Check the first part of this review here.
Quadrophenia is a concept album that spans two records and which has 17 songs. It tells the story of a young mod named Jimmy who faces an existential dilemma, aggravated by the fact that he has four different and conflicting personalities, and each one of these reflects the personality of a member of The Who: a fighter, a romantic, a lunatic and a spiritual seeker. That is why there are four songs which are labeled as a member of The Who’s individual theme.
The story is not cohesive enough as it stands here – the movie was to be cohesive and to make sense, but that was to come much later on. In any case, Pete has come up with an emotional setting that is enough to make for any narrative deficiency. The Who are one of the best exponents of music that is internalized and felt, and Quadrophenia does not fail to deliver in that sense.
We get to see Jimmy as he his maturing, and that stands as an excellent analogy of the transition of music from the idealistic ’60s to the somehow starker ’70s. The Who were one of the longest-standing bands at that point, and they had not only the insight but also the right to articulate such issues.
And articulate these issues they did in the song named “The Punk Meets The Godfather”, where Pete asks advance pardon to a younger generation for his failings as a musician and overall artist. But he reminds the public that if it accepts any old thing willingly, then it deserves as much blame than the one who deceives it to begin with. Public and performer move in unison. That might be the lesson The Who taught us above everything. And the one song that brings that to mind in the most powerful language is found on Quadrophenia.
Elswhere, we have many songs that question the purpose of one’s life and that depict the affirmation of the self as seen by the others – again, a typical concern of Pete. The opening song “The Real Me” does that, and the process is an external one. That is, we get to see the perceptions that others have about Jimmy. This is the opposite approach to a song like “Substitute”, in which the character created distinctions – and in a humorous setting at that. “The Real Me” is placed at the other end of the spectrum. It is much darker because Pete was much somber now. The Who all had families and children, and more things to worry about than playing the Marquee or the Tavern and what to do to cause a sensation there.
I haven’t talked about musicianship yet. Just one thing should be said: The Who are true titans here. I won’t go into further detail. You can’t explain greatness to someone. That is something a person witnesses when he or she is fortunate enough. And on Quadrophenia, The Who make us the luckiest guys and gals ever.
Note that John Entwistle contributed no songs to the project, albeit he provided the most grandiose horn parts on any Who album ever.
The album is one of the few that has a vocal contribution by Keith Moon. He sings “Bell Boy” without even attempting to hold pitch, but rather as the true character he was. The song was to become a live staple for a short while, too, and Keith always made the crowd request it much to the chagrin of the band.
Besides, songs like “Helpless Dancer” thread new ground in their recitative structure, something that would be employed again in compositions like “Guitar & Pen” from the “Who Are You” album. I must also tell you that I know at least two people that became very interested in The Who upon listening to “Helpless Dancer” alone.
The hard-rocking numbers include the single “5.15”, and “I’ve Had Enough”, a song that goes from a classic Who rocker to a pensive banjo-driven number, culminating in one of the screams you can listen to anywhere. And the other single was “Love, Reign O’er Me”. It is a soaring ballad that is carried by Pete’s piano, and which has Keith’s last great moment on drums at the end.
Shortly after the release of the record, Pete made a very valid observation: Quadrophenia was his first solo album. In hindsight, this was a telltale sign of how the band was becoming fragmented. After touring Quadrophenia, they would not reclaim a stage for a long, long time.
More than three decades have passed since Quadrophenia was first issued. Nobody would have imagined that something so problematic to record and difficult to perform would stand side by side with “Who’s Next” in terms of excellence at the time, but that is the way it turned out to be. Too much emphasis was placed then on the fact that it was a “mod story”. That was the problem. It was not. It was a tale of maturing, growing up and leading a life in which who we are and who we want to be are not just two things that will never blend for no reason, but rather two things that are fated to stay separate. Because life can’t be perfect. Perfection is not life. Life is defined by doubts, feelings of longing and unresolved sensations. And I find that last sentence sums up The Who in general and Quadrophenia in particular like nothing else I have written so far.