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Supertramp - Crime Of The Century CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

4.31 | 1454 ratings

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4 stars 13/15P.: Grand, definitely grand, precise, innovative and touching in its empathic depiction of madness and isolation. One of the definitive masterpieces and key records of Art Rock, a reference in terms of sound and production and full of superb compositions. Only Rudy dumps the rating a little bit.

Actually Crime of the Century isn't really the third album of the British art rock band Supertramp, but rather their second album. The excellent progressive/folk/blues-rock melange of the band's (cauli-)flower debut album has been produced by a - except for the constant band members Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies - completely different band than the group that recorded the decent blues/soul-orientated Indelibly Stamped record which came out one year later. As the band didn't have any remarkable success with these LPs, they split up in 1973 and came together some months later when they recorded their third album, Crime of the Century with sort of the classic Supertramp line-up including singer Roger Hodgson on guitar and electric piano, singer Rick Davies on Hammond organ and piano, John Helliwell on woodwinds and occasional keyboards, Bob Siebenberg on drums and Douglas Thomson on bass guitar.

The beginning of the album, the intro of School, is probably one of the most memorable album starts that have ever been made: Rick Davies' blues harp plays a great a-capella melody until a softly flanged electric guitar comes in, accompanying Roger Hodgson's high tenor voice which recites yet quite mild instructions to a school-boy, what he has and what he is not allowed to do. Be like Johnny-too-good, well don't you know he never shirks, - hes coming along!. The rhythm guitar stops while menacing feedback sounds of the guitar come along, with the sound of children playing in the background. The next stanza is more upbeat, with lusty bass guitar as well as great percussive electric piano and guitar work while the instructions get more and more authoritarian. Shortly afterwards the guitar, the Wurlitzer and the xylophone commence a quiet fragile jam section with a monotonous shaker rhythm. Slowly the drums creep in again and the next section begins. Here they really rock off, a great acoustic (!) piano by Rick Davies brings in a cheerful mood, the very concise acoustic rhythm guitar by Hogdson is convincing as well. The finale gets really angry: Don't do this and don't do that, what are they trying to do? - make a good boy of you! - Do they know where it's at?, Davies and Hodgson throw angry lines at each other, cleverly using the (fairly new) stereo system in order to acuminate the situation. A fantastic wah wah guitar adds a percussive effect again until the song ends with a stanza sung by Hodgson and the shivering You're coming along. A fantastic and exciting opener, played very exactly and with a differentiated and yet warm sound that I wouldn't have expected in 1974.

The next song, Bloody Well Right is my personal highlight of the record, a musically light and lyrically ironic piece of blues rock. The beginning is played solely with the staccato electric piano by Rick Davies; sometimes the band puts in very exact 'shots'; finally, after 40 seconds Rick Davies starts playing legato when the whole bands, led by Helliwell's saxophone, play an outstanding blues riff that segues into a simple, but highly effective exceptional wah wah guitar solo by Hodgson - again with a perfect fragile electric piano. The first stanza, with Rick Davies' thundering blues voice, has a really fat guitar sound and funky electric piano which is in the background, but can be heard precisely. The refrain heads abruptly into the pop direction with bar piano and jovial vocals. An ace downward-progression with fluttering saxophones - hardly as great as the blues riff in the beginning - begins a heavy bridge with a totally contrasting feathery ride-cymbal rhythm by Bob Siebenberg (who calls himself Bob C. Benberg on this one). The next refrain, with a funny 'quite right' throw-in by John Helliwell, stays on the pop music line and fades out gradually with jazzy saxophone work. I believe that this song is pure perfection, blues rock music as it ought to be, and the sound gets more and more fantastic.

Hide in Your Shell, the longest but one song on the record, is virtually as strong as its predecessor, although its balladesque concept cannot be really compared to the rock in Bloody Well Right. Just like it is the case with every vocal part here, the singer is always the author of the lyrics and often also the composer of the piece; so, this one is by Roger Hodgson, and if you know the music he composed for Supertramp in the following years, this is also obvious: soft vocals, sometimes very odd chord progressions which sound great anyway and the glassy Wurlitzer electric piano. Approximately one minute into the piece, this instrument is sent through the wah wah pedal, and with the eerie multi-tracked vocals and dominant bass guitar this creates a quite threatening sound which fits well to the content of the lyrics: hiding in the own shell, losing contact to other people and getting insane. In the pre-chorus part the backing vocals are pitched down by manipulating the tape speed, and the accurateness of this recording process is admirable, as well as the studio effects that are somehow always in the rhythm of the song. The chorus is lighter again with a nice rhythm acoustic guitar, well-composed sax lines and a musical saw (=the howling sound in the background that I actually believed to be a Theremin synthesizer) that has been played by a street musician. The song goes on that way until after five minutes Hodgson segues the song into the finale with the monotonous "I wanna know"-section with a wry rhythm, later with ultra-fast wood block knocking; quite remarkable in my opinion. The last part, with Hodgson's vocal acrobatics and a female backing choir could be regarded as 'kitschy', but I think that this word doesn't fit in this piece about insaneness. Anyway, I like the song very much.

Asylum is a masterpiece if you try to understand it, but it does need some time to get used to. This piece about madness is by Rick Davies this time and is mainly based on grand piano, some restrained Hammond organ and Davies' heartfelt vocals. I told em - look! - I said I'm not the way you're thinkin', Just when I'm down, I'll be a clown, I'll play the fool. Please don't arrange to have me sent to no asylum. It's just a game I play for fun. A somehow depressing text, and the quite serious music underlines this as well. After two stanzas the first refrain begins, with bombastic choirs and nice Leslie-d guitars. Will he take a sailboat ride? He is very likely to... Will he feel good inside? He ain't ever likely to... Will he tell you he's alive? He is always tryin' to... But nothin', no nothin' does he ever say. Afterwards, Davies and Hodgson start their question-answer-play again, a good contrast between the dramatic song and the soft and light Hodgson-throw-ins, now even with orchestra backing to make the piece even more 'operatic'. Yes, operatic might be the correct word - it's rather more broadwayish than bombastic. The finale drifts completely into madness with Davies' frantic cries, shortly reprising the piano beginning again before ending in silence.

Dreamer is the hit single of the record, again dealing with the topic of mental absence and disease. Mocking, high vocals by Hodgson and his electric piano create a somewhat childish atmosphere, the rhythm is completely made up with guitars and some muted tom toms. After just one and a half minutes the song leads over into a psychedelic and atmospheric part with hypnotic keyboard patterns and precisely coordinated multitracked vocals by Hodgson and some comments by Davies. Near the end a nice rhythm cristallizes itself out of this part, John Helliwell is now to be heard on backing vocals. A short reprise of the first stanza segues into the ending which consists of a strange glockenspiel melody. This is probably one of the best-known songs of Supertramp, but for a normal pop song it is much too complicated; probably the prototype of an art pop piece.

Rudy, the longest piece of the record, starts as one of the typical Davies-pieces with a mixture of chanson, jazz and progressive rock, something which sounds very interesting, but doesn't impress me too much musically although the beginning works well as a story made to music. Still it's the only piece on this record in which my concentration always switches off. Again, the song is very piano-dominated and changes between emotional, chanson-like stanzas which feature some beautiful chord progressions and slow rock music in the choruses. Great is the instrumental part in the middle of the piece which begins with piano, good clarinet work by Helliwell and train station sounds to lay stress on the situation of the lyrics: Rudy seems not to be cared for by anyone and is now sitting on the train just to win time. Rudy thought that all good things comes to those that wait, but recently he could see that it may come too late.. Happiness isn't the topic of this record, but the melancholic and thoughtful mood of the songs is probably its recipe for the success, just like Dark Side of the Moon which is rather similar to Crime. Gradually, some Papa Was A Rolling Stone-funk-guitars add texture and a hectic rhythm to the music when suddenly furious orchestra melodys swirl out of the speakers. Hodgson and Davies now throw vocal lines at each other until an ascending interlude leads over into the wishful ending with soft piano, sounds from a city and vocals. Now hes just come out the movie. Numb of all the pain, sad but in a while hell soon be back on his train. Moving from the lyrical point of view, but musically slightly 'over the top'.

If Everyone Was Listening has - just like School, the two previous songs and Just A Normal Day - been composed and played live and on BBC in 1972, interestingly with the old Supertramp featuring Frank Farrell, David Winthrop and Kevin Curry. Unfortunately, these records have never been published officially, as well as approximately 31 other demo songs that have been recorded for the album in 1973/1974. This piece in any case is one of the Hodgson ballads, and an extremely nice one with wonderful chord progressions on the piano, some beautiful clarinet interludes, tasty orchestral arrangements and Hodgsons emotional lead and backing vocals which has been possible due to the overdubbing technics. The ride cymbal rhythm that can be heard at the beginning of every stanza always stops again after one verse, which makes it a difficult listen. It needs more than twenty listens to get used to it, but I cannot really guess why it appears. Whatever ... the piece itself is wonderful and doesn't lack any substance, even though it is shorter and more minimalistic than the other tracks here.

The title track Crime of the Century is another Rick Davies piece which begins rather commonly with piano, vocals, some drums and Hammond organ. The chorus, with shouted vocals and a fat rhythm is quite heavy for the means of Supertramp, and after another stanza and a great guitar solo the big crescendo of the song begins: an arrhythmic out-of-the-place piano melody sounds, later accompanied by odd timpani beats which become a rhythm, the orchestra adds texture to and around the music, the band gets louder and more dynamic. This fooling around with a rhythm would later be repeated in From Now On in which the riff gets completely dislocated in the end. Over the minutes the band creates an enormous tension until a kind of finale is reached when Helliwell puts down a touching sax solo. Gorgeous, just like the lyrics: Who are these men of lust, greed, and glory? Rip off the masks and let's see. But that's no right - oh no, what's the story? Well, there's you and there's me, Davies sings in the beginning.

All in all, this album is a masterpiece - even if only by a hairbreadth: the longest piece on the album is slightly boring at some places (Rudy), but apart from that: excellent music, excellent lyrics, excellent sound, excellent production (yes!) and excellent atmosphere. The band has been critized for this perfection because it reportedly sounds too sterile and mechanic, but - although I know this phenomenon of Gentle Giant studio albums - I can't agree with that since beyond this perfection there is also a lot of emotion which propelled the record, and the sound is very warm and "analogue" as well. So, 13/15 points from my side for an outstanding record that everyone interested in rock music should own: a really good 4 star rating overall, although 5 stars would be justifiable as well.

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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