By Mark Smotroff
I'll be honest with you: Quadrophenia is my favorite Who album and one of my Top 10 favorite albums ever. I'm talking about the studio version released in 1973. In 1979, a movie of Quadrophenia was released to general acclaim and a curious soundtrack LP issued featuring three sides of Quadrophenia music and a third side of additional period music found in the film. It was a cool album but perplexing as it didn't have all the songs from the original album yet added three new ones, some featuring NEW Who drummer Kenny Jones (replacing Keith Moon who had passed away in 1978).
Thus, Quadrophenia, the soundtrack, was relegated to curio status (at least in my collection) and certainly was not considered the definitive article for most Who fans.
Quadrophenia, the movie, was released in the late 1990s on DVD (apparently based on a VHS copy!) and later was replaced with a somewhat better print that was still missing some footage. Now, the great Criterion company has issued a definitive issue that is pretty spectacular for numerous reasons.
The film has been loving restored and looks remarkable. There are some fantastic before and after demos in the bonus tracks showing not only the restoration but also the remarkable difference in audio quality on this disc -- going from the original compressed stereo to the new uncompressed 5.1 remix. The effect is breathtaking.
As it should be since this movie is pretty breathtaking at times. Now it SOUNDS better than ever and here's why (from the liner notes in the accompanying 36 page booklet with the disc):
"For this release of Quadrophenia, we created an all-new, remixed 5.1 surround soundtrack, produced at 24-bit using a variety of sound elements from the original and the 1979 movie. All the Who music was taken from first generation sources -- 4-track, 1/2-inch, 8-track, 1-inch, 16-track and 24-track 2-inch analogue tapes -- found in the band's archives. In some cases, the songs were reconstructed from scratch from these original multitrack recordings. The film's dialogue and effects were taken from the original 35 mm dialogue / music / effects magnetic audio stems. The availability of these separate dialogue and effects stems enable us to render a detailed and engaging 5.1 audio image. Under the supervision of the band and the film's editor, Sean Barton, a brand new mix was created at Deluxe 142 in London by mixer Allan Sallabank and approved by direct Franc Roddam. The staggering result is an immersive experience and we suggest you play it loud"
In one of the bonus videos, they explain the situation further detail that when Quadrophenia was made in 1973 it began its journey on 4 and 8-track multichannel analog recording tape. Then as the production grew, those original tracks were "bounced" (aka copied, losing a generation of fidelity, onto) to a 16-track recorder. So, consider that one level of sonic deterioration. Then, when making the movie 6 or 7 years later, those 16-track recordings were again bounced, or copied, to the new 24-track recorder.
Consider that level two of sonic deterioration. Thus by the time a new master was mixed down, some of tracks had traveled as much as THREE generations from the master multi track recording, resulting in a less dynamic range, increased background noise and tape hiss. Drums in particular were somewhat muffled if you can imagine that.
Then, by importing all the disparate original recording elements into a modern digital audio recording workstatin, the engineers were able to line up ALL of the original elements to make a fresh new completely first generation mix -- for the first time!
For the first time, you get to hear Quadrophenia (the movie) with a pristine first generation soundtrack through and through.
Now you can hear Keith Moon in all his glory filling the room in spectacular surround. The new horn and string parts punctuate the surrounds. And Roger's vocals are abundantly clear.
My only nits: I wish there was an audio-only mode to play just the high resolution soundtrack in 5.1 sans the movie. But, I suppose, Pete Townshend has other plans for something like that since he already has issued half of Quadrophenia in 5.1 on last years admirable (if incomplete) Quadrophenia box set -- a relatively raw mix in progress. If the sound in this new Blu-ray is any indication, then when Pete finally finishes up the original album version of Quadrophenia in surround, it will be spectacular. We are waiting patiently, Pete.