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The genie doesn't quite get out of the bottle....
on 25 January 2014
I can see what Pete Townshend was trying to do with Tommy, but although it has been hugely popular and successful in all its forms, the end result doesn't quite work for me. I admire Pete and the Who tremendously but IMHO I think he should have perhaps left it for a few years and reshaped it. You wonder if his Lifehouse project a few years later would have also been the same curate's egg, had it not been reconceived and given early birth as a single album in the masterpiece that was Who's Next. This is what should have happened with Tommy. The later Quadrophenia was a far stronger and consistent piece of work, a wonderful blend of everything the Who were about, and a narrative rooted in a real world, wholly recognisable and beautifully worked out in its marvellous conclusion. Quadrophenia was grandly conceived but far less overblown than Tommy, with only the occasional longeur in between some of the greatest rock music ever written and performed. Ken Russell's film of Tommy was a complete mess, and took its excess even further instead of cutting it back into a leaner and sharper vision of alienated and abused youth. Part of the problem is the central character of Tommy being deaf, dumb and blind. The metaphor is obvious, but he would have been a much stronger character had he, like Jimmy, been more of a recognisable figure, and the world as deaf, dumb and blind to his emotions and anxieties. The Who had already visited this territory successfully in their three minute singles and the mini-rock opera of A Quick One While He's Away, but Tommy was perhaps a product of the times, of spiritual fumblings and the push towards the art form that rock was very soon to become. Townshend and the Who were at the very centre of this movement and in my book its greatest exponents, but Tommy, despite some wonderful passages, lacks coherence and consistency. There's a wonderful concept and vision in there but sadly it wasn't quite realised.