a return to a more straightforward approach which could be pulled off better live. This album would be the last of the "big vision" albums.

"'Dr. Jimmy' was meant to be a song which somehow gets across the explosive, abandoned wildness side of his character. Like a bull run amok in a china shop. He's damaging himself so badly that he can get to the point where he's so desperate that he'll take a closer look at himself. The part where he says, 'What is it, I'll take it. Who is she, I'll rape it.' That's really the way I see Keith Moon in his most bravado sort of states of mind."

For God's sake just listen to what Entwistle does on "The Real Me." Both he and Moon are just on fire throughout the album, playing at their highest levels creatively. Pete's lead work is beautiful as well, melodic and gorgeous, my favorite being those simple notes adorning the title song. And with "Love Reign O'er Me" it seems that Townshend serves up Daltrey the high fastball he puts into the parking lot with ease. It's a vocal perfectly suited for Roger's every-man meets rock-anthem release track, highly memorable on all fronts. I also really appreciate the historical and personal nature of where the album takes us. We have this uniquely British snapshot of a moment in their collective youth, a history which also including the memories of the band members. The combination of fine lyrics about themes we can all relate to, great melodies, and the quality of the performance make Quadrophenia an album that still holds up well today. The CD booklet in my reissue features perfect artwork. The black and white stills are stark, bleak, and convey the story-points very successfully. Complete lyrics are also included. The sound quality of the album and remixes have always been controversial, but to my ears it sounds fine, maybe a bit muffled.

"'Love Reign O'er Me' is similar to 'Drowned' in meaning. This refers to....rain was a blessing from God; that thunder was God's Voice. It's another plea to drown, only this time in the rain. Jimmy goes through a suicide crisis. He surrenders to the inevitable, and you know, when it's over and he goes back to town he'll be going through the same shit, being in the same terrible family situation and so on, but he's moved up a level. He's weak still, but there's a strength in that weakness. He's in danger of maturing."

One of rock's signature titles.

Finnforest | 5/5 |


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