Supertramp, Paris and the others
July 13, 2010 Leave a comment
Recently I’ve received my first package from Amazon. For I felt like I’m short of Supertramp’s albums – and it was my favourite band once (later replaced by U2 on #1 spot ;-)) – it’s no surprise there were 4 CDs by this band. I have Paris live bought like ten years ago or so. Now it was the right time to fill up the list with Crime Of the Century, Even in the Quietest Moments, Breakfast in America and their Famous Last Words. I can write tons of things about Supertramp – not about their life, you can find that anywhere else – but about their music, what I like about it, how I feel it. And of course how I disagree with some reviews – which is normal if you’re fan.
Let’s start with Paris. No… let’s start with how I came to this band. My father had many a cassettes with many albums that were normally not accessible in Czechoslovakia in those old days before 1989. Music played a lot in our house and I just listened without realizing what is what – I was like 5? 8? Later I started to like some particular interprets – Mike Oldfield was probably my first favourite one (thanks to Discovery/Crisis tape), swiftly followed by Yes (90125) and finally Supertramp. Here I just loved how Breakfast album started – the opening song (I didn’t know the name for many, many years) being Gone Hollywood.
I just loved the way how it started with the distant piano bursting into falsetto vocals supported by rock solid guitar (not hard, but not soft either) and bass line – and of course their trademark piano. This all ceases after the first minute and we’re getting into something completely different than “verse, refrain, verse, refrain, bridge, solo, refrain, whatever” kind of song you normally know. Saxophone, repetitive piano and TONS of atmosphere. Strings when needed, Rick’s (Davies) voice, with that saxophone being second voice – this all gradating around 2:40-3:10 (check that sax!) and then moving into Roger’s vocals with solo guitar on the background (isn’t that contradictory? :-)) and returning back to the start of the song – just a bit louder.
Don’t get me wrong – Supertramps do normal songs too – just listen to the next one – The Logical Song. I know many people who don’t know about Supertramp, but they almost always know this song (along with It’s Raining Again, Breakfast in America, and then some of them also Dreamer and a few others). So you can just use these to to test yourself – will you like the Supertramp? These two are not maybe the best selection, but it’s hard to do selection of two being “the most typical”. But you have their piano there (electric in the Logical), their so typical saxophone, both voices (Rick and Roger, both authors too) – and you can be sure this is them in their best. Supertramp is somewhere on the edge of art and pop, sometimes clearly in one of these areas – and they are convincing in both of them.
Many years later I realized they are good with guitar too – not that it is their main instrument, but their solos are not out of place at all and supporting guitar is definitely rocky too – sure I don’t mean hard rock. Add organ and go on with listening the third song of Breakfast – Goodbye Stranger. Fast paced with one tone wah-wah based solo – and very fresh. They don’t sound like stuck in 1979, the sound stood the test of time. Sure they don’t sound like 2 Unlimited. Thanks for that. 😉 Next song is the eponymous Breakfast In America. Rhythm of bear walking on two, supported with tuba (yes, that big brum-brum hanging on your neck trumpet), bit of fun, bit of seriousness, just lovely. First side of album (in times of vinyl LPs) is closed by a bit lighter Oh! Darling.
B side starts with just awesome Take the Long Way Home – this is Supertramp in their truly best. Strings, piano, great chords, perfect atmoshphere, harmonica – and especially that dialog of harmonica and clarinet is just perfect. This song has perfect flow, perfectly leans from one side to the other with every subtle change of the harmony on the piano. And the strings before second refrain… after all these years this one is probably my favourite song of the album, chased closely by Gone Hollywood though.
Skipping next three songs we’re getting to the last one – Child Of Vision. Driven by combination of synths and electric piano was originally most interesting for me when I was a child (name coincidence) – Roger’s thin voice (no offense there!) occasionally combined with Rick’s – this all leads us into refrains climbing slowly up. I love the bass here (but not only here) too. And then from the half of the song we’re just closing the album with grand piano solo later supported (again) by saxophone.
Man – what a ride! It’s not like music that leaves you washed-out, but still strong without unnecessary decibels, but still full blown rock.
You can listen to other albums arguing that Fool’s Overture should be mentioned or that later Famous Last Words (not really their last album – but the last one with both main characters because Roger left the party after that one) are too commercial or whatever. I don’t care. Let’s take a look at Paris now – because I just can’t forget that Allmusic gave it just two stars with the whole review being these lines:
“Recorded in the wake of the global success of Breakfast in America, Paris is a competent but ultimately unnecessary live album that fails to live up to the standards of Supertramp’s studio material.”
Well, compare Hide In Your Shell from Paris and Studio album, listen to that atmosphere of the whole recording. Especially fourth side is just brilliant – starting with Long Way Home, through Overture, shortened Two Of Us and culminating in Crime Of the Century. Album Crime Of the Century itself is obviously very important for the band because they enveloped the Paris with the same opening and closing song and except for one from the Crisis, all songs appear on Paris too. And many of them – if you ask me – just are much better live. Maybe School is on the same level in studio, but otherwise the ambient of the crowd and especially their somehow fuller interpretation is just better on the live. Especially that Shell song – it’s so thin on the studio album (not bad, but thinner sound-wise). Heck, even that jet flying over before they start Rudy is just perfect. 🙂
What I love Supertramp for is their atmosphere. Synths on Rudy with clarinet, absolute relax on From Now On (the second half with clapping – and sax again!), moody You Started Laughing and of course all those other songs too. There are some lighter touches just to prepare you for those stronger pieces – and this all finishes with insistent piano in Crime closing section supported by strings going up and up and absolutely soulful saxophone solo. And harmonica.
This is Supertramp. Even when I like other bands more now, I love them no less and every time I listen to them I’m just blown away again and again.