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|Main Category:||Art Rock|
|Also applicable:||Pop Rock|
|Starting Period:||The Artsy/Rootsy Years|
|Also active in:||The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years, The Divided Eighties|
Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Supertramp fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Supertramp fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Not bad for a first try; the record certainly doesn't deserve such a complete oblivion as it actually underwent. The good thing was that Supertramp had chosen a fair and honest way of writing music from the very beginning. Namely, if you were British and you were taking the decision to play in an art-rock band in the early Seventies, there were two roads you could follow. One was the grand road - the music had to be swollen and puffed-up, loud, pompous, braggard, self-indulgent, universalist, heavily borrowing from classical and medieval motives. The problem was, this approach required brains (excellent songwriting talents) and brawns (immaculate technicianship) to work right; and while bands like Yes and Genesis were able to comply - the former mostly through incomparable brawns, the latter mostly through equally incomparable brains - others, like Uriah Heep, were extremely scant on both parameters and so were not able, and ended up sounding like laughable self-parodies way too often.Supertramp chose the other way: their melodies weren't one hundred percent great, and the band members' musical skills were not far more than just 'good', and therefore they chose the 'quiet' approach, the folksy-humble vibe that was previously established by acts like Traffic and - particularly - Family, which is so far the closest link to Supertramp I have ever identified. Thus, by all accounts the band simply cannot lose: the worst I can accuse these songs of is just being boring (sometimes), never being stupid or inadequate or laughable or anything. Hey, this album's actually a loose concept one, based around the band's name, or maybe it was the band's name that was based on the album? It all revolves around themes of poverty, humbleness, loneliness and being stranded somewhere with nothing to do and 'nothing to show for love has never been'. Good concept. Good songs. Nice lads. Whoever accuses Supertramp of sharing all the usual problems of derivative art rock has certainly never listened closely to the record at all. For starters, there's only one lengthy suite on the entire album, the twelve-minute 'Try Again' which is certainly longer than necessary, but it hardly ever drives me crazy or something. It has a really great, moody, melancholic chorus, for one, based around these strange, strange vocal harmonies specific for Mr Roger Hodgson, and an excellent screechy guitar solo, too. Basically, I don't see what makes the suite any worse than, say, your average number from Genesis' Trespass (which came out the same year); just boring in parts, but ultimately tolerable and enjoyable in other parts. Specific kudos, however, goes not to this monster, but to shorter songs, in particular, the tasty emotional acoustic ditties like 'Surely' and 'Home Again'; and to the decent, not a bit overdone rockers 'It's A Long Road' and 'Maybe I'm A Beggar'. These are the perfect epitome of what I'd call "Good Song": catchy, if not tremendously catchy, riffs, convincing, if not breathtaking vocals, thoughtful, if not completely cliche-free, lyrics, and engaging, if not virtuoso, instrumental passages. And if you think every band is capable of producing these kinds of songs, just take a listen to Grand Funk Railroad... And did I mention that the bass runs on 'It's A Long Road' are an absolute marvel? Please let me mention that! Keep it up, Roger! I don't want to say that there's no filler on the album - depending on your personal tastes, you might count five minutes for a tune as unadventurous as 'Aubade And I Am Not Like The Other Birds Of Prey' a wee bit too much, or you might dislike the piano-dominated ballad 'Shadow Song' because, after all, it ain't no Paul McCartney. You might not, though. The good thing is that the album is definitely more than a sum of its parts: its general atmosphere is likeable, and the band sounds extremely friendly and well-disposed. Pessimistic notes abound, but this is a homely and cozy kind of pessimism, the kind of pessimism I find it extremely easy to identify with. Throw in some individual tolerable melodies, and you're ready to start cookin'. I admit that it was rather risky for a band of beginners to put the emphasis on the 'emotional' side of things rather than on the technical one; but due to a certain kind of inborn humility and good disposal towards the average listener, it all works. Not perfectly, but it does. Definitely among Supertramp's best efforts.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
A radical, 180-degree change of direction; this record sounds nothing like its predecessor, and my guess is that it's due to a more active songwriting/performing participation on the side of Rick Davies - this is mostly his showcase, whereas Supertramp was mainly the creation of Roger Hodgson. (Note: since all the songs are always credited to several band members, this is simply my guess and I have nothing to base it upon. Feel free to barnstorm me with accusations of getting my facts wrong and everything that goes along with it).Anyway, the fact is that Indelibly Stamped sounds nothing like art-rock. Medieval motives and long-winded instrumental passages get out of the way to make the way for jazzier passages, music hall quotations and boogie stylizations - in short, Supertramp try out an even more accessible, relaxed, refreshing approach and recreate themselves as some kind of poppy-rootsy, laid back barroom band. Too bad that the album followed its predecessor into the depths of oblivion: it's just as good, with lots of interesting melodies that would never make anybody's Top 10 but which really come out after several listens and slowly subvert the listener with sequences of well-placed Beatlesque vocal hooks and well-crafted guitar riffs. The band also diversifies its instrumentation, with a brass section joining in (although Supertramp's regular brass guys hadn't yet jumped aboard at that point), and scores another point by diversifying the genres - the album has quite a lot of them. Dock that score one point back, though, because the album is far less interesting from the 'groundbreaking' point of view; while the debut album presented us with a rarely found and engaging perspective, Indelibly Stamped adds nothing new to the rock'n'roll sesame. Describing the actual songs is a bit of a challenge - you can easily rave about a giant hook if you see it, or complain about the lack of hooks if there ain't none, but what do you do when all the songs are just normal? Okay, let's start from the strange 'uns. Only one lengthy song on the album this time, the seven-minute 'Aries' that closes the album, and, to be frank with you, I'm still kinda puzzled as to why it takes them so long to fade out that never-ending coda. Just a fast-paced folk song with a scary flute complementing the guitar and electric piano, but for some reason, they simply can't get out of the groove. It was almost certainly this strange 'recycling' that caused the All-Music Guide guy to put the 'long-winded instrumental passages' tag on this album, even if he obviously messed up his singular and plural (I'd bet you anything he never even put this record on). Other tracks display some more of this love for keyboards: piano ditties abound on here, like the half-catchy music hall number 'Friend In Need' and the wonderful boogie 'Coming Home To Seen You' that shows the guys can really master a good fast funny groove if they feel the need to. Some particularly mean harmonica playing on there - is that Davies or Hodgson playing? Or the other guys? 'Forever' is great, too; some might find the song boring, but there is something entrancing about that slow, repetitive rhythm and those mysterious vocals. Perhaps it's the stripped-down sound that woos me over - it sounds almost like a normal R'n'B number should sound like, but until the horns kick in it has a strong minimalistic power of its own. Meanwhile, the soft guitar-dominated numbers (Hodgson territory?) are equally compelling (which is to say - compelling, but don't hold your breath). 'Travelled' reminds me of vintage CSN - and for me, that's a good thing. Note that by "vintage" CSN I mean "those CSN songs that are particularly distinguishable because of beautiful emotional vocal hooks", so that was actually a double compliment. 'Rosie Had Everything Planned', meanwhile, is more Simon & Garfunkel than CSN, but not vintage this time because the subject matter of the song is so befuddling I don't really know what to think of it. Who's Rosie? Is this some kind of a newspaper based song or what? I feel so ignorant. With all of these stylizations, they only have place for two true rockers - 'Potter' and 'Remember', both not devoid of a certain charm of their own (or non-trivial riffs, which is even more important). But they are really rockers, and they do rock. That said, they still didn't convince the record buying public - Indelibly Stamped sold miserably, even despite the tits on the album cover, and the band went on hold for the next years, before emerging again in 1974 with their first real commercial winner (moderate).
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1974
Sheez, if every following Supertramp album is going to have the same rating (third time in a row already!), they'll have to earn the title of the most consistently "pleasant mediocre" band in the world. Heck, they probably were the most pleasant mediocre band in the world, so who cares?Anyway, after a couple years of decline and a radical change of band lineup (which now featured a near-full brass section and a new drummer), Supertramp emerged on the British art-rock scene again, with a record that hearkened back to the debut, but with a few significant changes in the sound. Apart from 'Dreamer', all of the songs are consistently 'artsy', with no straightforward rockers or rootsy inclinations at all; on the other hand, the running times for most of the songs lie somewhere within the five-six minutes range, so at least the band stays away from massive overblown epics. Any special sound characteristics? That's the most intricate moment: it's very hard to characterize Crime, as there are too many subtle variations on the basic style to sum it up in one sentence. Roughly speaking, you might envisage it as a continuation of the style developed on Supertramp (i.e. the jazz-folksy vibe a la Traffic), with a bit more pomposity and ambitious seriousness thrown in for good measure. Plus, don't forget that Supertramp were always making their music more accessible for the general public - most of these songs could have served as decent pop numbers in another age. Even so, I can't really accuse the album of inadequacy: this might be a pop record disguising itself as an ambitious progressive symphony, but there's enough humbleness and enough taste and modest scarcity in the arrangements not to make you puke. Of course, it's another question if somebody actually needs this album. Because none of the songs, not even the best ones, have any kind of immediate hooks or unique moods, and when, after a lot of listens, these hooks and moods finally appear, the reaction is, like, 'That's it?' Perhaps the best thing about the album is the ominous harmonica solo that opens the lead-in number, 'School', after which it just gets all neat and tricky, with cutesy little guitars popping in and out, Hodgson's 'miserable' vocals once again reinstating the feeling of loneliness and being outcast, and a pretty piano-based 'dance' mid-section. Very nice mood music. In contrast, 'Bloody Well Right' is a bit more gruff - the lengthy introduction has a great gimmick in the short period of wah-wah riffage, while the main part has Rick Davies borrow on music hall legacy once again. Very funny throwaway piece. 'Hide In Your Shell', meanwhile, is far darker and even more 'miserable' than 'School', in parts, a six-minute mini-epic that has its nice moments, but really lacks solid riffs or gorgeous vocal hooks to help it get along. I mean, that 'if I can help you if I can help you...' section is pretty catchy, but not in a McCartneyesque kind of way. In that respect, I really prefer the pathetic soul groove of 'Asylum', where Rick Davies makes his finest performance on the album. I don't even want to know what the heck he's singing about, but he's singing well, and you gotta admit, just to hear him groan 'please don't arrange to have me sent to no asylum, I'm just as sane as anyone' is extremely pleasant. A hard-to-take song it is, though, quite unlike 'Dreamer', the most poppy number on the album, with Hodgson assuming a particularly 'kiddish' vocal tone that undoubtedly made many a rock lover vomit on the spot. Not me, though - I can take even that kind of bubblegum. Then there's 'Rudy', which is very similar to 'Bloody Well Right', and there's 'If Everyone Was Listening', which is very similar to 'Rudy' and also very similar to some song off The Lamb Lies Down I can't remember the title of right now, and then there's the title track which is slow and grim and over-orchestrated and multi-layered and actually quite impressive because all the layers in the lengthy coda are underpinned by a wonderful piano riff. And then there's the realisation that the album's over, and then there's that 'That's it?' thingie I already mentioned. Because, to be frank, there's just nothing that special - all the time, you're kinda waiting that the band is gonna take off NOW, and they actually never take off. But don't get me wrong: this is a good album, the kind of album that may become one of your personal favourites on repeated listenings. You know the best thing about good albums? Any good album (if only it is good, and not bad) may become a great album on repeated listenings! That's where Supertramp fans come from! Thank God I have to go listen to other records now - with a couple dozen more listens, I'll become a Supertramp fan! NO! NO! PLEASE STOP 'EM! LET ME OUT! THEY'RE GREEN AND THEY'RE ALL OVER ME!..
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
The previous album made the band a little bigger; this album, however, made them rather small again. It is indeed a little weaker, sounding like all these notorious 'weak' follow-ups to classic albums; adding nothing to the by now firmly established Supertramp style, it still has its share of nice songs, but much too often the guys are just coasting and toasting, stuck in their jazzy grooves and not really understanding where to head next. The album's title comes out as thoroughly deceptive, then - the band obviously has a crisis, no matter how they attempt to conceal it. That said, the amazing 'mediocre consistency' (or 'consistent mediocrity') of Supertramp shows through even here, and I have no problem at all listening to the poor piece o' plastic (that was a metaphor, of course - I can't find a poetic way to describe a bunch of MP3 files yet). I do have problems trying to memorize it, though.Of course, if only the album could live up to its opener - the delicious McCartnyesque acoustic popper 'Easy Does It', bouncy and cozy and catchy beyond words, I would be significantly happier and better disposed. But that's actually the catchiest moment on the album, although both Hodgson and Rick Davies have some more moments of relative triumph as well. The former contributes the near-hysterical, jerky acoustic rocker 'Sister Moonshine' that's a gas to try to sing along to (you'll end up looking like a paranoid idiot in most cases) and the moving ballad 'Two Of Us' that goes much deeper than the Beatles song of the same name, even if it certainly loses in the instant memorability department. Hodgson really shines on the song - his voice may be whiny, but at least he modulates it on the spur of the moment and never ends up sounding like a robot (like somebody else I know). On the other hand, Rick Davies goes for a rougher sound on the bombastic 'Ain't Nobody But Me', partially based on the same moderate, relaxated jazzy pattern as 'Forever' off Indelibly Stamped, but incorporating more different sections. The way the song goes from the mean-sounding verses to the optimistic, 'thoughtful' refrain makes it really stand out. And finally, I'm a sucker for 'Just A Normal Day'; while the number hardly has any distinct traces of melody, the very idea of a 'philosophic dialogue' between Davies and Hodgson, with Davies representing the 'seeker' side of the individual and Hodgson representing the 'melancholic scepticist' side, is carried out brilliantly. Could you imagine a 'philosophic dialogue' between, say, John Lennon and Paul McCartney? The closest thing I can recall is 'I've Got A Feeling'... (!!!!). Everything else strikes me as being sordidly underwritten, although it's really hard to tell - with a band like this, the overall impression can often depend on the most tiniest of hooks hidden deep in the background. Hodgson's piano melodies on 'Soapbox Opera' and 'Lady' are thin and don't do anything that stuff like 'Hide In Your Shell' or 'Dreamer' hasn't respectively done better on the previous album. And Davies writes convoluted, but pretty dull and pointless sagas like 'Another Man's Woman'. I won't stoop to condemning the arguable silliness of the band chanting 'if you know what the meaning is, if you know what the meaning is' for what seems like ages on 'The Meaning', because I don't see the potential offensiveness here, but I gotta say, if this was considered 'cool' by the guys at the time, they must have really been at a loss. Strange enough, 'losses' like these always resulted in the band's falling out of the picture for a while - their following album wouldn't come out until nearly three years later. Oh well, in any case these 'fallings out' are a more honest thing than just putting out more and more crap and gradually transforming oneself into a muzak writing machine. Thumbs up for creativity.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1977
Woof, woof, and I was starting to get concerned. We're back to our neat and trimmed three-and-a-half-stars again. Which means this is a good album!Even if there's only seven songs on it. They're getting smarter, longer, more intricate, whatever, in a certain way this is a return to the values of their debut album, and that's a good thing. Except that the songs are longer, that is. That's not a very good thing: basically, there ain't a single bad number on here, but just about every song goes on for a bit too long. Especially since the sound is minimalistic enough not to make the songs seem huge breathtaking prog epics, but isn't minimalistic enough to establish any kind of effect-based, hypnotic groove. So what's to be done? Trim down the goddamn tunes and get yourself a nice shiny EP! As usual, it's nice to discuss the album in terms of 'competition' between Mr Davies and Mr Hodgson. Shoot me if I know who'd win this particular round, though. Hodgson has more songs (four out of seven), but it's not that they're really masterpieces or anything. The acoustic ballad 'Give A Little Bit' is upbeat and bouncy and very moving in places, but perhaps that same chuggin' groove grows a wee bit tiresome towards the fourth minute. It all depends on the mood, though. The title track is significantly better, with a masterfully composed vocal melody that alternates subtle Dylan-esque moves with more progressive-like stern intonations, and an equally impressive coda that pairs innocent acoustic guitars with icy synth bleeps and stern cold synth-processed harmonies in a way that was never done before... but what's with the lengthy intro? Cut it down! 'Babaji' is nice and complaintive, though. And as for 'Fool's Overture'... hmm. This is where Hodgson decides to play the old game 'Let Me Rip Him Off', where 'him' in this particular case equals 'Peter Gabriel'. Anybody else feel that the main vocal melody closely follows the example given in Genesis' 'Time Table'? Now, now, that's not a reproach, because that vocal melody is good, and Hodgson's 'permanent whine' never allows him to sound overblown and inadequate. I don't quite get the message of the song (is it supposed to be apocalyptic or ironic or what?), but it works fine on the emotional level, nevertheless. However, I could easily do without the entire first half of it, the one that's fully instrumental and does nothing interesting besides sampling a wee bit of Winston Churchill. I'd rather go listen to 'Mr Churchill Says', by the Kinks, for inspiration. And if I want pompous orchestrated piano-based symph-rock, gimme Rick Wakeman, please. Just about the same types of complaints go towards Hodgson's jazzier counterpart. Rick Davies gets some untrivial, lovely jazzy melodies not unworthy of Queen in 'Lover Boy', but a seven-minute running time for the song is a joke, right? Imagine Queen taking one of its strange jazz ditties and overblowing it to the heights of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'... eh? Fortunately, 'Downstream' corrects that problem - it places the emphasis exclusively on the lovely vocal melody and so is a winner in my book. Some real nice twists there, as far as I'm concerned, and a great, full-sounding piano shimmer that's not exactly excellent as far as melody goes but adds enough atmosphere to render Rick's inspired vocal delivery all the more emotional. And the same piano shimmer saves the first part of 'From Now On' - the second part of the song doesn't exactly need saving, as it's just a repetitive, mantraic chant of the 'Hey Jude' type (only less pompous) that works surprisingly well, but the first part sure needs saving, as it's not particularly memorable. Anyway, here's my point. All of these songs have good ideas in them, at least one in each and often more, but almost all of these songs are also flawed in some way. Perhaps they couldn't be better, of course (after all, Supertramp are such a 'moderately good' band it almost hurts to see them preserve the standard so carefully), but the album just further establishes my idea that Supertramp were the exact equivalent of Traffic when it comes to putting a bit more 'progressiveness' into the music. A band, that is, that has its fair share of talent but dilutes it with too many elements of styles it hasn't mastered that well. Sheez, how frustrating.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 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.
READER COMMENTS SECTION