Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Supertramp - Crime of the Century

In 1938, eighty years ago, W. H. Davies published The Autobiography of a Supertramp, which chronicled the lives of hoboes in late 19th century Canada, America and the U.K. That little tidbit alone is a talking point in my book: finally knowing where Supertramp got its name. But there's more. Did you know that before Supertramp, the band was known as Daddy? Possibly the worst band name in the history of band names! 

In 1969, after an unsuccessful stint in a band called The Joint, Rick Davies joined with Rodger Hodgson to form Supertramp. Initially the band would take the plunge into that pool of progressives spearheaded by Yes, The Move and King Crimson, but after two relatively unsuccessful LPs, despite the marketing by major label A&M, Supertramp quickly changed gears.

If J.R.R. Tolkein or George R.R. Martin wrote music you'd find something like ELP or Yes; Bukowski would be Patti Smith or Tom Waits; and Bowie would be Orwell or Huxley. Not fitting well into the progressive mold, Supertramp found themselves the sole artists with a kind of vaudevillian bent, if Tom Waits were cheerful or if Sting had come along a little sooner. While Supertramp and Indelibly Stamped were tedious progressive efforts, Supertramp revamped their sound with the stylish and unique sound found on Crime of the Century.

Crime of the Century (AM8)
Artist: Supertramp
Released: 1974
Label: A&M
Producer: Ken Scott, Supertramp
Length: 44:05
Best Tracks: "School" (particularly the children in the playground and the scream), "Crime Of The Century"
TRACKS: 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"


Concept, hardly; at least not according to Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, but many insist - so here it is: Rudy, a student who grows so mad at the system and the fact that no one seeks to change it, hides in a solitary mental shell ultimately ending up in a mental asylum. Side two: he gets out, eventually going with the flow, distraught that he too was merely a part of the problem, the solution no further but no closer either.  I like it; pretty vague, but a workable tidbit if nothing else. I'm not one to quell the conversation.

Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies as usual share songwriting and lead vocal duties.  Although, like Lennon/McCartney, songs were credited to both partners, it is obvious the role of each. Hodgson's songs are melancholy, wistful tunes, while Davies' a bit more upbeat with a touch of offbeat humor.  Their voices as well distinguish each song with Hodgson's having a sad, despairing quality.  "Rudy" features them both in contrast.

The instrumentation Supertramp adopted is unusual for any rock band with piano and organ winning out over synths or the Fairlight, popular in the day. "Dreamer is a prime example of their distinctive electric piano lilt.  Both "School" and "Bloody Well Right" feature an aggressive rock sound that interplays with strings, and as usual we're treated to a musicality usually reserved for vaudeville, including oboe, trumpet, sax and the ever-present clarinet.  "Hide in Your Shell" even touches upon Appalachia in its use of the saw.

From the blazing opening harmonica (and the children and the scream) to the final, beautiful instrumental, Supertramp's Crime of the Century is a majestic, maddeningly dark pastiche of human emotion.

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