This might be my favourite album ever.
It connects somehow, the frustration of My g-g-g-generation extended to an entire double album, played with the frenetic energy and genius of The Who, and intermingled with a dash of Pete Townshend’s mystical leanings. I am the sea.
It is not only the music, the whole package was perfect when it arrived in autumn 1973. The black and white cover with the scooter and the four faces of the band reflected in its mirrors, and a breathtakingly good series of monochrome photographs. If any record deserves a deluxe edition, this one does.
And here it is – or is it? What we have is something half-way between the sumptuous, informative, historic collector’s edition which the album merits, and the kind of money grabbing release you get when some record company notices how much people are paying for boxed sets these days and says, “Quick, let’s get Quadrophenia out before the CD market disappears completely”.
Because there is a lot wrong with this release.
Still, time to stop rambling and tell you what you get. Within a very solid slipcase you will find a poster advertising the original double album (actually this is a fine reproduction and one of the better things here), a colour envelope holding various bits of memorabilia: reproductions of some of Townshend’s draft lyrics, a rather darkly reproduced colour photo of Jimmy (the central character) on a scooter, and a 7-inch single of 5.15 backed with the slightly rare track Water.
Then there is the main event: a 100-page hardback book of photos and an essay by Townshend, within which nestle the original double CD, a DVD with 8 tracks remixed for 5.1 surround sound, and two CDs of Townshend’s demos for the album.
The book is certainly nice to have, though bear in mind that the original album came with a 46 page insert which is all included in the book, so that accounts for nearly a quarter of it. I am also upset to report that the quality of those wonderful photographs is poor; I was really hoping that I would get better copies than those in my falling-apart LP but in fact these are noticeably worse; they have that grainy look you get when photos are reprinted from a print rather than from the originals.
Still, the *other* photos in the book are nicely reproduced and the essay is fascinating if you love Quadrophenia half as much as I do. Townshend recounts how he came up with the story that is printed in the front cover of the LP (and also here), when remembering how he slept under Brighton pier once “after a riotous night at the Aquarium ballroom.” He also describes how the album came together, how it was recorded, and adds notes on the songs and demos.
If you are a fan, you will definitely want to hear the demos too. They form a sort-of alternate version of the album, lacking the Who’s energy but with its own appeal. There are also songs here that are not on the album, and others that did not show up until the soundtrack of the Quadrophenia film. Some of the songs have overdubs which I personally would rather had been omitted.
The 5.1 mix is enjoyable too. This album is ideal for surround sound, especially at those moments when sea noises swirl around.
It’s curious though that only 8 tracks have been mixed to 5.1. Why? But the rest of 5.1 Quadrophenia is not the only thing missing.
The important thing to realise is that this is Townshend’s deluxe box, rather than The Who’s deluxe box. I have not spotted any contribution to the package from Roger Daltrey, despite his massive contribution to the quality of the album, nor even any attempt to collect existing quotes from the two members of the band who are no longer with us, Keith Moon and John Entwistle. There are no outtakes from band sessions, nor are there any live tracks from when Quadrophenia was performed live back in the day; yes I realise that the concerts at the time had some problems but I would still love to hear how they sounded.
Quadrophenia was remixed in 1996 and it is the remix that is offered here (it sounds the same as before), but for completeness I would have liked both mixes to be included, in line with what has been done in deluxe boxes for other classic albums such as Jethro Tull’s Aqualung and King Crimson’s In the Court of. To my mind the original mix is still important, the Quadrophenia that is as I first heard it in the seventies.
So this is a frustrating production, much less than it should be; but then again frustration is what Quadrophenia is all about so that is curiously fitting.
Fans will still want this package, hard though it is to justify the cost – especially when you consider that 11 of the 25 demos are also on the Deluxe 2-CD set at one sixth of the price, and that even more memorabilia is also available online at the new Q-Cloud site, accessible to anyone who has purchased or ripped the CD.
And I suppose when and if the full 5.1 release is done eventually we will be asked to pay again.