I wouldn’t describe myself as the biggest Who fan. Although I do own nearly all of their albums recorded while Keith Moon was still among the living, the only ones I ever pull out with any regularity are The Who Sell Out or the Tommy soundtrack, which I think is a freaking masterpiece although conversely, I detest the original.
I like them fine, but I don’t really care that much about them. The one classic Who album I have never even heard, however, is Quadrophenia. The only song I knew from it, until recently, was the album’s magnificent closer “Love Reign O’er Me” which was big on FM radio when I was a kid.
I’ve never seen the film, either. Sting is in it. I don’t think I have to elaborate further there, do I?
I’m telling you all of this, not because I want to parade my ignorance of The Who or of Quadrophenia in particular before tens of thousands of readers, that’s not my goal. What I am intending to impart, though, is that I am hearing the album with fresh ears, for the very first time in September of 2014 and in the form of the newly released 5.1 surround Blu-ray put out by the Universal Music Group.
I won’t offer my opinion on the music therein, because who honestly gives a damn what I think? It’s considered a classic album. Case closed. Suffice to say, I had a terrific listening experience and I played it three times start to finish in a 24 hour period and I have to say, wow, I really loved it. Best Who album. They always seemed like a “greatest hits” band to me, but this is a truly great album and it blew my doors off, bigtime. I consider myself lucky to hear something “new” like this.
What I do wish to discuss, however, is what an amazingly high tech product this audiophile toy is. The only real information that’s important, if you care about this album is the answer to this question: “I already own this, do I really need to buy it again or not?” Right? Well, admittedly as someone who has never owned Quadrophenia before, I would say the answer is probably yes. It is done very well, to the highest specifications and produced by Pete Townshend himself.
And it’s not like you’d be merely swapping one CD for another. On the back cover it reads:
“The 96kHz 24-bit audio on this disc has 256 times more resolution than a CD, providing greater detail and reproducing the music’s full dynamic range, from the softest to the loudest sounds.”
People will argue endlessly about whether or not the human ear can detect the difference between a 320 kbps MP3 and a wav file or redbook CD, but those same people would notice it immediately if you took away their 1080p HDTV flatscreen and replaced it with a top of the line SONY Trinitron from 1999. If you’re one of those people who are fine with Spotify or iTunes or carrying around your portable AM radio rubberbanded to your ear, this post is not for you.
So many people have their living rooms wired for 5.1 surround sound to watch movies, but even here in LA where you think people would be hipper to this kind of thing, most people really aren’t. You’d think the mighty behemoth-like Amoeba Records would have the best “Pure Audio” Blu-ray section in the entire country. They do not. Really, unless you’re buying something similar to it already on Amazon, it’s getting harder and harder to even find out that this stuff exists. Many cities don’t even have a single decent record store anymore. You can’t just bump into something that looks interesting like in ye olden days. “Browsing” for digital content housed on shiny little discs isn’t done much anymore as a human sport. The music industry did a really shitty job of selling the SACD and DVD-A formats to the public. So far it’s doing marginally better with the 5.1 surround sound stuff on Blu-ray, but sales I’d imagine are 95% Amazon transactions. I’m a big fan of 5.1 surround material and when it’s done this well and is this exciting for me personally to experience, I feel like, well, telling people about. It’s my duty. If you came to my house, I’d get you stoned and sit you down in the “sweet spot” and play this for you.
This new Quadrophenia has one of the best surround mixes I’ve heard in some time. It always annoys me when there’s a conservative approach to reimagining a classic album in surround sound, where it’s sort of like a bastardized stereo and the rear speakers are providing “echo.” This isn’t a conservative mix, it’s one that completely envelopes you like the seaside mist of a British coastal town. When it wants to be, it’s powerful and bombastic, like a thunderstorm, or by turns quiet and dynamic. There is a lot of space around each instrument. It’s not overly gimmicky, either, never calling attention to itself, even as it wows you. The “tone” of Townshend’s guitar has never sounded quite as “immediate” as it does here. Moon’s characteristic flamboyant drum fills are wisely not confined to front or back speakers, giving the listener a visceral experience of his octopus-armed pounding. It’s very, very impressive (and please do keep in mind that I’m the same guy who started this review off by telling you how blasé I am about The Who).
The UMe “Pure Audio” Blu-ray of Quadrophenia has a list price of $26 but many Amazon merchants offer it for around $15. Forget about the whole “I already own this” factor, because you don’t own this version of it and it’s damned good. There’s a gallery of photos from the original Quadrophenia booklet that runs as a really gorgeous slide show and then repeats itself about about 15 minutes. There is also a flat transfer of the original master tape, but I have to say, listening to it folded down into stereo (that’s my perspective, at least) makes it sound terribly flat. If you’re already a fan of this album, it would go the other way—opening up like a 5.1 flower—and as I have been saying, the experience is a pretty spectacular one for audiophile music lovers.
My sole criticism is that there isn’t enough bass in the mix, but you can simply turn up your subwoofer if you want to hear more of “The Ox.” Otherwise, I can’t recommend this highly enough. 10/10. The Amazon reviewers seem to agree.
I’m still not planning to see the film though. Sting is in it.
After the jump Darren Lock shares his opinion of the new 5.1 Blu-ray of Quadrophenia…