Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Golden Vault’, where we delve into the annals of music to bring you a classic album. You’ll know some like the back of your hand and nothing of others. We hope to get you reacquainted with old friends and create new favourites. The album to be taken out of the Golden Vault for reappraisal this week is ‘Quadrophenia’ by The Who.
Everything about ‘Quadrophenia’ exudes a certain grandiose presence. Physically, it’s a big monochrome slab of an album, spread over four sides of gatefold vinyl with an accompanying booklet full of striking narrative images. Conceptually, it’s equally weighty. Steeped in the previous decade of its creators’ history, ‘Quadrophenia’ is The Who’s – and Pete Townshend’s – crowning achievement, a sprawling and ambitious work they would never surpass. The band up to that point had already come through the dizzy heights of the successes of rock-opera ‘Tommy’ and its stadium-destroying follow-up ‘Who’s Next’. ‘Quadrophenia’ then, was Pete Townshend’s attempt to come to terms with The Who’s past and future.
Centred on the character of Jimmy, the 1973 album follows the life of an archetypal young ‘60s mod. The title refers to Jimmy’s multi-faceted personality, represented by four musical themes, each of which Townshend constructed from the personalities of each member of The Who – Roger Daltrey as the street tough (Helpless Dancer); John Entwistle as the romantic (Is It Me?); Keith Moon as the lunatic (Bell Boy); Townshend himself as the beggar and hypocrite (Love Reign O’er Me). The latter was perhaps a sign of what was to come in the self-flagellation Townshend embarked upon through 1975’s ‘By Numbers’ album, but for now Jimmy personified the stuttering, inarticulate mod kids that the band played to in their early days.
Despite the unique dynamic of The Who working as a unit, ‘Quadrophenia’ was Townshend’s baby; a mammoth undertaking in its innovation of quadrophonic sound, multi-layered instrumentation and his own songwriting development. Despite overseeing every aspect of the album’s production – from the synthesiser loops that made it almost impossible to re-create live, to the taped sounds of the sea that permeate the entire record – Townshend’s contribution is listed simply as ‘Remainder’ on the album credits after everyone else has had their dues.
As the waves crash over the album’s intro we hear the four themes echoing in the distance, before The Who crash in on The Real Me and the rhythm section trample all over it. The album is Keith Moon’s final triumph, and Bell Boy his vocal moment in the sun, but on ‘Quadrophenia’ the unrestrained leave-no-drum-untouched style he was famed for is at its most refined. Each section contains a lengthy instrumental in Quadrophenia and The Rock, and where the album’s first half is an anger-filled tirade of youth angst (Cut My Hair, I’m One) and disillusionment (The Punk & The Godfather, The Dirty Jobs), the music on the second half immediately takes on a more soulful bent with John Entwistle’s horns on 5:15 and session man Chris Stainton’s piano on Drowned.
The record’s grooves seem almost saturated with grey rain and sea-spray as the journey details Jimmy’s derailment and subsequent spiritual cleansing, and Love Reign O’er Me brings the album to a redemptive close, with Jimmy stranded alone in the rain on a rock in the Brighton sea. Moon’s final destructive roll may as well be his epitaph, and the song’s roaring, rumbling crescendo is certainly The Who’s last great moment. ‘Quadrophenia’ is their masterpiece – a flawed, remarkable album.
Did you enjoy this weeks edition of Golden Vault? Get involved, comment below and join us next week in the Golden Vault where we’ll be discussing ‘In Utero’ by anti-posterboy, posterboys Nirvana.