Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Who - Lifehouse

The Who - Lifehouse
(soniclovenoize reconstruction)


Side A:
1. Teenage Wasteland
2. Going Mobile
3. Baba O’Riley
4. Time is Passing
5. Love Ain’t For Keeping

Side B:
6. Bargain
7. Too Much of Anything
8. Greyhound Girl
9. Mary
10. Behind Blue Eyes

Side C:
11. I Don’t Even Know Myself
12. Put The Money Down
13. Pure and Easy
14. Getting in Tune
15. Let’s See Action

Side D:
16. Relay
17. Join Together
18. Won’t Get Fooled Again
19. The Song is Over

By 1970, The Who were undoubtedly the top rock band in the world.  After having released one of the first rock concept albums with The Who Sell Out in 1967, the first rock opera with Tommy and their messianic performance at Woodstock in 1969, and possibly one of the greatest live albums of all time with Live At Leeds in 1970, Pete Townshend had no choice but to up his own epic ante with the band’s next release.  His follow-up to a concept album and rock opera could only be a third conceptual, semi-operatic piece, but which also included a film tie-in and actual audience participation with the band’s performance that would steer the direction and plotline of the album itself.  As opposed to The Who’s previous rock opera, each song would also be able to stand on its own without the need for musical interludes to propel the storyline and explain the previous song; each song would be self-sufficient.  That album was to be called Lifehouse. 

Unfortunately, the Lifehouse’s plot-line was so convoluted and unexplainable, its execution so elaborate and unfeasible, not even his Townshend’s bandmates could comprehend it and the project was eventually scrapped.  Instead, the best of the album’s surviving songs became Who’s Next in 1971.  This is a reconstruction of what that double concept album/soundtrack called Lifehouse would have sounded like if it had been finished in 1971 as originally intended by The Who.  

Sources used:
Who’s Next (1995 remaster)
Who’s Next (2003 delux edition)
30 Years of Maximum Rock n’Roll
Odds & Sods
Rarities 1966-1972 vol I & II
Pete Townshend - Lifehouse Chronicles

flac --> wav --> editing in Audacity and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included

Album reconstruction notes: 

Lifehouse was a futuristic saga with diverging subplots to be unified at its conclusion, with an underlying secondary concept, acted out by The Who themselves through live footage and music.   The storyline takes place in a polluted futuristic world in which the populace is literally hard-wired onto “The Grid,” a Matrix-like computer system controlled by the government, meant to oppress and pacify.  All art is outlawed—especially music—as it promotes free-thinking, something The Grid is meant to do for you.  A scattered few live free from The Grid in the outskirts of the cities—the hippie gypsies of a teenage wasteland. 

The first of the three subplots of Lifehouse—also the opening sequence—centers around one of those gypsies free from The Grid, a turnip farmer named Ray.  He gathers his wife Sally and daughter Mary to journey to the city, to investigate the mysterious Lifehouse, which is broadcasting pirated rock music onto The Grid (Side A of my reconstruction).  The second subplot revolves around Mary’s own spiritual quest, as well as a glimpse of the villain Jumbo, a leading government official who controls The Grid (Side B of my reconstruction).  The third subplot centers around the young man who runs the Lifehouse itself, a musician named Bobby who attempts to discover the ‘universal chord’ which consists of ‘notes’ from all people on earth, thus constructing a chord for all (Side C of my reconstruction).  The finale of the album was envisioned as Ray, Sally and Mary’s arrival at the Lifehouse, Bobby’s performance of the universal chord, an epic battle against Jumbo and the freeing of the populace from The Grid (side D of my reconstruction). 

The aforementioned underlying concept of Lifehouse was the construction of Bobby’s universal chord, as performed by The Who.  The first phase of the recording sessions for Lifehouse consisted of The Who performing at The Young Vic theatre to an open-door audience, in which the band would interpret the emotions and souls of each individual audience member, to compose that member’s note, thus eventually creating Bobby’s universal chord.  The Lifehouse film was to have footage from The Live Vic intercut with the storyline itself, The Who performing live from the Lifehouse with Ray and Sally listening along to Bobby’s pirate radio broadcast as they traveled the countryside. 

As fate would have it, some mountains are just too high to climb.  The recordings from The Young Vic were not as promising as anticipated, and the lack of audience understanding or even interest was disheartening for Townshend.  Initial studio sessions with producer Kit Lambert in New York were sloppy and below-par for the critically acclaimed rock group.  Pete Townshend began to lose hope in his elaborate tale of a dismal future and universal musical salvation and began to drink heavily.  The situation reached a head when he overheard Lambert commenting that Lifehouse should be abandoned, which propelled Townshend into a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt.  After firing Lambert, recording sessions were rebooted in London with producer Glyn Johns.  The results were rejuvenating, having a cleaner fidelity and energetic performance.  But that was not enough to save the Lifehouse.  The dream finally ended after Townshend admitted it was simply too ambitious and the plot was too abstract.  The choice was made to take the best songs from the double-concept album and create a stronger single album without a unifying concept.  Ironically, the resulting Who’s Next was The Who’s most critically and financially successful album to date, continuing a mass of their most beloved songs. 

Townshend never gave up hope for his Lifehouse, having slowly added more songs to the unreleased mess.  Lifehouse often made references in his own work, such as on his Psychoderelect album in 1993.  Townshend eventually released The Lifehouse Chronicles boxset in 2000, consisting of his original demos of the project from 1970 and later, his synthesizer experimentations, orchestral renditions of the songs and a 1998 radio play based on Lifehouse.  This was what Lifehouse sounded like in 2000—not a finished album, but a scrapbook of a work-in-progress that was never finished.  But what would The Who’s version sound like?  Here is Lifehouse, as it was originally imagined. 

How could we possibly explain something that Townshend himself could not explain to The Who’s inner circle and what took him 30 years to elaborate into a finished product?   Surprisingly, Townshend left all the clues we really need in the form of his official tracklist on the Lifehouse Chronicles.  Using his tracklist as a blueprint, it is surprisingly easy to reconstruct Lifehouse, as that is presumably the correct and official running order.  Knowing the plotline as already explained, the tracklist seems to follow the narrative fairly well. 

The only exclusions that should be made are the songs not originally written for the album in 1970-1971.  Townshend claimed that Lifehouse was a continuous work in progress, and chose to include later The Who By Numbers and Who Are You-era tracks within the Lifehouse Cronicles.  Clearly those songs are excluded here, as they were simply not written by 1971.  This reconstruction attempts to be true to the project’s original inception.   Once this is done, we are left with approximately 90 minutes of material, adding up to two 45-minute discs.  Coincidence?

The next factor to consider is source material.  Nearly all versions in the reconstruction are the original 1971 studio Who recordings.  Although the original concept of Lifehouse included actual live Who performances—primarily at The Young Vic, that has been excluded here in the name of continuity and quality.  If live material was to be used, why bother recording studio versions at all?  Thus all versions on this reconstruction are the studio versions.  Just as well,1970 live staples “Water”, “Naked Eye” and “Baby Don’t You do It” are excluded from my reconstruction of Lifehouse, because they are unneeded and superfluous, having predated the Lifehouse concept and seem to be unrelated to the storyline altogether. 

Also, three tracks (“Teenage Wasteland”, “Greyhound Girl” and “Mary”) were taken from Townshend’s original demo tapes (as found on disc 1 of the Lifehouse Chronicles) because The Who had never recorded their own versions of the songs.  In the case of those three songs, they are entirely solo Pete Townshend recordings, with him performing all instrumentation.  Since they are vintage 1970 recordings and somehow fit perfectly into the album sonically, I have included them here.  Also without those three, the album ceases to be two 45-minute discs. 

Few instances of editing were needed beyond tighter crossfades to eliminate lead time between tracks and to create four continuous sides of music.  One of two exceptions includes my own unique edit of “Teenage Wasteland”.  While clearly the song eventually became and was replaced by “Baba O’Riley”, Townshend chose to include both versions on his final Lifehouse Chronicles.  I have decided to respect that artistic decision, but have edited out the final 3 minutes of the song, the sections that emulate what would later become “Baba O’Riley”, thus avoiding any musical and lyrical redundancies.  I have also included the beginning of “Baba M1”, one of Townshend’s synthesizer experiments that was later incorporated into “Baba O’Riley”, as a brief introduction to the album and representing the Universal Chord itself.   The second unique edit was the creation of a new “Love Ain’t For Keeping”, consisting of the classic Who’s Next acoustic version edited together with the 2-minute jam and coda from the electric version recorded at the scrapped New York sessions (found on Odds and Sods).  The effect is a an amazing end to Side A and a fresh look at a familiar song.