In 1973 the Who released "Quadrophenia," their second attempt at "rock opera." Compared to the first endeavor, "Tommy" (1969), which seemed a bit pat and lacking in dimension, "Quadrophenia" was more satisfyingly complex, its challenging multiple ambiguities the work of a mature man -- Who leader Pete Townshend.
"Quadrophenia," set circa 1965, told the story of Jimmy, a working-class London teen-ager afflicted by fourway psychosis: schizophrenia doubled. The project chronicled Jimmy's increasing family difficulties, his disintegrating relationships with friends and his eventual flight to the seaside resort of Brighton, and culminated in his probable suicide. Against Jimmy's personal struggle Townshend placed Britain's Mod/Rocker clashes between two youth factions, each claiming superior dress and life style.
Franc Roddam has now made a thoroughly engrossing, quasi-documentary film of "Quadrophenia," accompanied by a Who double-album soundtrack (Polydor PD-2-6235). The first two sides are remixes of the original material, while the last two contain new and previously unreleased songs as well as period compositions by other pop artists.
The remixes bring John Entwistle's bass and horns to greater prominence and achieve a more full-bodied sound. This works to the advantage of such brashly extroverted tracks at "5.15," "The Real Me" and "The Punk Meets the Godfather," but with mixed results on other tracks ("I've Had Enough," "Love Reign O'er Me"), where amplitude is gained at the expense of emotional subtleties.
"I Am The Sea," the project's overture, introduces Townshend's concept of one musical theme corresponding to each band member's persona: mystic intellectual Townshend, hesitant romantic Entwistle, tough punk Roger Daltrey, alternately manic and thoughtful Keith Moon. It intersperses tapes of rainstorms, breaking waves and cawing seagulls -- Townshend captures the Brighton milieu superbyly, and its wet, raw atmosphere is integral to the work.
"The Real Me" is crisp, hard rock, dominated by a steady backbeat and thick bass. On "I'm One" Townshend employs a gentle acoustic guitar which leads into crashing electric chords; Jimmy is similarly torn between extremes. "5.15" is euphoric and restlessly energetic; Jimmy has taken a huge dose of amphetamines and is traveling by train from Waterloo Stadium to Brighton, hallucinating.
"Love Reign O'er Me" (Townshend's theme) concluded the original "Quadrophenia" (with Jimmy stranded on a rock as the tides rose). The lovely piano score simulating rainfall is marred here by an orchestral arrangement that's too busy. Jimmy is in anguished confusion, but Townshend, as usual, extacts both beauty and a fierce spirituality from his desperate pleas. The four themes finally mesh; Jimmy may die but the transcendent force that is implicit in rock music -- its transformation of the squalid and ordinary -- unites the opposing strands of his personality.
The final side of the soundtrack is devoted to American singles of the era, soul classics and "girl group" hits. Booker T. and the MGs' "Green Onions" is magical -- three minutes of wordless electronic ultracool. The inclusion of these 45s locates Townshend's scenario in a more specific context: In the 1973 recording of exclusively Who material, the listener was free to -- indeed, had to -- supply the chronological transitions, connections and dissociations in his or her own mind. Roddam's film integrates period music and action sequences resiliently, embedding Townshend's rather nebulous narrative in a concrete and very believable time frame.
One of the virtues of the original "Quadrophenia" was that nothing was sentimentalized -- Townshend's faithful recreation of working-class youth (his own past) was grainy, bleak, uncompromising and captured very well in Jimmy's short, confessional autobiography and the Ethan Russell photographs packaged with the project. Townshend wrote as an adult looking back, probing the distance between an aging performer and his now-fragmented audience. The new soundtrack album sacrifices this theme to explore the central dualisms of Townshend's work -- Jimmy's fantasies and disillusionment with his actual situation, his desire to be one of the crowd and his ever-greater estrangement from it. This recording thus compresses Jimmy's character to present it more vividly, and one misses the depth of the original but not its integrity.