Charles Shaar Murray

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450

Townshend's Quadrophenia is a rather daunting proposition. Another Who double-album rock opera?…

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The mind boggles, and you get the sneaking feeling that Pete Townshend has tried to out-Tommy Tommy and gone sailing right over the top.

The impression even persists when you start playing side one. The first thing you hear is a "Desert Island Discs" surf-crashing-on-the-shore sound effect in sumptuous stereo while distant echoed voices intone the four principal themes from the piece.

Then it suddenly cuts into "The Real Me", and you hear that sound, as uncompromisingly violent as a boot disintegrating a plate glass window at 4 a.m., and simultaneously as smooth as a nightflight by 747.

Prime-cut Who, and suddenly you realize that Pete hasn't blown it after all. Face it, he very rarely does.

Quadrophenia is both less and more ambitious than its notorious predecessor.

Tommy tripped over its mysticism rather too often for comfort, and after being the indirect godfather to everything from Jesus Christ Superstar to Ziggy Stardust, it didn't seem likely that Townshend himself would return to the scene of his former semi-triumph.

However, he has avoided most of the expected pitfalls with his customary agility.

The hero of this little extravaganza is Jimmy, the archetype mod. Frustrated, inarticulate, violent, thoroughly confused and prone to all the ills that teenage flesh is heir to.

Each member of the Who represents a different side of his character, and a recurring musical theme. Keith Moon represents the "bloody lunatic," John Entwistle is "the romantic," Roger Daltrey appears as the "tough guy," while Townshend casts himself as "a beggar, a hypocrite."…

Whereas Tommy took a headlong dive into esoteric symbolism, Quadrophenia is superficially mundane, as far as subject matter is concerned—but the implications of this autobiography of a generation go far deeper than those of the previous work.

To say that Quadrophenia is an affirmation of the strength of the human spirit is an invitation to accusations of pretension and screaming simpism, but I'm afraid that that's the way it breaks down….

In some ways, it's extremely vulnerable to adverse criticism. Some of the more extravagant production touches, for example, even after a half-dozen listens, sound about as comfortable as marzipan icing on a half-ounce cheeseburger. (p. 28)

Basically, the early Who classics were straightforward expositions of an attitude, while Quadrophenia is an investigation of what went into constructing that attitude, and of its results….

After all, the spectre of those days has hung over the Who for the best part of a decade, and now Pete Townshend has summed up every stage of the Who's chequered past on one work. (p. 33)

Charles Shaar Murray, "Four-Way Pete," in New Musical Express (reprinted by permission), October 27, 1973, pp. 28, 33.

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