MUSIC REVIEW | ***A.V WEEK 2*** The Who – Quadrophenia (1973)

Quadrophenia ALBUM

Quadrophenia is a movie. A movie I had never seen before listening to Quadrophenia, the album by The Who. Well, more accurately, it’s a rock opera by The Who. Now, regardless of their connection, I don’t think it’s important to review the album in the context of the movie. You see, the album came out half a decade before the movie, meaning that on release, no one would have had the movie to compare it to. So I’m going take in Quadrophenia the album as just that, an album.

After I Am the Sea, a dreamy, half assed intro that can barely be called a song, things really start with The Real Me. Thundering drums from John Bonham, relentless bass from John Entwistle, assaultive guitars from Pete Townsend and raucous vocals form Roger Daltrey, The Real Me is a great Who song on its own, but an even better one when setting up an epic, double album like this.

At over six minutes, the instrumental title track could have so easily become indulgent or weighed down, but somehow, it’ works as an amazing early album warm up, almost overture, to really set the mood for what’s about to come. It’s an epic piece of gloriously overblown musical hubris that is just right.

With The Punk and the Godfather, we get a great combination of exposition expounding story-song, and just a good old fashioned rock song. If I had any interest in the lyrics, I’m sure they would have told, or at least added to, a great story. But I didn’t need any of that, because it’s a just a kick ass, standalone rock song.

There are a few songs, like Cut My Hair, Helpless Dancer, I’ve Had Enough, 5:15 and Bell Boy that sound like they’re there purely to propel the story, not because they are songs worth being on the album. But they’re spaced out enough that there’s enough goodwill to make up for them. The fact that most of these come in the second half makes me think that maybe Townsend was starting to feel the pressure and constraints of telling a story with his album. I guess at some stage, it just became impossible to keep song structure, lyrical content and narrative integrity all intact at the same time. Something had to give.

After a lot of hard slog, Quadrophenia at least has the decency to bring it home with its most raw and engaging opus, Love Reign O’er Me. It’s so big and hard hitting, it makes the preceding 20 odd minutes of wank almost worth it.

Quadrophenia tells a story. A very detailed story. Apparently. I’ve never been someone who pays much attention to lyrics, they just have very little impact on what makes me like or not like a song. But since this is a concept album, with a real narrative, I thought I’d at least consult its Wiki page. At over 1,200 words though, even a shorthand version of the narrative was too much for my attention span.

But none of that matters. Like I said, I’m reviewing the album, a collection of songs. Not the movie or storyline. And as an album, a collection of songs, Quadrophenia is at least twice as long as it should be. If you cherry pick the half worth a re-listen, it’s really worth a re-listen. But even as bloated whole, it contains just enough bright spots and highlights that the length isn’t quite a deal breaker. Just a deal bender.

The Who

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