It's well known that the phenomenal success of Pete Townshend's classic 'rock opera' "Tommy" became a bit of an albatross for the group, in that they could never play another live set again without playing 'Pinball Wizard' or atleast half of this album. That is as maybe, and seasoned Who veterans may be well sick of it by now as well, but the only reason you CAN get sick of this album is because you just can't stop listening to it.
From the first listen I knew I was on to something great... the album is essentially a storyboard, and the songs are interspersed with small 'links' which can't really be called songs, but add to the album's 'concept' of being a so-called 'rock opera'. But it is not just the wild variety in the music that made this album so successful. The range of issues that the narrative of "Tommy" tackles is uniquely broad, challenging and (especially at the time) hugely controversial. Tommy, a deaf, dumb and blind boy, we discover is not physically dysfunctional in any way. Rather, he has become conditioned to be 'deaf, dumb and blind' through the manipulation, mistreatment and abuse of those around him, particularly his family. The way that Townshend addresses these issues in song is really quite remarkable. The lyrics lend the album a disturbing overtone which gives the music an extra cutting edge.
The musicianship throughout the album is of the highest order as well. Townshend's guitar is unerringly brilliant, from his carefully crafted finger picks, to his characteristically fierce rhythm and powerful electric riffs. He also has his lion's share of lead vocals ('Sensation' being an outstanding example), although it is Daltrey once again who steals the show with some powerhouse performances, including 'I'm Free', 'Pinball Wizard' and 'Amazing Journey'. John Entwistle is furiously inventive on bass, as is Keith Moon on drums, who enjoyed a much more free role than we would hear on 'Who's Next'.
This album impresses from the first listen, but then grows and grows until it becomes a behemoth within any rock collection. Far from being typical of The Who, this is still (and always was) a 'concept' album that has aged slightly, but contains so many timeless classics that it is sure to live on for many years to come.