Supertramp Crime Of The Century (1974), Crisis? What Crisis? (1975), Even In The Quietest Moments (1977), Breakfast In America (1979)
When it comes to today’s generation of pop groups, it’s the letter B that gets all the glory when it comes to naming influences. The Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds tend to get the most credit for inspiring musicians to pick up an instrument and start emulating; from there, there’s Big Star, the Bee Gees, and Badfinger.
These are pretty obvious (and valid) picks, all of them.
There are, however, some influences who’ve quite a bit of influence as well, even though they don’t tend to get mentioned in the same breath on quite as regular a basis.
You’ve got your Queen, who produced quite a bit more than just “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. You’ve got your 10CC, who said “I’m Not in Love”, then waxed lyrical on “The Things We Do for Love”. And, of course, you can never forget ELO, mostly because Jeff Lynne won’t let you.
But you’ve also got your Supertramp.
Album-oriented radio, as it’s done to countless other artists, has diminished the impact of Supertramp over the years, though, leaving the casual listener with the impression that the band had a few good tracks, but, ultimately, not much else. Most folks who didn’t come of age during the ‘70s probably couldn’t even tell you the name of a single Supertramp album, though they might ask, “Does The Very Best of Supertramp count?”
But if actually you lived through the ‘70s, then not only would the phrase Breakfast in America erupt through your lips, but you could probably identify its album cover from half a block away.
A&M Records has taken to re-issuing the band’s seminal work in re-mastered form, and, when you’re talking about Supertramp, “seminal” begins with their third album.
I’m not sure how this piece of trivia got past me for lo these many years, but until researching the band’s history for this review, I was unaware that Supertramp actually got its start courtesy of a young Dutch millionaire named Stanley August Miesegaes. Miesegaes, it seems, was friends with Rick Davies, and, though it sounds suspiciously like an apocryphal anecdote, the story goes that, in 1969, the poor little rich boy offered Davies the opportunity to form a band and put the cost on his tab.
After an ad in Melody Maker, Supertramp was born. And, then, after two not-very-successful albums (a self-titled debut, followed by Indelibly Stamped, neither of which warranted re-mastering in A&M’s eyes), Miesegaes withdrew his financial support, leaving Supertramp without much in the way of money or fans. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.
But then 1974 rolled around, and the band released the aforementioned third album, Crime of the Century. And unlike its predecessors, Crime of the Century had far less in the way of prog-rock noodlings, instead showing the band evolving toward more of a pop sound. Indeed, this was the album that produced “Bloody Well Right” and “Dreamer”; it also contains the lesser-known album track “If Everyone Was Listening” a song which, though it didn’t make the cut for the band’s first best-of, scored inclusion on Volume 2.
Next up was Crisis? What Crisis? , which showed the band finding their way closer and closer to the middle ground between prog and pop, though it doesn’t possess any song that screams “hit single”. Certainly, the album possesses a stellar pair of openers in the form of “Easy Does It” and “Sister Moonshine”. “Ain’t Nobody But Me” may not be any great shakes, but “A Soapbox Opera” more than makes up for it. Meanwhile, Jellyfish missed an opportunity by not covering “Poor Boy”. (In fact, when you come right down to it, when you look at their song arrangements after listening to these re-issues, it becomes clear that Jellyfish were probably just as inspired by Supertramp as they were by Queen, or anyone else for that matter.)
Even In The Quietest Moments followed much the same format as its predecessor, although it did remedy one error right up front, providing the band with an unforgettable hit single in the form of “Give A Little Bit” as the album’s opener. The instrument that graces the album cover is no coincidence because the material is almost entirely piano-based. Although some of the songs are a bit long (the album only has seven songs, and four of them are over 7 minutes in length), each track is a pop symphony unto itself. “Fool’s Overture”, the album’s closer, is positively epic in scale (10+ minutes), with a keyboard bit somewhere around the 3-minute mark that may or may not have been cribbed by the Buggles for their song “Living in the Plastic Age”.
Still, as strong as Even in the Quietest Moments may have been, it was its follow-up that was the band’s defining moment. Of course, it was also the watershed album in the band’s career, because, y’know, how can you top Breakfast In America?
The answer, inevitably, is that you can’t.
And Supertramp didn’t.
When they finally got around to releasing the follow-up studio album, Famous Last Words, the best song they could muster as a single was “It’s Raining Again”. No, it’s not a bad song, but when you compare it to Breakfast in America‘s “The Logical Song”, “Goodbye Stranger”, and “Take the Long Way Home”, it’s certainly not up to those standards.
Neither history nor the majority of Supertramp’s fans would deny that Breakfast in America is the strongest album in the band’s discography. From “Gone Hollywood” all the way through the grand finale, “Child of Vision”, this is an unabashedly melodic record. Almost entirely free of pretense and limited in pomposity, it’s just good old-fashioned pop music. It might not be a generation-defining album like Frampton Comes Alive, but very few individuals escaped the ‘70s without having the melodies from at least one or two of this album’s tracks stuck in the back of their mind for the rest of their lives.
It’s pretty easy to rank these four re-issues. Start with Breakfast in America and work your way back. And ignore anyone who says you only need a best-of collection. Once you’ve actually heard it, you’ll find that, unlike the albums that came before and after it, Breakfast in America is absolutely indispensable.
Still, it’s a shame about the name, don’t you think? I mean, honestly: Supertramp? Even now, that’s got to rank as one of the 10 worst band names ever.
Is there really any doubt that this was Supertramp’s shimmering moment? Not only was this by far their greatest commercial success, but it also has their highest concentration of excellent songs.
“The Logical Song” I’m sure everyone recognizes from the classic rock radio–each station of which must play it at least a half dozen times per week. And if you’re anything like me, you really love hearing it when it pops up. Not only does it have a very catchy melody that was designed by Roger Hodgson to sound like a Beatles song, but it has lyrics that contain some enjoyable rhyming patterns. (“When I was young / It seemed that life was so wonderful / A miracle / Oh, it was beautiful, magical”).
Of course the song is beautifully produced, too. It contains use of their characteristic pulsating electric piano, and in this instance, it actually helps lend the song a crunchy texture as opposed to a simple flurry as it was in “Dreamer.” And everyone who ever discusses the song loves to bring up the saxophone solo, which they should bring up because it is utterly phenomenal.
This album, by the way, is usually called Supertramp’s pop album. It is said they were inspired to make this album, because they wanted to do something fun for a change. Which wasn’t a bad idea at all, because all albums ought to be fun… Shouldn’t they? The opening song “Gone Hollywood” is instantly notable for Hodgson giving an impeccable imitation of the Bee Gees’ feathery falsetto vocals. But don’t worry if you’re the type who hates disco: the song is rooted far more in progressive-rock than it is disco. If you doubt that statement, notice that it contains an extensive section that is heavy on the subdued atmosphere and noodly saxophone, which requires a grand-sized crescendo to return to the verses.
Another progressive-ish song is the album’s closing song “Child of Vision,” which is tight and polished, and I like those moments when Hodgson sings his long-drawn-out crooning “Chiiiiiiild of Viiiiiision, Wooooon’t Yooooooou Liiiiiiiisten?” It also has a very enjoyable, extended jazz piano solo in its final third. However, the main thing holding it back, for me, is that’s yet another instance of Supertramp totally abusing their signature, pulsating synthesizer sound. I mean, it just gets monotonous.
The title track is pretty great, though. It’s not really Beatles-esque, but I could definitely see it appearing on Band on the Run. Except I don’t think Paul McCartney would have brought in those not-so-subtle Middle-Eastern influences into the mix! …And, yes, you’re going to have to hear that bendy clarinet solo in there, which is positively golden. “Oh Darling” might share the name of a Beatles song, but it’s a totally different tune. Not as good, of course, but it’s nevertheless perfectly nice with a decent melody and some lovely acoustic guitar textures. (With that said, I’m less enamored with that keyboard pattern they play throughout the song that never changes.)
If Hodgson was in the habit of writing Beatles-esque tunes, then “Lord is It Mine” must have been his “Let it Be.” It’s the kind of piano ballad with a beautiful melody that sticks in your mind, and its melancholic lyrics that manage to manifest itself in my throat with a lump. Although the standalone lyrics aren’t exactly great poetry. (“I never cease to wonder at the cruelty of this land / but it seems a time of sadness is a time to understand / is it mine, Lord is it mine?”) But hearing how Hodgson performs it in the song, he has a way of making me hang onto every word of it for dear life. Another one of this album’s great songs is “Take the Long Way Home,” which starts off with one of the coolest harmonica solos that I’ve ever heard in a pop song. Its melody is so catchy and the chorus is so soaring that it’s one of those songs that I have the irrepressible urge to sing along with.
The weakest bits of the album end up coming towards the end, starting with “Just Another Nervous Wreck,” a theatrical number with heavy vocals. It makes a fine listen, but there’s nothing particularly spectacular there in terms of melody. It doesn’t even have a cool sax solo to keep me interested! (There is an electric guitar solo in there, but somehow Supertramp seems better with woodwinds.) “Casual Conversations” is another song that doesn’t thrill me to death; it comes off as a undeveloped, especially with that plodding synthesizer pattern that doesn’t go anywhere. But it has a perfectly pleasant tune, so I won’t complain about it too much.
This isn’t a perfect album by any means, but I think I am in agreement with the world that this is by far Supertramp’s greatest album. I mean, it’s the one with “The Logical Song” on it. What else do you want?
From the opening moments of the first song “Gone Hollywood” when you hear the crisp, clear piano it is obvious that this is a disc sorely in need of a remastering. I pulled out my old vinyl and confirmed that fact. By the time you hear all of the musical nuances that fill “The Logical Song” a smile will come to your face as you realize the magic that Supertramp brought to the world. Who can forget the sax solo that highlights the previously mentioned song for one? Supertramp opened up many avenues and took us to places where you were much better off for visiting.
As I put this on and reminisced with an old friend it was good to hear how well the music has survived the years and come out the better for it. Remembering some of the glorious past times that we shared it was like we had never been apart. As one of my fondest memories “Goodbye Stranger” hit my ears I could not help but flashback to the days when cruising the countryside of Central Michigan with this blaring was part of many a fantastic summer night. Now as I did the same thing with this magnificently remastered edition it is like the years have melted away.
The Supertramp formula of pop, progressive, humor and whimsy has always been a winner but to hear it as crystal clear as this one is done is just short of Nirvana for a fan. The subtle guitar on “Oh Darling” and the terrific harmonies bring chills to hear again in such dynamic fashion. “Take The Long Way Home” sounds as if they are playing right there wherever you happen to be listening to it. The tantalizing keyboards and clarinet really come to life and you almost have the joy of hearing something new as each piece of this musical puzzle is on display in full fashion which just wasn’t possible when it was first released.
One of my favorite moments from the original disc was the song “Lord Is It Mine”. As powerful as it struck me back then, this update can bring tears to the eye. This dramatic song benefits most from the new technology applied and I am really glad it is here. They had a way of really wrenching the emotions and this one run you through the wringer.
The opus “Child Of Vision” which closes out the disc will never sound better. Just as an example of what this update has done is evident when you listen to the bass line of this terrific piece. The original had it buried deep in the mix but all of the dynamics come out on this album. With the infectious piano soaring above it, I found even more things to love about this song and the whole disc.
Now if that is not enough the deluxe edition has a second CD of unreleased live cuts taken from concerts in Miami, Paris and Wembley. Unlike their Live In Paris disc, this is a band that sounds at ease on stage and did not try to just reproduce there studio sound live. Here they let it go and the results make me kick myself for never going to see them when I had the chance. Even though most of the material comes from Breakfast In America they still get in some old favorites like “Give A Little Bit” and “Rudy” along with a very fun version of “Another Man’s Woman”.
For a Supertramp fan this one is a no brainer. For those that know the hits and that is it, this is a great place to get acquainted with one of the most unique and dynamic bands in rock and roll. You not only get them at their commercial peak there is also a glimpse of what got them there with the live recordings. Since getting this one it keeps climbing back into the player and I am more than happy to let it reside there. Do not let this one get by you. It is a must have even for those that have the original.
To me this was always one of the most introverted albums about so much happening. Its one part catchy and one part thematic. It combined everything Supertramp had at that time and not only made them a good rock band but a very strong progressive rock band that defied everything people tried to label them.
Although they had very strong releases from previous albums, “Breakfast” would sadly prove to be the last for Supertramp within the turmoil band conflicts. However at the turn of the 1980’s this would be a great opening soundtrack for a generation.
Lyrics and Singing: This is one the most self-reflectioned albums ever recorded. The songs were like mini movies and they come off not only strong lyrical wise but musically as well. Its dark and brooding but the opening “Gone Hollywood” showed a band disillusioned with corporations and the not so idyllic lifestyle of nomadic rock stars.
“The Logical Song” is one of the most memorable tracks off the album being written by Roger Hodgson. Its a everyday coming of age story for every young person. Its pretty deep about the loss of naivety and belief in a young person’s life only to see the cruel reality. Ever the truth in such strong words. “Goodbye Stranger” is another one of those character studies you see in a movie but this time its a powerful song.
Davies seemed to rival his songwriting partner on this album and it really shows because I really dug into this album well. From what Hodgson says the title track “Breakfast in America” was written many years before the band even recorded. He said it went through many changes before the final attempt was recorded on here being in its masterpiece. Its full of hooks and catchy lyrics well worth the admission.
“Oh Darling” and “Casual Conversations” were more pop oriented ballads written by Davies and balances the album out nicely with the more introverted songs. Its nice to hear some lighter subjects and not always about the character in mind or what’s in your head kinda songs. For me the personal favs were “Take The Long Way Home” and “Lord Is It Mine” both seem to echo about something deep inside of us. Its borderline spiritual and at the same time nothing more than a complex song about who we are and the need to search within ourselves for something, anything.
Sometimes I come home from work and throw this album on and skip to these 2 songs. I guess relating to the words and songs people write make others think about the simple things and life and the difficult things are what we hope are just a passing phase.
Anyhow back to the article, Rick Davies also rivals his partner again with his composition “Just Another Nervous Wreck”. It seems almost self-biographical in it tells about the rise and fall (about to fall) of the band and Davies’ friendship with Hodgson didn’t seem to go well. Finally we get the closing track “Child Of Vision” and its part jazzy and part pop rock. Something about this final track alone makes you know that the band was coming to an end.
Its brooding and dark but at the same time offer a final glimpse of what the band was capable of. I like it but there’s a lot to think about when something good comes to an end. I don’t know why this album is almost forgotten but its an important reminder for most of us who still think and interact with other people. From what I see I don’t think most people ever sit down and self-reflect or ponder about what life is about.
This is a great album by Supertramp and its also the last of the classic ones to feature Roger Hodgson before he left the band in 1983. The songs aren’t as thematic as “Crime Of The Century” but they still hold their weight on some self reflecting lyrics. I’d say its on par with “Even In The Quietest” but more radio friendly and commercial than “Crisis What Crisis”. I wouldn’t change a thing about this album because the band worked hard to leave a substantial piece of work behind.
This is the one where you put the cassette tape in turn up loud on a bad day stare at the sky at night.
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.
Honestly, I never thought I’d find a piece of music my parents liked that was actually good. My mother really doesn’t listen to anything from back in her day. She listens to whatever the biggest hit is, such as James Blunt. Sure, she likes the occasional Beatles, but she said she was never a Beatles fan in her day. My father is a Kenny G and Alabama fan. I gave up on him. However, one day, he told me his favorite band is Supertramp.
Now of course, everyone knows the song “Take the Long Way Home”. I never really paid attention to the band, though. I decided to pull out Breakfast in America and see what the band was all about, and why my father found them interesting enough to save up his money and go to his first concert ever to see them.
Supertramp’s roots lay in progressive rock. The British band draw influences from their progressive contemporaries of the time and commercial successes, most noticeably the Beatles. Their first few albums in the early 70s were strictly progressive albums, but as they continued to find more and more commercial success, they moved to a much poppier sound and attempted to create commercial success.
However, the prog keyboards remained, they kept their woodwind instruments an immense and vital part to the band’s music, and the song lengths exceeded the normal pop standards, most capping out at over 5 minutes. Supertramp’s largest success came with Breakfast in America, spawning 4 huge hits.
Supertramp manages to create enjoyable pop music. Disco, at the time, was just beginning to fade away, as 1979 was “the year disco died.” In more up-tempo songs, disco influenced bass fills occur all over the place. However, the real instrumental standout on this album is the keyboard. The keyboards carry everything interesting about the music on the album. Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson both are accomplished keyboardists, and create a jazzy feel with their chord accompanying along with melody creating.
If both are playing, they can carry the tune themselves, and the rest of the band is pretty much just there, not doing much of anything. No wonder the band had so many breakups in its career, with both keyboardists competing for melodies and grabbing all the attention for themselves. John Davies brings a whole new dimension to the music with his harmonica, most noticeably in Take the Long Way Home. Overall, the band draws many influences in, such as Bee Gees vocal harmonies and Beatle-esque melodies.
However, one last part of the music is either hit or miss. John A. Helliwell plays various saxophones and clarinets, usually taking solos in a bridge. His best playing is usually in the lighter songs, such as Lord Is It Mine. Helliwell tries to bring power into his solos, but ends up just squealing horribly and only distracting the listener.
Of course, as this is essentially a pop album, the singles are generally best songs on the album, as they are mainly the only songs that are able to make the catchy hooks needed to make a good pop song. The 4 singles, The Logical Song, Goodbye Stranger, Breakfast in America, and Take The Long Way Home, all have a voice of their own and are instantly recognizable. There are a few hidden gems on the album, such as Just Another Nervous Wreck, but mostly, the singles take the cake.
Goodbye Stranger, which would have made for a terrible song without the guitar solo at the end, shares the same intro as nearly every other song on this album, the main keyboard theme and singing. The bass and drums add in accents here and there, but the main theme for the first half of the song is the keyboards and singing. When approaching the two minute mark, the drums pick up for a bit, but the song eventually reverts back to the intro.
Goodbye Stranger gets boring after a few minutes and is drawn out for far too long before reaching the climatic point at the end with a guitar solo. The guitar solo is by far the standout solo on the album, beating out anything Helliwell throws out.
Breakfast in America is the shortest song on the album, and makes a good length for the song. No extenuated keyboard intros, the song enters into the verse immediately. The bass and keyboard compliment each other very well in this song, and Helliwell makes an ok appearance on the clarinet, trading off with the vocals. The trombone makes some great nuances in the verse that really add to the texture of the song. Breakfast in America is the best single on the album.
However, Supertramp is absolutely terrible at making ballads. Lord Is It Mine is terrible, just a keyboard and vocals for most of the song. The vocals fail to impress, and the climatic chorus absolutely falls apart and leaves a listener let down. Unfortunately, the standout on the song is actually Helliwell. In the bridge, he pulls out the clarinet for a solo, and it’s his best appearance on the album. The song continues to make horrible attempts at pop hooks, and is by far the largest letdown on the album.
Supertramp stands out at creating pop singles and still maintaining their own style and their own voice. I give them credit for doing that, but not much more. My father must have been taken aback by the occasional occurrences of harmonica and woodwind instruments, and thought he’d found himself a pretty cool band.
He was right, in that Supertramp makes some of the better 70s pop songs, and some are still heard today.