Another LP From the Closet
I am a Tommy infidel. I don't consider it a great album. I don't even really like it all that much. Or at least these things were true many years ago, when I last heard it. It has a lot of brilliant music, and obviously the Who at their best were among the most accomplished artists in rock. But I never could take its story very seriously, much less the "rock opera" pretensions, though I don't know that the Who were to blame for the term. (It's an oratorio, maybe.) The songs are so closely tied to the story that their individual appeal is lessened for me.
I guess Tommy fans were probably disappointed by Quadrophenia. I heard it a few times when it came out, and I remember thinking that although it wasn't as immediately appealing as Tommy it might be pretty good if you gave it a close listen. Who knows, it might even be better? But I wasn't interested enough to pursue it. (Also I thought the title was sort of dumb, seeming at the time to be an attempt to capitalize on the fad for quadrophonic sound, which was supposed to be the Next Phase after stereo.)
And yet I have a copy. I don't have any idea how I came by it. In fact I'd forgotten I had it till I noticed it on my last troll through the closet, the results of which I'm still working my way through. It's pretty beat-up so I can only suppose that I picked it up cheaply on a whim, from a used-record store or possibly from Goodwill.
Well, my 1973 suspicion was right. This is really quite a good album--a double album, like Tommy, and another "rock opera." But this one is a lot more down to earth, a sort of day in the life of a British teenager right at that point in the '60s where ordinary juvenile rebellion and delinquency were about to turn into the cultural revolution. For me at any rate that's a much more engaging subject than the freaky and largely unbelievable Tommy story. I grant that few of the songs are as musically brilliant as the best of Tommy. But the whole thing hangs together more effectively. And more affectingly. According to Wikipedia, the LP package should include a printed booklet that fills in the narrative links among the songs. It's missing from my copy, and I actually considered getting another used copy just to get the booklet. But I resisted. If not a story, the songs do form a coherent picture.
And one song merits a paragraph to itself. I think "Love Reign O'er Me" is as good as anything the Who ever did. It's one of those songs-worth-the-whole-album, which is saying a lot for a double LP.
It occurred to me to wonder: "quadrophenia" is meant to be a play on "schizophrenia." So why isn't it "quadrophrenia"?