The full-blown rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy that launched the band to international superstardom, written almost entirely by Pete Townshend. Hailed as a breakthrough upon its release, its critical standing has diminished somewhat in the ensuing decades because of the occasional pretensions of the concept and because of the insubstantial nature of some of the songs that functioned as little more than devices to advance the rather sketchy plot. Nonetheless, the double album has many excellent songs, including "I'm Free," "Pinball Wizard," "Sensation," "Christmas," "We're Not Gonna Take It," and the dramatic ten-minute instrumental "Underture." Though the album was slightly flawed, Townshend's ability to construct a lengthy conceptual narrative brought new possibilities to rock music. Despite the complexity of the project, he and the Who never lost sight of solid pop melodies, harmonies, and forceful instrumentation, imbuing the material with a suitably powerful grace.
[The Who's 1969 breakthrough Tommy saw a 2003 double-disc Deluxe Edition reissue, which contained a remastered album—there were also Hybrid SACD and DVD-Audio editions containing 5.1 mixes—and a second disc of demos. Ten years later, following the Super Deluxe editions of Live At Leeds and Quadrophenia, Tommy is once again expanded into a Super Deluxe edition of its own. Now, the '69 album runs four discs: a newly remastered version of the album on the fist disc; a second disc of demos, most of them recorded by Pete Townshend alone, almost all of which are previously unreleased (the exceptions are "It's A Boy," "Do You Think It's Alright" and "Pinball Wizard," which showed up in '03); the new format Hi Fidelity Pure Audio (a variation of BluRay) that has 5.1 mixes of the album; and, finally, a live performance of the rock opera given on October 15, 1969 at the Capital Theatre in Ottawa, Canada. Along with all this audio, there are standard Super Deluxe extras—a hardcover book filled with rare photos and text, poster replicas, etc—but the real news is the collection of demos and the live show. If the bonus tracks on the 2003 edition were surprisingly short on real songwriting demos, this 2013 set corrects the error, running through the entire album in the form of Townshend solo demos. Like the Scoops or the demos on the Super Deluxe Quadrophenia, these demos are rather remarkable, both in their level of detail and their vulnerability (Pete's nasal, quivering singing spins the songs in a different direction than Roger Daltrey's full throated roar); simply put, this collection of demos—which also includes previously-released full-band demos of the excised song "Trying To Get Through" and "Young Man Blues"—is what the first bonus disc should've been back in 2003. If the impact of the live disc is diluted somewhat by the very presence of many complete recordings of Tommy from 1969 and 1970—we've heard this before, several times over--this October '69 show nevertheless is another excellent performance of the entire rock opera, underlining how the Who really found their voice in this tale of a deaf, dumb and blind kid that sure could play a mean pinball.] ~ Richie Unterburger