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Pete Townshend will likely be best remembered for the Who’s groundbreaking rock opera Tommy. Packed with classic rock staples including “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the single album Who’s Next is probably the band’s tightest musical statement. For conceptual depth, musical ambition and instrumental command among the entire group, however, Quadrophenia remains unmatched among the Who’s canon. Numerous Who fans justifiably consider it to be Townshend’s crowning achievement.
Roger Daltrey’s ferocious delivery during “The Real Me” sets the stage for a young mod named Jimmy’s struggle to define his own identity in 1960’s Britain. The character’s internal chaos is underscored by Keith Moon’s furious drumming and John Entwistle’s dizzying, masterful bass playing. The high point for Townshend himself is among the album’s more subdued moments, during the sentimental early bars of the enduring “I’m One.” Daltrey concludes the album with the spine-tingling catharsis of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” one of the finest recorded vocal performances in hard rock. Even interstitial instrumental pieces like the six minute title suite are muscular demonstrations of the band’s glorious prowess and musicality.
Naturally, this set features a fresh remastering job of the original material. The results are clear and present, while being respectful of the music. This is no hack job which simply compresses the album to make it seem louder and brighter. The majority of people who pick up this will arguably be very familiar with the original record, though. The principal draw therefore becomes not necessarily the album itself, but the treasure trove of bonus material included.
Along with the eight-song surround-sound DVD and a 100 page hardcover coffee table book are two discs containing 25 newly restored demo tracks. These offer glimpses into Townshend’s creative process during the development of the Quadrophenia’s seventeen songs. The bonus cuts also include many demos for songs that didn’t make the final cut, including the rough concept for “Get Out and Stay Out.” The piano-driven song gives voice to Jimmy’s exasperated parents. The strummy “We Close Tonight” is more fully realized, describing Jimmy’s insecurity and desire for an amorous tryst. “Get Inside” is a catchy tune that seems to fall outside the Quadrophenia concept, describing a cycle of overbearing maternal and paternal protection. The lighthearted “Joker James” veers further off course, describing a romantic interlude foiled by a whoopee cushion.
All in, this set gives fans unprecedented insight and unexpected glimpses into a justifiably beloved album. It is by far the most comprehensive overview of Quadrophenia ever released, and a must-have for Who diehards. It would also make a welcome gift for anyone interested in the British invasion or mod scene, and for lovers of classic rock and roll.
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