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Supertramp - Crime Of The Century CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

4.31 | 1454 ratings

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5 stars Crime of the Century is a rare album in my collection, rare in the sense that it is only one (out of a couple of thousand) that I did not buy myself or have bought on my behalf with my prior knowledge. It was given to me by someone who just thought I might like it, without knowing whether I liked Supertramp or even if I wanted it and if they had asked beforehand, I would have probably said no on both counts. It was 1974, I was 17 and I was like that then. To say I looked perplexed would just about sum up the embarrassing wordless moment as I tore the gift-wrap from album and stared at the sleeve. What? A pop record? They even had a single in the charts, Dreamer, right? .Crestfallen is another word. The giver looked upset, the receiver smiled unconvincingly; there was mumbling, more embarrassment, averted eyes, another uncomfortable smile and a polite, mumbled 'thank you'.

It wasn't even my birthday.

Later, at home, I fell in love at the precise moment the stylus hit the groove, life is like that at times, rare, special times. That plaintive harmonica wail, like a warning in the fog; a shiver down my spine as the real music begins: a Wurlitzer piano, a subtle clarinet, a guitar, some children in a playground - a girl screams as the rhythm section enters and now it's popping, is that a chorus? Then slow again, haunting, taunting. I had left school the year before, was it like that? 'Yeah, right, you're bloody well right'. Too late, I was sucked in, suckered in, engrossed and enthralled, headphones on, lyric sheet in hand. This was Dark Side of the Moon part 2, and this time it was personal.

Hide In Your Shell? Don't we all? But this was different, not introspective, it's reaching out a friendly hand; 'if I can help you just let me know.' and the lyrics are reaching out with the music as the tempo builds - 'Love me, love you, loving is the way to help me, help you.' (There was a click deep within my brain at that moment, not that I needed help, but. a gift and it wasn't my birthday. d'oh!) '.Oh we're such damn fools', but now you come to mention it, 'don't arrange to have me sent to no Asylum. I'm just as sane as anyone', it's true, don't get mad, just get even. This one builds and grows, slow-fast, soft-hard, another poignant mini-epic: strings, tubular bells, acoustic piano, saxophone, guitar, the kitchen sink. The side ends. Emotionally exhausted.

Side two and a sharp intake of breath: Dreamer doesn't seem so poppish now, in context, where it belongs, it's just an observation, a comment, not a game of Simon Says 'Well, can you put your hands on your head, oh no!' There's a depth, the electric piano has a crunch that doesn't come across on the radio, and the helium vocals don't seem so high after all, the chukka- wah guitar not so funk as funky, 'far out, what a day, a year, a life it's been'. Far out indeed. Then there are some call and response vocals that blend into harmony over the insistent thrum of the bass as it kicks life into the final chorus that crescendos to a grand (piano) finale. Another epic, in just over three minutes, a micro-epic if you will and still a radio-friendly song that here is a preamble to the centre point of the album: and 'Rudy's on a train to nowhere, halfway on down the line'. The conceptual concept amid a sea of other concepts: alienation, depression, isolation, anger, a life lacking direction heads towards the big city. (Did I mention this is a concept album? I did not and it probably isn't, but it can be if you wish, so it probably is if you want it to be. I do). Paddington station. The realisation that Rudy's running away. but no not to 'cardboard city' of the destitute under Waterloo Bridge, only to the cinema - celluloid escapism perhaps, but possibly just time to brood and reflect. 'Sad but in a while he'll soon be back on his train'. And home.

If Everyone Was Listening arrives like an monologue, a Shakespearian aside to the audience in stage-whisper - it's okay, it's only a story; however it's also a plea for the show to go on, for the story to finish. 'Who'll be the last clown to bring the house down?' But is this the narrative, the story within the story, the concept within the non-existent concept or is this real life as a play, all the world is a stage and Rudy merely a player? And if so, then he's only on Act II, a long way from the final scene, but when you're Rudy's age...

'And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school.' (Shakespeare - As You Like It)

At the end of this record Supertramp sang of planning the Crime of the Century ('well what will it be?'), the crime was that they were to become more famous, richer and more popular, but never to be as innovative, never to touch upon the musical alchemy of the philosopher's stone that would blend the perfect proportions of progressive rock and popular music again. It is not even greater than the sum of the parts - it is the total sum of the parts, it is the precise summation that makes this a complete whole: every instrument, every note, every beat; every word, sentence and phrase exactly in the right place at the right time that makes this work - communicating and harmonising, counterpoint and balance. They had the ingredients before and after, but the cake would never be the same: either too sweet or too dry, the wrong flavourings or too much icing all spoilt the end products. But not here, because Crime of the Century was transitional, a way-station on route from progressive rock to radio-friendly pop, created at the precise conjunction of the two styles so that it was simply a product of the journey. Perhaps just maybe all great crossover albums are like that and eventhough Crime may not be the essential masterpiece of progressive music it is, without a shadow of doubt, the essential masterpiece of crossover prog. An unreserved 5-stars.

Dean | 5/5 |


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