The Who – Who’s Next: Life House Super Deluxe Edition & 4LP Box Sets

Photo: Trinifold Archive


Life House was intended to be Pete Townshend’s life’s work, so to speak, following the somewhat unexpected runaway success of The Who’s May 1969 groundbreaking 2LP rock opera,Tommy. But for various reasons, portions of Life House were instead transmogrified into the nine songs that comprise one of the truly seminal albums of the rock era, August 1971’s Who’s Next.

Although Who’s Next has been feted with various enhanced anniversary editions over the years, the definitive 11-disc box set has finally arrived to mark the LP’s golden jubilee (plus two, that is) — Who’s Next: Life House Super Deluxe Edition. Ten CDs (count ’em!) sport a three-digit cavalcade of extra of-era tracks under the subheaders Pete Townshend’s Life House Demos 1970-1971 (22 tracks), studio sessions in New York and London (23 tracks), singles and other sessions (17 tracks), and four discs of 1971 live sets culled from the Young Vic in London and the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco (38 tracks; 20 songs from the latter SF set are available on 3LPs in a separate 4LP box set alongside the original album, for the vinyl-inclined). The big box also includes a top-shelf 100-page hardback with sleeve notes from Townshend as well as posters and programs, plus the amazing journey that is the 172-page Life House graphic novel.

The Life House box measures a meaty, beaty, big, and bouncy 12⅜ x 2⅜ x 12⅜ inches (w/h/d), and it fits relatively symmetrically alongside other existing mondo Who box sets like those for The Who Sell Out, Tommy, and Quadrophenia. I would need an entire issue of S&V alone just to delve into all the merits of the 132 tracks herein — but, rest assured, the balance of the demos, outtakes, and live material wholly reflects prime, A-level Townshend and Who content from a time when both the individual artist and the band collective were at the height of their creative powers.

The once and future king of surround mixing, the ever-ubiquitous Steven Wilson, has done an absolutely stunning Atmos mix of Who’s Next (plus 14 bonus tracks!) on the included Blu-ray, in addition to helming a 2022 stereo mix for two-channel purists that appears alongside the original 1971 stereo mix for the seriously purest of said purists out there. Wilson’s Atmos mix takes Who’s Next to an entirely new level. “Baba O’Riley” unfolds over five-plus minutes in a very cinematic and spherical fashion like a space western taking place on the Emerald Isle, while the linchpin moments in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” have all the 360-degree impact you semiconsciously expect after having heard that song in stereo again and again for decades — most prominently with the placement of Roger Daltrey’s final “Yeaaahhhh!” More sparsely arranged tracks like “Behind Blue Eyes” play off the emotion in Daltrey’s voice during its acoustic front half, rather than over-emphasizing the sheer bombast of its back half.

To further clarify what I was hearing (and loving!) in Atmos, I reached out to Wilson directly to get some firsthand mixing-choice confirmation. “When it comes to mixing an album like Who’s Next in Atmos, it’s quite limited in the sense of what you can do because most of the album was recorded on 8-track, and you haven’t really got a lot to start with,” Wilson told me. “On some tracks, you’ve got mono drums, mono bass, a couple of guitar overdubs, maybe a piano or a synth part, vocal, backing vocal — and that’s it! That’s all you’ve got. I’m like, ‘I’ve got 12 speakers to fill here, mate. Can’t you give me a bit more?’”

As is his wont, Wilson found a way to make it all work immersively. “Obviously, there are other things that came into play here,” he continues, citing “Behind Blue Eyes” as an example. “With that song, you’ve got these beautiful reverb halos around things, so at least I could use that to create a sense of space — but a lot of the time it’s just, ‘Okay, lead vocal in the center, guitar in the front, reverb in the back and above, and that’s all.’” Luckily, when it came to handling the aforementioned Big 2 — “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” — Wilson had more options. “Those two songs have the advantage of having the synth ostinatos, which were a lot of fun to play around with in Atmos,” he confirms.

Incidentally, Wilson’s keen reverb deployment is utilized to such great effect in the height channels during the Daltrey/Townshend lead vocal tradeoffs throughout the BD bonus track “Naked Eye.” Also take note of how he handles the dynamic tempo shifts during the song’s various solo sections — i.e., volume swells, knife-edge electric guitar stabs, chiming acoustic guitar riffs, and supportive piano lines.

Given all the life-affirming elements we have in-hand and in-ear, Who’s Next: Life House Super Deluxe Edition joins the pantheon of indispensable A-level box set collections commemorating key albums in the rock canon with the level of care, presentation, and detail it so richly deserves — no fooling.

Label: Polydor/UMR
Audio Formats: 16-bit/44.1kHz PCM stereo (CD); 24-bit/96kHz Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 24-bit/96kHz PCM stereo (2022 mix and original 1971 mix) (BD)
Number of Tracks: 132 (109 on 10CDs; 23 on 1BD); 29 on 4LPs
Length: 511:33:15 (10:02:06 on 10CDs; 1:33:09 on 1BD); 2:04:41 on 4 LPs
Producers: Bill Curbishley, Robert Rosenberg (executive producers, box set); The Who (original Who’s Next); Glyn Johns (associate producer, original Who’s Next); Pete Townshend (Life House demo restorations)
Engineers: Glyn Johns (recording and mixing, original Who’s Next); Jon Astley (remastering); Steven Wilson (stereo remix for CD/BD and LP box sets; Atmos and 5.1 mixes for BD); Andy Macpherson, Bob Pridden, Richard Whittaker (restoration mixes, unreleased material); Andy Neill (audio research)