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Supertramp - Free As A Bird CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

1.85 | 196 ratings

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2 stars I remember well. When Roger Hodgson made his farewell with Supertramp, during that memorable show in Munich that was aired on TV - and I had been a lucky "Live"-viewer of that one, which sadly was to be only released officially in parts on VHS/DVD later on "The Story so far" - he told the audience to not be sad, cause "in the future there'll be two Supertramp of similar quality, one as good as the other". Concerning their first two albums ( at least ), it proved to be a prophecy fulfilled, but while we still were happy with the pair of "In the Eye of the Storm" and "Brother were you bound", we could not be any more with "Hai Hai" and "Free as a Bird". "As good as the other" can also mean "as disappointing as the other", ain't that so ? Worse to that... what followed was that the both of them should disappear for quite a long time until there was any new material to be heard... and that's what made sadness win over, finally.

We had a long time to get used to ( and discover the qualities of ) "Free as a Bird", that was no less but a disgusting disappointment after "BWYB"... and many of us have given up on it. I remember my first encounter with that album... it was in a little record-store in Freiburg 1987, I was so curious about it I had to have a listen. And I barely made it through the first side of the LP then, telling one of the lads there that "Supertramp are lucky that I am NOT a music-critic". He looked at me kinda strange and asked "why ?" I said: "concerning the first half of this record, it contains not a single song that I'd name a remarkable one, it's so free of any excitement I don't wanna hear the second side now, so I'd give them the review they deserve !"

Now, here we go, so many years later I'm finally sitting at home and typing down these words for you to be read... and today I have to say: "They're lucky that I am a fan !", because this review, after all, isn't meant to be as harsh as my very first impression would have made it. Not only have I heard the "second side" in the meantime, I really gave it quite some spins. And I have - Roop's going to confession lol - bought this album twice on CD, first the regular, second the remaster-edition, Something that I never would have imagined to do even at the time I had bought it for the first time.

Did I need to have the remaster ? Honestly, no. The first one would have been enough. But I had lost it, don't ask me how. It somehow disappeared from my collection ridiculously and, after a while, I started missing it. So when the remaster was available at a pretty good price ( in another little record-store in Freiburg, that coincidentally would have been very near to that certain old one I've been talking about, one that since many years had ceased to exist ) I took the chance and filled the gap. Why ? Well, it's still a disappointment, but it finally turned out to have its moments. And, of course, I have changed a bit in the meantime, grown older if not wiser, accepting ( even enjoying ) certain kinds of emotion that, being a young stud, were absolutely unattractive then.

I started to do so with the likes of Supertramp, at least, because I am really a fan. I started to treasure "Famous last words" ( a lot ) that, in 1983, was no worthy follow-up for "Breakfast in America" to me at all ( making me think of Roger Hodgson's decision to leave as a good idea from which both camps would benefit first ), and I finally came to terms with "Free as a Bird", that, in parts, is really not that bad. But can I treasure it the same way ?

By no means. I still understand myself the way I thought in 1987. Although I pleasantly chant along to the lines of "It's alright" these days, as an elder male single who certainly came to appreciate the advantages of a one night love affair and how to have a go on it, and, even more so, can fully understand the contents of the title-track ( see, there has to be a reason why I AM an elder single male ), making it a joyous, encouraging little gem for me.

The rest of that "first side", namely tracks 2 to 4, didn't grow on me in any way. They are still as dull and boring as they were when I first heard them. They are of no merit at all, absolutely forgettable, with Mark Hart's voice delivering the ultimate low on "Where I stand". This voice does not belong in the foreground. It seems to deliver only one emotion, possess only one colour, and for me... both of them are kind of a schoolboy who was allowed to do some singing and therefore desperately tries to avoid any significance or personality in sound. "It must sound nice, I am not allowed to hit a bum note, or else I get thrown out of the choir". And that's the point: In a choir... no problem, but as a lead... OMG ! Upright but pale and, with a song as unremarkable as this, made to fail even in a schoolband. I don't want to be offensive, but listening to this does almost make me hear the voice of an imagined schoolmate saying:

" Funtime ! Get your tomatoes ready, friends, our favourite victim, seriously wanting to be applauded to as an artist, just entered the stage again ! What a perfect occasion of showing him he's only a wannabe !". I'd even like to save that victim from this experience out of sympathy, but listen to him doing his Perry Como-imitation without having half the voice to do so... no, I wouldn't, either. To his relief: Mark is a decent guitar- and keyboard-player, though, one who never ever stroke my ear in a negative way with Crowded House !

But "It's alright" and "Free as a Bird", in spite of featuring all those dated 80's synth-sounds, that's good pop-music.

And we have "side 2" of the album that, in the end and after all these years, even makes it preferable to Roger's "Hai Hai" for me, although... well... "I'm beggin' you" can only be positively recognised when you're in the mood for fun already. If not, it doesn't deliver any. It's a bit too poor a composition to do so. And somehow not to be taken seriously at all, not even as an attempt at writing a "Hit-Single". As a record company exec me myself I would have cringed instead of giving it a go as such, but the record company execs must have been very desperate by then... "Which one for radio ? One as good or bad as the other, let's take this !" Failure... but somehow it's funny, really, you just have to be in the right mood and then use it as a teaser.

"You never can tell with friends", afterwards, is one of the best tracks on the album. It's not at all that far away from the likes of "Not the moment", but it delivers a far better melody and is really a good one for getting yourself into a fun-mood. So perhaps you should listen to it BEFORE "I'm beggin' you", it might make a difference. The most outstanding one is yet to follow, though.

What can I say about "Thing for you" ? It's a slow burner. It seems so simple, almost primitive at first, but once it's got you... it's really the hell of a fun-time-popsong, and John Helliwell's playing is supposed to make you laugh out loud for pleasure, underlining the delicate tongue-in-cheek ambiguity of the lyric. And it's got an irresistible groove. It's close to being as good ( or disgusting, if you, as a severe prog-lover, perhaps like ) as "Breakfast in America" and somehow a pleasant hint at Roger Hodgson's sing-along-tunes. What, if you haven't noticed yet, may increase the chance for you to share my view was: Have a try and play it straight afterward "Take the long way home", which is a better song, of course, but has a similar feel and groove to it, and it'll make you wonder. Fine one.

The album ends with the only track that can be mentioned as "prog-related" at least. but again... all those programmed, artificial 80s synth-sounds that augment the great piano-playing ( for once on this record: You can really hear it's RICK ! ) can make you turn your back onto "An awful thing to waste". They can be torture, while the song itself is quite a good one. In terms of composition it may even be the best one here, but it's still outshone by the pleasure of "Thing for you". I still wonder if the lyrics are somewhat aimed at Roger Hodgson. If they were... well, Roger may cringe and not get the message right lol... but it wouldn't make me wonder. On the other hand, that's art, it may also be a genuine fictional story with even its narrator being made up for fun. But, hell, this sounds serious still, even annoying with its repeated saying: "You are a silly boy, you'll never get too far" while the leading voice claims that "We all want to applaud you". Or does Rick talk to "Rudy" here, while "the other voice" is what "he's" hearing in his mind ? Everything is possible.

But it's impossible for me to give this bare, personal 3 star-album any other than a 2-star rating on this site.

Would I buy it for a third time ? Well, let me think about it. I'm free as a bird, you know ?

rupert | 2/5 |


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