Thursday, 25 October 2018

Supertramp - Crime Of The Century (1974)


Released September 1974

Recorded in London

I hated this album at the time. A friend of mine tried to get me into it, but I just couldn’t. I found it all too Pink Floyd-ish, art-rock but not in a early Roxy Music fashion, more in a tongue-in-cheek, supposedly witty 10cc vein. Furthermore, the group were faceless (image-wise), bearded, hippy-looking nerds. Not for me at the time. Give me my Bowie, Roxy, Ian Hunter, Queen, Motown and Northern Soul.


1. School
2. Bloody Well Right
3. Hide In Your Shell
4. Asylum
5. Dreamer
6. Rudy
7. If Everyone Was Listening
8. Crime Of The Century

Time, as is true so much with regard to my musical taste, has proved to be a great healer. I own this album now and have learned to appreciate its good points. There was still an inventive, mood-changing “prog-rock” feel to the instrumentation, ambience and vocal style of tracks like the opener, “School”. It was full of oblique lyrics and that slightly nasal Southern English, Roger Waters vocal delivery too. It was also overflowing with instrumental cleverness and an appealing richness of sound. Indeed, the latest remaster is superb in its full, bassy, warm sound quality. Check out the powerful intro to “Bloody Well Right”. The track opens with a Steely Dan-style wah-wah, funky-ish guitar before those old wry Floyd-esque lyrics kick in. Even now, the track still irritates me, but has a great guitar sound and some sumptuous saxophone appears later on too.

Keyboards were a bit part of the Supertramp sound and they lead the next track, the slow-building "Hide In Your Shell", which again starts in Pink Floyd fashion, before kicking in to a huge thumping chorus part with massive drums and swirling saxophone. Supertramp were a bunch of wry, witty cynics in both their lyrics and understated (practically non-existent) image. They didn't want to be "pop stars". They remained haughtily elitist and were followed largely by middle-class, intelligent students. A song like "Hide In Your Shell" just sort of exemplifies this. In parts, however, it is instrumentally intoxicating, particularly in the bongos, drums, saxophone and bass interplay near the end. Furthermore, despite their almost "anti-pop" stance, they had a real instinct for a poppy hook, ironically. This is something that would become more pronounced in their commercially successful "Breakfast In America" period.

"Asylum" actually begins plaintively, with influences of The Who's "rock opera" material. The song has a huge, rock ballad chorus with hints of Mott The Hoople's similar big production rock ballads. It also has a feel of Traffic's work from the early-mid seventies too. Then comes the hit single "Dreamer". Even at the time, when I loathed Supertramp, I couldn't help but like this organ and drum-driven catchy, Manfred Mann's Earth Band influenced number. It is an adventurous, quirky and most appealing song. "Rudy" displays a clear Steely Dan influence. It suffers a little from the early quiet passages being too quiet and muffled, but when the full band part kicks in, the sound is monstrously powerful. This was often a problem with prog rock's regular changes of pace and tone within a single song. As with much of that type of material, parts of the song are fantastic and others less so, within a minute of each other. These indulgent, dreamy, slightly muffled passages detract from some of the songs, as if the band have drifted off into their own world for a while. It is for this reason that I can never truly appreciate the album fully. I enjoy the good points though.

"If Everyone Was Listening" displays the same characteristics. When it gets going it is majestic. At other points you want to scream "get on with it". The title track has similarly thumping, infectious parts in between plaintive piano and undermixed, reedy vocals. Brilliant saxophone at the end, though. I guess I will always be frustrated with this album. Maybe it is my problem. I just don't get the vibes, man. For me, despite its good points (and there are many) it still sounds dreadfully pretentious, both lyrically and musically. Sorry. I am trying with it, and will continue to do so, however.

*** The "deluxe edition" has the album played live in full from 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon. The sound quality on the recording is wonderful. In fact, the album played live sounds better than the studio version (for me).


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