Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Supertramp Breakfast In America (1979)


What? Oh, right! Breakfast In America! The album that broke the band big! The bucks! The fame! The endless airplay! Loads upon loads of hit singles! The record of the year! When all else fades, Breakfast In America still remains as the band’s crowning, spectacular achievement which makes just about any other Supertramp album pale in comparison… oh yeah? Eat your three and a half stars, brutha!

Seriously now, I’m not being controversial or anything. This is a typical Supertramp album, nothing more, nothing less. I’d have to do some serious research work to try and understand what made the album so outstanding in people’s eyes in 1979, when the previous records haven’t enjoyed even half of that success. Maybe it’s the Bee Gees comparison? Maybe it’s the serious ‘poppy’, at times even ‘disco’ overtones? Or maybe – that’s my most serious guess – it’s the America backlash, or, rather, the mass culture backlash of this record that made it so attractive? Or maybe everything together. You could write a dissertation on the record and its social impact, I’m here to say a few words about the music, and the music is typical Supertramp, which means nice. N-I-C-E.

Granted, the first several songs on the album do qualify among the very best Supertramp ever did, even I would have to admit that the quality of the hooks out there is at least a cut above your usual expectations from Hodgson, Davies and Co. Not on the opening ‘Gone Hollywood’, mayhaps, the song that’s mostly famous for introducing Roger’s immaculate Bee Gees falsetto impersonation – how many Supertramp fans put on this record and rushed out for valium in a matter of seconds, afraid that their favourite band has sacrificed itself to the Mammona of disco? But it turns out that the impersonation has more of a parodic nature to it than anything else – after all, the song is about the perils and disillusionment of stardom (not that the Bee Gees sang that much about the pleasures of stardom, mind you, but most Bee Gees bashers usually miss out on the lyrics of ‘Stayin’ Alive’, for instance). And as the first falsetto notes fade away, you get a slightly poppified, but still intelligently written piano-and-sax based rumination.

But the next three songs, all of ’em amazing, annihilate the effect of ‘Gone Hollywood’. ‘The Logical Song’ is arguably Hodgson’s stellar hour – a simple, relatively unpretentious, bitter reflection on the soulless rationalisation and cynicism of the modern world, with Hodgson’s melancholic, pitiful tone perfectly suiting the lyrics; the vocal melody is sheer genius, and the way Roger contrasts his epithets (‘all the birds in the trees they’d be singing so happily… joyfully… playfully…’ ‘but then… they showed me a world where I could be so dependable… clinical… intellectual… cynical…’) is magic, plus the wailing sax makes a wonderful counterpoint all the time. Then there’s Rick’s stellar hour – the somewhat conceptually unrelated, but uplifting and honestly romantic ‘Goodbye Stranger’; a simple piano melody, a simple soulful delivery, an intelligent crescendo throughout the song, a raising chorus, catchiness all around. And finally, Hodgson closes the trio of absolute winners with the title track, which manages to pack a whole wallop of cynicism and bitterness into a superficially lightweight and almost joyful danceable tune. ‘Take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I got, not much of a girlfriend, never seem to get a lot’ – doesn’t that remind you of the Sparks or something? Except that unlike the Mael brothers, Hodgson’s being dang serious about his emotions. And a bare two minutes and thirty seconds! I want some more of that.

I can’t say the other songs match this holy trinity in quality, though. They’re all decent, just not as concentrated – see, in ‘Logical Song’ and ‘Breakfast In America’ Hodgson really comes up with unparalleled lyrically-musical ideas, but Davies doesn’t seem to be equally inventive, and decent balladry like ‘Oh Darling’ and decent ‘I’m-not-like-everybody-else’ introspective stuff like ‘Just Another Nervous Wreck’ don’t have any of these inhuman elements that’d justify their eternal gilding. They are well-placed in the context of the album and all, but lasting impression? Hmm… need to be more inventive.

Roger, too, overreaches in ‘Lord Is It Mine’ – there’s only so much whining I can take, and minimalistic piano ballads should better be left to Elton John. So, in fact, the only other song that reinstates my good faith is the closing epic ‘Child Of Vision’, which manages to somehow collect all of the bitter sarcastic energy off the previous songs and painlessly stuff it onto this seven-minute behemoth, with Hodgson’s angry anti-mass-culture lyrics, delivered in a flaming tone, perfectly matching the paranoid bassline – but the funny thing is, the best thing about the song aren’t the lyrics, it’s the amazingly effective piano solo which is now in danger of becoming one of my all-time favourite piano solos. Who the hell is playing there? Rick? Roger himself? Aw, who cares? That’s just a perfect example of how a solo musical instrument is able to take on all the emotions and passion of a vocal melody and carry it on and develop it in a way that a human voice could never do. Mm, great, delicious, an ideal conclusion to an album…

…which still gets its deserved three and a half stars for sagging too much in the middle. Four great songs, six decent-to-good ones, you know the score. The good news is that from what I’ve seen around, history has been just to the record – it no longer polarizes audiences as it could have done in 1979 (with some people mistakenly taking it as belonging in the same vile decadent Bee Gees/Boney M heap of shit preventing people from enjoying punk rock, and some extolling it as the greatest piece of music ever created), rather it just produces mixed emotions like any “good, not great” album would. And that warms my heart.

March 23, 2013 - Posted by | Supertramp Breakfast In America |

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