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Supertramp - Crime Of The Century CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

4.31 | 1521 ratings

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5 stars There are bands who have that one (or maybe a couple) incredible masterpiece that attains classic status to go with a solid and sumptuous back catalogue. Pink Floyd is a classic example of a band with multiple classics. King Crimson is another that delivered on more than one album. On the other hand, you have the likes of Supertramp who got it together on one album and hit the bigtime and...that's it! I am not sure how strongly I would recommend their other albums but Crime of the Century is a bonafide rock classic and especially should belong in the collection of those who love 70s prog and/or art rock. It is not always prog 101, but at times is and is generally a gripping masterwork.

In some ways, on Crime of the Century, Supertramp anticipate the direction of rock music in the 80s and onwards. They have that 'big' sound already; just substitute gated drums and you'd be there. The lazy, noodly flavour that say Led Zeppelin were known over and which can be observed in a lot of 70s prog is also absent in their music, which is generally very tightly arranged with barely an extra note. Most striking, though, is the absence of a particularly striking compositional style or gambit that you could pinpoint as uniquely Supertramp. While yet the music does not really sound derivative or generic. It, at least to my ears, sounds distinctive and fresh. Beatles or The Who could be identified by some favoured motifs and likewise Genesis and Yes also have some compositional traits that give them away. I cannot pick up something so striking in Supertramp's music. There are one or two aspects that can be observed consistently that I will come to, but the music is largely influenced by Pink Floyd, Beatles and The Who and doesn't step out of their shadow much. This is a trend one finds with later bands more and more; a distinctive sound without necessarily a distinct compositional idiom.

But they have also learned their lessons well from especially Pink Floyd. The studio album format is languishing today as artists attempt to fill disc space with their favourite licks, their favourite styles. Supertramp grasped what Waters and Co seemed to have even earlier: that a studio rock album must have something to say, musically and, if possible, lyrically, if it is to offer a fresh experience to the listener. That is what makes Crime of the Century an engrossing experience. It is just such a focused and intense effort of studiocraft that it commands your attention for at least that reason. It also helps that it is superbly produced, certainly one of the better rock productions of the 70s.

One aspect, though, where they trumped even Waters is in understanding their demographic. They understood that rock's biggest audience is youth and their chosen themes reflect careful attention to topics that would interest youngsters. At the same time, they avoid the tendency of 70s Rush to get a bit gee-whiz and somewhat older audiences may also find something to like in the album. Songs like School, Hide in Your Shell among others found and still find an eager audience in college goers and young adults. Roger Waters, of course, implemented all of this on a grand scale with The Wall, an album which to date never fails to draw in young audiences. I cannot really say if it was very intentional or just a fluke as Supertramp followed their heart. But they certainly hit the bulls eye here and the canny Waters eventually cottoned onto it.

Supertramp are also a little more sympathetic in their approach, if I might put it that way. The concept here as such is very loose and never overpowers the music. Each song is also capable of being enjoyed on its own steam and not necessarily in running order of the album. Davies and Hodgson's contrasting influences, vocal styles as well as different lead instruments (keyboard and guitar respectively) makes for a lot of variety. Davies and Hodgson's compositions are bound together because both have a knack for writing good pop and there is no let up in the focus and catchiness of the music irrespective of which of the two is dominating the proceedings.

Davies has a big, gruff tone but is kind of bland. By himself, he might struggle to hold one's attention for an entire album. Hodgson is (very) high pitched and much more expressive but can get a bit grating at times. In tandem, they are a superb vocal duo, not the best of singers in their individual right, but a very effective combination.

Supertramp's music sort of reflects the contrast between Davies and Hodgson. Their mastery of contrast defines the album and accounts for its emotional power. This is particularly noticeable on Asylum but also very effectively used in Rudy. Davies and Hodgson also pace the music impeccably. In spite of the fact that barring one section in Rudy, the album hardly has a really rocking moment, the music somehow never feels plodding or stodgy. Throughout, it is a gripping experience and plenty of drama and tension is beautifully balanced out with Supertramp's mastery of light and shade.

And with that I come to the one compositional gambit that Supertramp can be recognized by and are arguably notorious for. The loopy coda. The title track closes with a hypnotic set of piano repeating over and over, with slight variations and giving way to some tearing saxophone. It is so effectively executed here that it sends shivers down my spine. But it is obviously a rather limited trait to define the entire output of a band and Supertramp would struggle to match the quality of this release in subsequent releases.

In summary, then, perhaps the only essential Supertramp album for a general collection though others have their stellar moments for the fans. But one that really does belong in a 70s rock collection.

rogerthat | 5/5 |


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