So how do you follow up a landmark album like Who’s Next? If you’re Pete Townshend, you go back into the laboratory and cook up another rock opera, this time about something much closer to home than a deaf, dumb and blind messiah. Mired in the world of mods, Quadrophenia pushed the Who to new musical heights and is often considered the last truly great Who album. Whether that’s true or not has little to do with it being the last important Who reissue.
Produced and overseen by Townshend, The Director’s Cut of Quadrophenia essentially contains two versions of the piece – the original Who album and Townshend’s demos. From the crushing surge of “The Real Me” right on through to the epic “Love Reign O’er Me,” the remastered Quadrophenia ups the ante on dynamic range and tonal clarity. For whatever reason, Townshend only chose eight of the albums songs to be included on the 5.1 surround DVD-A. Having the whole the thing in 5.1 on Blu-ray would have helped justify the box’s $125 price tag.
Which — besides the fluffy extras like a deluxe hardback book, previously unseen personal notes, photographs, and other bits of swag — leaves the other two CDs containing Pete Townshend’s Quadrophenia demos. The guitarist is known for his well-produced, detailed demos on which he plays all the instruments and does all the singing. The Scoop CDs from the 80s included “Love Reign O’er Me,” but the remaining Quadrophenia demos have only been available on bootlegs and online torrent sites. Having the rest (but not all – Where’s “5:15”?) with additional songs not included on the final Quadrophenia album evokes an appreciation for the amount of work Townshend put into the piece.
So me of the demos sound nothing like the Who versions. “The Real Me,” for example, lacks that signature, Entwistle-driven bottom end fans have come know and love, and is instead filled with “Who Are You” like bells and whistles. But many, like “Punk” (aka “The Punk Meets The Godfather”), “Bell Boy” and “Love Reign O’er Me,” are complete arrangement-wise, but lack the firepower and punch that the Who as a unit bring to the table.
Other issues like the fact that the demos of “Get Out And Stay Out,” “Quadrophonic Four Faces,” and “Joker James” are on the second disc, but the superior Who versions that appeared on the Quadrophenia soundtrack from 1979 are nowhere in sight. Their inclusion, along with any other “Who” takes of songs that didn’t appear on the final Quadrophenia release, would have given The Director’s Cut a bit more teeth. Still, we can be happy Quadrophenia has finally been remastered with plans for a 2012 tour. It is one of the last reminders of how great the Who were in the prime of their career.
~ Shawn Perry