Rock opera may seem like a laughable concept these days, but when the Who brought it to the world via Tommy in 1969, it was an unmatched thrill. Almost thirty-five years later, this classic-rock touchstone still has the power to enthrall. Sure, the story line (deaf, dumb and blind kid becomes pinball-playing redeemer of mankind) is preposterous and nearly impossible to follow. But who needs narrative logic when you’ve got prime Pete Townshend songs such as “Amazing Journey,” “Tommy Can You Hear Me?,” “Christmas,” “The Acid Queen” and, of course, “Pinball Wizard”?
This two-disc reissue reminds us that, despite Keith Moon’s tumultuous drumming and John Entwistle’s dramatic brass flourishes, Tommy is a more subdued album than its reputation would suggest, at least sonically speaking. New digital mastering brings out more of the music’s warmth, yet the resulting sound is murkier than the previous (1996) CD edition. The outtakes and demos on the second disc, highlighted by an alternate version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” make a diverting onetime listen. But no pressing of Tommy without the original libretto deserves to be called deluxe.