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.
Supertramp’s past was interesting, two albums of little note with a different band before they took a couple of years off to reform after picking up a crack rhythm section and a wind player/backup vocalist. They then met studio wonderkid Ken Scott and released their magnum opus Crime of the Century to worldwide and critical success. A slight hiccup on the followup Crisis? What Crisis? leads to 1977’s Even In the Quietest Moments, another critical and even more commercial success.
It begins with Supertramp’s first top 20 hit, “Give a Little Bit.” This song has a great acoustic guitar hook and the high pitched vocal of Rodger Hodgson singing a catchy melody. I enjoy the method in which each Supertramp record alternate tracks between the two singers. The more baritone pitched Rick Davies sings the clever & fun “Lover Boy,” the bluesy/breezy “Downstream,” and the outstanding “From Now On.” This song features inspired piano work as always from Davies and a jazzy saxaphone solo from John Anthony Helliwell.
Although the hits were usually by Hodgson, Davies voice and songwriting is still a highlight on every Supertramp album. Hodgson’s voice on title track “Even In the Quietest Moments” is at its most fragile towards the beginning, but dynamically builds to show what range and power the man has.
The piece that is of most interest to us prog fans is the over ten minute epic, “Fool’s Overture.” It begins with a quiet piano backed with orchestral instruments and Hodgson’s fragile and tender vocal. Then a pulsating synth line comes in like it skipped to another record, something by Tangerine Dream.
The segues sustaining these extra minutes are ably provided (as on the past two albums) by rhythm section Dougie Thomson and Bob C. Benberg. Hodgson comes in again with his fragile voicework bringing back that unmistakable Supertramp quality to insure that you are indeed on the right CD. It again breaks into a reprise of the electronica section while overlaying harmony vocals to bring it all to a glorious climax.
Even In the Quietest Moments is one of Supertramp’s best works, right behind Crime of the Century and 1979’s Breakfast In America. A great record from the more mainstream side of prog, it comes highly recommended from this reviewer.
Even In the Quietest Moments… is the third attempt at a full LP with the lineup of songwriters Hodgson and Davies, as well as, Helliwell, Siebenburg and bassist Dougie Thompson. The album is truly a unique edition to the band’s catalogue. Not only does it not use the trademark Wurlitzer Electric Piano, not one song is less than 4 mintues long, while the last track is a 10-minute epic. As well, both Davies and Hodgson wrote the title track. Each other song was composed individually, while giving the album a much more intimate feel.
The album starts off with the famous single Give a Little Bit, written by Roger Hodgson. It fits the program of the album, as it is a much more acoustic driven piece than most other hits the Supertramp catalogue. The album itself gives off a very personal feel, almost as if the band is telling us the problems with today’s life and society through each song. Give a Little Bit encompasses this ideal and provides the catchy pop single needed to propel the album farther.
Lover Boy was a composition by Davies that while being a pleasure to listen, it is a little too long and forgettable. The album itself is not Davies’ finest hour as Roger Hodgson takes most of the glory with his three and a half pieces. Lover Boy leads in to Even in the Quietest Moments, the title track. Composed by both songwriters, it begins with birds chirping and sounds of nature, creating a serene atmosphere. Roger’s lyrics are vague and easily misinterpreted. They seem to be speaking of love for nature, a higher being or another person. The intimate feel of the album is in full force with this track, making the listener feel as if they are with Roger in the forest, listening to the birds chirp while playing guitar.
My personal favourite track on the album comes with Downstream which closes off side one. It is a solo composition by Davies’ and carries a theme that would often be used in the post-Roger Supertramp. It is a beautiful intimate piece with such a personal touch; the audience feels a real connection with Davie’s emotional piano playing and his touching lyrics that fittingly close off the side.
Side two begins with Roger’s track Babaji. The song itself is a fun little piece but in the end it is forgettable. It again creates the personal touch and embodies and emotional reaction among listeners. Yet, the piece never fulfills its realized potential and drags on a little too long without really climaxing. Davies’ comes in to save the day with a terrific composition called From Now On. The first half of the song is quite dull, and lamented but it picks up as the entire band joins into sing the chorus with Davies for a few minutes, making a lasting on any first time listener.
The album closes with one of the most ambitious pieces in the Supertramp catalogue. Roger’s 10 minute long epic, Fool’s Overture. The many overlapping melodies, sound effects, and clear vocals show a very dark and grim Supertramp that would later be echoed in the Davies lead Brother Where You Bound. The song is dark at times, yet completely free and joyful at others. It is a strange and enigmatic song without a true meaning. The best part in probably the whole album is Roger singing Dreamer in the background, a little homage to his song on Crime of the Century. It sets imaginations ablaze and creates mystery and intrigue among listeners, this one included. It is nearly a perfect song, except for the ending. Roger never really properly ends the piece with a final line or chord. It slowly fades off while the tuning of an orchestra slowly fades in and then back to silence again, closing the album. Truly a thoroughly composed piece with many sections and emotions flowing through it. A highlight of the Supertramp catalogue.
Though categorized as a progressive rock album, it bridges on Folk and other genres while keeping some of its progressive lore that the band first developed on Crime of the Century. Even in the Quietest Moments… would eventually be used as a stepping-stone for Supertramp’s most famous release, Breakfast in America. Similar engineering and productions techniques are used throughout the two albums, giving each track more echo and reverb than normally expected for songs of this nature.
The band again elects to go with a dual songwriter system, so that both singers alternate throughout the album. The album is definitely a fine catch but never really develops into a true full LP like Crime of the Century did before. Though they build off of Crisis? What Crisis?, the full form and sound of the band is just not there yet but it would be found on their next LP, becoming one of the biggest selling bands of the decade along with it. Even in the Quietest Moments… has its moments, but they never unable to reach their full potential in the end.
Supertramp’s fifth album was by far their most beautifully produced and most consistent product, which by some accounts would make this their best album to date. Though I would be careful by distinguishing it as such since I think the highs in Crime of the Century easily surpass the highs of this album. (I guess such complaints is what comes from really liking a song in their back catalog and wishing they would just repeat it.) This is also their most prog-oriented album; four of these seven tracks span past six minutes. One of them, “Fool’s Overture,” is nearly 11.
However, nobody can deny the immense likability of “Give a Little Bit,” which turned out to be a Top-20 hit for the group. Composed by Roger Hodgson before joining Supertramp, he said it was inspired by The Beatles. (This statement might be pretty obvious if you notice that it sounds like a more developed version of Paul McCartney’s “Teddy Boy,” which was written while McCartney was still a Beatle). Hodgson included the song here hoping it’d help lend the album a shimmering, Beatles-like aura. While nobody in their right minds would mistake it for a Fab-Four tune, Hodgson definitely had the right idea. It’s a well-polished, melodic and joyous song with a soaring melody that you can sing along with. The sound mixing was done perfectly, as there seems to be about a half dozen acoustic guitars strumming all at once, but it doesn’t get in the way of Hodgson’s vocal performance. And naturally, the additional instruments all add to the song’s beautiful texture: shuffly drums, deep crystal bass, and the juicy saxophone solo in the middle. It’s a very good song: my only complaint that it’s only one notch away from what it needed to become a great song.
I’d say the same thing about “Lover Boy.” I like listening to it quite a lot and it’s just about *perfect* when it comes to production, but it rather lacks what is necessary for me to sit up and really enjoy it. It starts out rather slowly with a cabaret-ish piano riff that sparkles like jewelry. However, it isn’t long before the atmosphere gets cloudier and we get a rather darker mixture of pianos, synthesizers, and electric guitars. It runs quite long, nearly seven minutes, which could be one of its problems. However, I think most of its problems lie with the tune, which is OK but not exactly something I’d like to whistle under my breath. (Urgh! I gave the song an A-, and genuinely think it deserves it, but nevertheless laden its commentary with complaints!) I have a similar complaint with “From Now On,” which sounds like it wants to be a show-tune about an everyman trying to cope with a dull life. Show tunes aren’t bad things (in my book!), and I continue to find the song entertaining, especially as it progresses to its gospelish ending with an epic, repeating verse like “Hey Jude.” I just think it takes too long for it to start rustling up dust.
As far as lengthy and slow epics go, I think I slightly prefer the title track, which has its heart rooted in folk-rock instead of theater-rock. It also builds up a little bit of tenseness, and thus it gives my ears that much more reason to stick with it. With that said, the concentration on that one seems to be on its instrumentation and sound production and less on its melody, which is OK but not terribly infectious. Nevertheless, I suppose the point of the song was the atmosphere, which does carry me up in the air a little bit and waft me along with its dreamy and pastoral soundscapes. “Babaji” is one of the best songs of the disc even though I’d say it also lacks a truly great melody. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable, bouncy piano-pop Supertramp classic if there ever was one. (And behold! They managed to create that bouncy pop sound without resorting to anything quite as overblown as “Dreamer.”)
“Fool’s Overture” is the album’s 11-minute prog epic that’s as impeccably produced as anything here, although it seems to take quite awhile for it to actually get started. Its first three minutes is basically someone playing thoughtful notes on a piano, which fades away into a Winston Churchill speech and crowd noises. THEN we get an OK but ultimately empty synthesizer groove before FINALLY–five minutes into it–we get into the meat of the song, which is a rather heartfelt piano ballad sung by Hodgson about the declines of empires. …I do enjoy listening to the song and definitely appreciate its ambitious subject matter, but it could have used more action, I think. Or at least a little less padding. An example of a piano ballad without padding is “Downstream,” which is absolutely lovely.
I did have some complaints about this album, but I find it to be an overall impeccable product that makes–if nothing else–a consistent listen. Its melodies are all good, but nothing really pops out at me like great melodies always seem to do. Nevertheless, I think this album fittingly deserves a solid 12/15.