Sunday, January 29, 2017
"Quadrophenia" by The Who (November 1973, US release)
It's hard to believe The Who only released six albums between 1965 and 1973, considering how many other major bands like the Beatles were expected to put out. But it's true. Quadrophenia is the sixth studio album and second complete rock opera by this band. The advantage of not releasing as often as other bands was the ability to fully develop their material.
Quadrophenia is an excellent example of The Who's work, despite its length. It is not as well known as Tommy, their fourth album, but they were able to complete the rock opera, unlike Who's Next. It's an ambitious project full of ambitious music, approaching prog rock, at times, but with the emphasis on rock.
The album sold well, reaching number 2 on n the U.S. album charts--higher than any other Who album, held from number one only by the phenomenally successful Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-- and going platinum, despite the fact that none of the three singles from the record cracked the Billboard top 40, and only one made number 20 in the U.K.
Because this was conceived as an album and wasn't really a singles generator, it's hard to talk about individual songs. There are good ones--plenty of them--but most work best in the context of the whole. The best known songs, "5:15" and "Love, Reign O'er Me," were obvious single choices, but they are far from the only reasons to listen to this album. "The Dirty Jobs" stands out for me. "The Real Me" and the incredible "I've Had Enough," and some other songs illustrate the surprising introspection that makes this record stand out over other Who albums. "Sea and Sand" and "Drowned" have also gained a lot of popularity over the years, and for good reason. Interestingly, "Drowned" actually dates back to the Tommy period, although it wasn't included on that album.
As for the whole, the story is more relatable, perhaps, than most of Tommy, more real I suppose, but in typical operatic fashion, it's exactly Tommy's strangeness and bigger-than-life feel that makes it stand out. I don't want to say Quadrophenia isn't as good. It's so different that the albums are hard to compare. But there are reasons why people remember Tommy more. For one thing, Tommy has been more successful as part of The Who's live show, giving it more exposure. The film version was also more successful. But Quadrophenia is more subtle, and is often better played (part of why it was hard to do successfully live). Keith Moon's drumming is especially good here. It's not hard to argue that this is the better album of the two, if they have to be compared.
For sure, Quadrophenia requires more effort to listen to than most rock albums. It's long, for one thing, clocking in at over 81 minutes. It also takes some work to follow the story. It's not really an album for casual listening.
So, why should you care?
Because putting in the effort is worth it. It's one of the Who's last truly great albums, and deserves its place in lists of classic albums, both because of its ambition and the quality of the execution.
Ah, another long one here... But since it's The Who, I feel like I need to give this my full attention, hence why it's taken me so long to finally make it happen.
"The Real Me" follows the album's intro and it's relentless! This is a fantastic classic rock song filled with amazing drumming, and even cooler bass lines. If the entire album was like this, I wouldn't mind 80+ minutes of it.
Good (unsurprising) news though! There are lots of great songs on here! So many that it would be silly to list them all because it would end up being the majority of the tracklist.
A few favorites though:
"The Real Me", "The Punk and The Godfather", "The Dirty Jobs", "Drowned", and "Belly Boy."
I honestly didn't follow the story much. I'm horrible at paying much attention to the lyrics the first go around, let alone how they all connect to the other songs. That's something that will come with multiple listens, I'm sure.
There isn't much else to say about this. It's a long album, but if you have the time to sit and listen to it as a whole, it's worth it. So many great songs! A few of which will get put onto future "Best of The Who" mixes that I make eventually. Just listen to "The Real Me." If that song doesn't make you want to listen to the rest of album, then maybe you should listen to that song again.