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Supertramp - Indelibly Stamped CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

2.64 | 221 ratings

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4 stars 11/15P. A perfectly well-crafted and eclectic album of art pop music - nowhere near as dull as most critics call it. The ingredients are simple, but thanks to a good sense of melody and arrangement the whole thing becomes really tasty after all.

After having finished a (now forgotten) film soundtrack and their musically independent and critically acclaimed debut album, the first line-up of Supertramp disbanded. The only further relic composed in those days was the mediocre song Gold Rush which ended up on the Slow Motion record. With a new drummer, an additional wind player, a new bass guitarist and Roger Hodgson switching from bass guitar to regular guitar the band conceived their second album in 1971. In 1972 this line-up also composed and debuted some of the classic songs of Crime of the Century and Crisis? What Crisis? for the BBC, such as School and If Everyone Was Listening.

This explains why some of the material on Indelibly Stamped sounds that much like the later Supertramp songs. However little many critics enjoy this album, especially those from the prog realms: this album shows the roots of what was to come later. And you don't only get the roots - at some places the stuff really starts to bloom and shine.

Your Poppa Don't Mind with its rolling electric piano licks begins the album in a similar fashion to Rocks Off on Exile on Main Street. Listeners who knew the band from their sophisticated debut album might have been surprised, but in retrospect R&B and soul always were the basis on which Rick Davies created his music, in a way. Many rock'n'roll or boogie pieces are pretty meaningless and stay safely on the well-known Carol pattern - or whichever piece you may associate with these genre. But the chorus of this song is simply awesome: harmonically it's pretty basic, but the rhythm is effortlessly tricky and the melody - including Rick Davies' slightly bored delivery - totally catchy. A tinkling Wurlitzer solo to swinging walking bass lines is the icing on the cake - and the chorus even provides enough substance for a short electric guitar lead-out after the solo. I totally like this song!

The introspective ballad Travelled, written by Rodger Hodgson, is a completely different affair and gives you a clue how the black-and-white album cover with the tattooed and tough nude lady misled many potential album buyers. The song begins quietly with gentle but restless acoustic guitar picking and a huge and deep two-part flute arrangement. Roder Hodgson takes over with his lamenting vocals and leads the song into an - as you might put it - aggressively happy part with biting vocals and an endlessly cumulating coda of multi-tracked vocals and an improvising saxophone. I don't know and don't care if this is an expression of euphoria or of anger - it's emotionally resonant without doubt. The repetitive coda, however, might have been a bit shorter and the acoustic beginning a bit longer.

Rosie Had Everything Planned, on its surface, is a romantic pop waltz somewhere between a French chanson and a folk song. The lyrics, sophisticatedly looking into the life of a woman who murdered her putatively deceitful husband, are a completely different take on a love song (it is a love song, after all!), raise quite a lot of empathy for both persons and give the ballad a somber background. Frank Farrell is on accordion, Rick Davies contributes a classicistic and sparkling piano backing and Roger Hodgson gives a heartfelt vocal performance which I appreciate a lot.

Remember itself is a brute piece of blues rock with ferocious lead vocals by Rick Davies, a mighty saxophone riff by Dave Winthrop (think Bloody Well Right) and lots of solos on the harmonica, the saxophone and the piano. Again I don't miss the delicacy which Supertramp implanted into their heavier songs in the mid-1970s, simply because the melodies are that great. Listen to the so every way you go, you go alone part with the dual lead vocals by Hodgson and Davies. Still I'm a bit ambivalent about the purpose of the overdubbed crowd noises which, as I read somewhere, were taken from some 1964ish Beatles live concerts. It's a funny idea to emulate a rough live atmosphere, but this sounds a tad too artifical in my opinion. Rick Davies once complained that the shows which accompanied Indelibly Stamped were genuine rock'n'roll concerts in small venues which mostly ended in a complete mess. Although I really believe that the live shows around that time weren't their best ones, I'm astonished what a unique and recklessly savage album this group accomplished. Usually I don't like retro albums like these, including jazz ballads and boogie woogie and all that kind of stuff, but Indelibly Stamped is of a piece and amazingly consistent in its inconsistency.

Forever, the first song which displays Davies' staccato electric piano playing and totally sounds like a later Supertramp number, is a R&B ballad in 6/8 measure in the vein of Oh Darling - both the Beatles and the Supertramp ones. Great saxophone work, a lengthy and ever-growing chorus and a superb rhythm section. Nothing more to say about it, actually.

Rick Davies' eccentric Coming Home To See You is another of these intelligent cuts. The first part, performed entirely by Davies on keyboards (predominantly a tacky but chiming piano) and vocals, is an incredibly atmospheric piece of music - thoughtful and intense despite the sarcastic and tongue-in-cheeck lyrics which are what a lover tells his girlfriend about her and her family. The second part which starts after the lover announces his upcoming visit is, after some busy verses, an unexpectedly rapid duel between Davies' Hammond organ and a harmonica on top of a quick groove of drums, percussion and bass guitar.

Times Have Changed is reminiscent of both The Band and A Salty Dog-era Procol Harum due to the maritime lyrics, but in fact it's the second piece which - with a smoother production - wouldn't be out of place on any of the following albums. Don't get me wrong, the production is totally brilliant, but especially Kevin Currie's drums have a rootsy Levon Helm punch which Bob Siebenberg later replaced with a more elaborate styling. Times Have Changed, however, is a stirring mid-tempo ballad with a plaintive chorus (sung by Davies) backed by a clean bluesy electric guitar and a low-key saxophone drone. The 12-bar bridge again makes good use of the dual Hodgson-Davies lead vocals and makes up the dramatic peak of the piece. A spine-tingling song and perhaps my favorite one off the album.

The heavy blues pop number Potter and the ragtime-like Friend in Need are two brief pieces I could also live without, although they really do not hurt in the context of such an eclectic album. Friend in Need even features a tuneful and really decent instrumental part which actually takes most of the two minutes and benefits from competent saxophone playing and the swinging honky-tonk piano; the few verses, however, aren't really convincing and only work as a jaunty gap between the more serious compositions. Potter riffs along aimlessly - except for the pretty enjoyable up-beat part which should be the chorus, but Dave Winthrop is by far more convincing as a flautist than as a singer.

When before having bought this album I read that Aries was an extended jam for acoustic guitar, flute and bongos I expected one of those typical late-60s hippie work-outs which drift through time without direction. It could well have been one of those pieces, but the band doesn't indulge in pseudo-spiritual rambling but really cook and drive the matter on. The percussion rattles and knocks all the way through, Roger Hodgson's bluesy and haunted vocals are meaningful and honest while the interplay of electric piano and flute is stellar. After some minutes things become a little bit more free-form, but they never lose track at all. This line-up played really tight, had a perfect timing and featured two great improvisers. It's hard to understand why no-one actually noticed this album in 1971 - it even comprised possible hit singles! 'Let's get the hot thing cookin', Hodgson mumbles into the microphone in the beginning - I always have to smile when I hear that. Frank Farrell is also credited with playing the acoustic and electric piano somewhere on the album. This could be a piece in which his keyboard duties could be found at some place.

When you get this album don't hope for the operatic and sound-effect-laden sound of Crime of the Century. Some reviewers argue that songs like Aries or Travelled sound like progressive rock, but I don't think that's true. Indelibly Stamped is genuine art pop, mostly closer to R&B than to folk or jazz, but this shall not keep you from buying it - many different genres are touched and sometimes mixed, but it all comes together in the British melancholia which shapes and defines the compositions. In spite of some fillers and odd moments Indelibly Stamped shall be highly recommended for open-minded prog listeners who also enjoy more 'immediate' music.

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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