Pete Townshend: Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia

Landmark album gets the symphonic treatment.

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For this project, premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in July, Pete Townshend had his partner Rachel Fuller orchestrate songs from his 1973 record, to be performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Tenor Alfie Boe took on the Daltrey role, with Townshend and Phil Daniels guesting in cameo parts.

The technically excellent Boe actually does a very good job of plotting a course midway between classical vocalising and Daltrey-esque emoting. However, this album feels like the upshot of a false premise, derived from Townshend’s career-long and often mistaken belief in the way in which rock should “graduate” as a form.

Truth is, a classical version of a rock album only reveals how tonally conservative rock is (formally, Quadrophenia’s compositions would have sounded hidebound in the late 19th century), while at the same time revealing classical music’s inability to convey the electric volatility and the spine-tingling, physical frisson that’s unique to rock.

Townshend reckons exercises like this help introduce youths to classical music, but you suspect there’s as much chance of that happening as Rick Wakeman’s King Arthur On Ice persuading kids to take up skating./o:p

David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.