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Supertramp - Crime Of The Century CD (album) cover

CRIME OF THE CENTURY

Supertramp

 

Crossover Prog

4.34 | 1031 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
5 stars Full disclosure right off the bat– I totally love this album. I’ve read more reviews on Crime of the Century than I can count, and won’t even attempt to navigate through the mire of the argument as to whether Supertramp is a progressive band or not (don’t really care). I will say that the internet is littered with stories of folks who obsessed on this album, scored their first conquest, had an epiphany while listening to it, or otherwise claimed a life-changing experience as a result of hearing these songs. I won’t go that far.

But I will say that I would trade any of the five-star rated albums on these archives for Crime of the Century without batting an eyelash, including those I have previously rated among my favorites. It’s that good.

Some have said that Roger Hodgson copped Pink Floyd for much of the theme of this album, which is largely a loosely-themed album about insecurity and mental illness. Well, maybe - but this theme certainly found its way into the Floyd repertoire much later with The Wall, so who’s to say which band influenced which. I myself am working a theory that not all of what became the theatrical experience we know as Fish came solely from Peter Gabriel. Seriously, do the math – Fish was sixteen years old when this album released, nearly a decade before Script for a Jester’s Tear. It’s almost inconceivable that he didn’t hear it, or even own it. Like Hodgson, Fish began writing songs at a rather early age, and many of them are about very personal topics like addiction, anxiety, and social detachment. Fish has a penchant for adding spoken word and poetic passages to his music, something that Supertramp was well known for. And I personally can’t listen to the rhythm of “School” without inevitably calling up “He Knows, You Know” in the back of my mind – don’t know why, it just is.

Anyway, that’s probably just me.

Regardless, this is an album that a few have panned as dull, simple, unimaginative. But they are the very few. By and large most who have heard it readily acknowledge that there is something about it (probably many somethings) that just grab the listener in a very personal way. Part of it is the very intimate way that Hodgson and Rick Davies share the stories of marginalized youth, desultory and addled old men, and social outcasts as openly as if they were singing about puppy love. Part is the liberal use of minor chords in the complimentary (but not dominating) guitar work. And part is the ear- grabbing electric piano and keyboards Davies and Hodgson use to simple but stunning effect throughout. But mostly it’s just the combined effect of all of these on the overall musical experience.

The opening harmonica of “School” sets a surreal mood that the listener can’t help but be drawn into. Hodgson’s voice, the same one that would crank out the interminable Breakfast in America pop mega-hits just a few years later, is hypnotic and at the same time engaging here. Bowie tried to achieve this level of connection with the disaffected youth of this same generation with “Changes” and “Young Americans”, but not anywhere close to this convincingly. You can’t help but shout out “damn right!” once and a while during this song. The piano solo may not be a complex arrangement, but it’ll raise the hair on the back of your neck –- every time. Some intense guitar riffs toward the end are very uncharacteristic of Supertramp, but really help to establish a mood of discord and anxiety, which is what this song is all about. We didn’t all glide through the grammar years singing school fight songs and dancing in the gym, and “School” lets us know we were not alone.

Some more light and funky piano, accented with Davies’ organ-like keyboards to kick off the well-known “Bloody Well Right”. This was the b-side to the UK hit “Dreamer”, and it became a hit single in its own right in the US. Davies’ deeper tenor voice over the top of the leading guitar almost has the sound of some of the seventies redneck staples like Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” or “What’s Your Name”, but John Helliwell’s jazzy saxophone kicks in quickly enough to dispatch that comparison. This is the ‘go lay down by your dish’ song, catchy music but biting lyrics about social stigma and fleeting promises of a bright future, almost as if Hodgson were describing the departure of the guy in “School” out into the cold, hard world. Like I said, there’s a theme here, albeit a rather loose one.

“Hide in Your Shell” is one of the darker songs on the album, and the emergence of the inner voices in our little demented protagonist. This is “Empty Spaces”, “One of My Turns”, and “Goodbye Cruel World” all rolled into one:

“Hold yourself down, hold yourself down - why do you hold yourself down?

Why don't you listen - you can trust me.

There's a place I know the way to - a place there is need to feel, you feel that you're alone.

Hear me - I know exactly what you're feelin', ‘cause all your troubles are within you.

Please begin to see that I'm just bleeding too. Love me, love you, loving is the way to help me help you –

Why must we be so cool, oh so cool? Oh, we're such damn fools…”

Wow - nothing wrong with this guy!

The next logical stage is “Asylum”, a quiet, brooding piano work where that chameleon Davies actually manages to give a passing resemblance to Billy Joel ala ‘Piano Man’. A few twangy guitar licks and drum rolls here and there, but this is pretty much the man and his keys rambling on about his tenuous grip on reality, fully accompanied by deranged cries and mangled notes scattered about. I don’t know where the violins came from – either from Hodgson’s keyboards, or I’m hearing things myself. Creepy!

Then it’s on to “Dreamer”, the peppiest rant about madness you’re likely to ever listen to. By now the voices in his head are not only shouting, they’re rhyming and harmonizing as well. This was the American hit single, which goes to show that the theme part of this album was largely lost on the listening public some thirty-two years ago. We’re back to Hodgson’s singing here for some reason, probably because he sounds even crazier than Davies. Something about an alto male voice with a British accent – it’s like a recipe for foaming-mouth bat-sh!t crazy ramblings. But at least the pulsating keyboards and funky bass keep things moving along swimmingly.

A comment here – I’ve read that the live version of this album is really a moving stage production, accompanied by animated cartoons on a backdrop screen, haphazard use of old movie clips and stills, and even seemingly choreographed movements of the players. Hmmm, where have we seen that – before and since?

“Rudy” is the pinnacle of this album, no question, or the abyss if you happen to be Rudy, I suppose. Very somber piano and minor, depressing guitar chords set a nostalgic and brooding mood for the now man-child who’s wandering the city by train and seeking some sort of, I don’t know what – take your pick of emotional words: deliverance, redemption, or just plain release. The music here would make for some funky jazz if the topic were just a bit less pitiful. This almost borders on some of the earlier Chicago sounds, although certainly not as expansive. Again more background theatrics in the form of crowd noises, engines, and those damn violins again (who’s doing that anyway?!).

“If Everyone Was Listening” is short, and signals the nearing end. Another sad tune that plays like the closing lines to a morbid musical – “oh no, please no – don’t let the curtain fall”!

So what is the “Crime of the Century”? I don’t know, haven’t figured it out even with thirty-two years of listening to this classic. Maybe you can:

“Now they're planning the crime of the century - well what will it be?

Read all about their schemes and adventuring, it's well worth a fee.

So roll up and see, and they rape the universe, how they've gone from bad to worse.

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?

There's you and there's me - That can't be right.”

……………

Five stars.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 5/5 |

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