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Supertramp - Breakfast In America CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.95 | 713 ratings

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4 stars One of the many things I love about the privilege of being a prog reviewer on this website is that it has caused me to go back and re-evaluate albums that for one reason or another I chose to dismiss. A lot of it had to do with my being an effete musical snob in my younger days when any genre that I wasn't into at the time I deemed to be inferior. It took me a while but I finally grew out of that. In the case of this LP that unbecoming character flaw was a factor but, as I listen to it now with fresh ears, I think I chose to ignore it because I was jealous of the record's huge success and, on a subliminal level, the sharply pointed lyrics were striking pretty close to home. (To what I thought I wanted, that is). In 1979 I was a struggling musician from Texas working at a Platterpuss record store in Redondo Beach, CA to make ends meet while I fought the good fight to try and land a recording contract for my band. I think I secretly resented any group or artist who achieved their goals and this was the biggest thing going at the time so I wrote it off as commercial pandering and did my best to avoid really hearing its quality. Turns out I was only cutting off my nose to spite my face. This is a great piece of work, y'all.

"Breakfast in America" was their 4th album in succession with the same lineup so by then they had become a smooth machine in the studio, making records that were state-of-the-art sound-wise but their words showed the strain of being in the "biz" all too clearly, starting with the opener "Gone Hollywood." The satiric Bee Gees-like harmonies at the outset lampoons the hole that the music industry had dug for itself and then they quickly segue into a "floating" interlude where John Helliwell's tenor saxophone soars. The singer tells you that he's come to face the harsh reality that he was wrong about the myth of Los Angeles because there's "so many creeps in Hollywood." Do tell. The band makes a dynamic return with the playful falsetto harmonies before John takes over with his sax being processed through some kind of very cool effect during the fadeout.

It would feel like I was being patronizing to describe the exemplary nuances of the arrangements in the next three songs because they are so well known and so often played on the radio to this day. So I will restrain myself accordingly. "The Logical Song" starts with the signature Supertramp electric piano and sweeps you away instantly. The lyric epitomizes the predicament that a young person finds themselves in after finishing their schooling where the administrators would "like to feel you're acceptable, respectable, presentable, .a vegetable!" The confused singer just wants someone to tell him who he is. Helliwell once again throws in a searing sax performance. "Goodbye Stranger" is next and the hits just keep on a comin'. The tune seems to be about an unconscionable love 'em and leave 'em musician who breezily walks away from his one-night-stands with a carefree whistle on his lips. "You can laugh at my behavior/that'll never bother me/say the Devil is my savior/but I don't pay no heed." I've known many cads like that myself. The group delivers a steady buildup until Roger Hodgson's punctuating guitar lead relieves the tension. "Breakfast in America" follows and makes it a hat trick with its clever, imaginative use of polka instruments, culminating in a terrific clarinet solo. The song is about disillusionment with fame as he confesses "I'm playing my jokes upon you."

"Oh Darling" is an average track (especially when compared to the previous three) but the crystalline production makes it rise above mediocrity. The tune is about finding a potential love connection in a person but not having the time to cultivate the relationship. "I've been feeling left behind like a shadow in your light," he sings. The ending is very much in the style of Elton John. A wailing harmonica and a happy, bouncy beat belie the dark words of "Take the Long Way Home," yet another top ten single. There's hardly a man or woman alive that can't relate to "When we look through the years/and see what we could have been/oh, what might have been/if you'd had more time." No kidding. Hindsight is forever in 20/20 vision. The inventive lead break with the harmonica and clarinet together is a treat and the lush chorale of voices at the end is breathtaking.

Rick Davies' acoustic piano work is beautiful in the somber "Lord, Is It Mine," a highly personal hymn of bewilderment as he desperately seeks a "silent place I can call my own." John's pure soprano sax ride is exactly what's called for and the song steadily builds to an emotional peak. The steep price of being famous and desired is examined in "Just Another Nervous Wreck" where we are told that he has "lost the craving for success" and now has to deal with the unpleasant side effects. The tune comes across a little too bitter and is the weakest cut on the record.

A needed change of pace arrives in the form of the melancholy lounge atmosphere of "Casual Conversation," a simple ditty about resigning oneself to an inevitable breakup. "It doesn't matter what I say, you never listen anyway," he laments. Helliwell's sobering sax lead is perfect. The kicker comes when the singer admits it's finally over and that he really believes he's glad. "Child of Vision" is the finale and it starts with a frantic, hyper electric piano and features a huge, full chorus. They sum up the whole theme of the album here with a blatant statement of "How can you live in this way?" I feel that they missed a fine opportunity to spotlight the numerous and versatile lead instruments of the band at the end, though. The piano solo goes nowhere for about three minutes and when they finally bring in John's sax the tune is already starting to fade out. Can't have everything, I reckon.

This album was a mega hit that put Supertramp at the #1 position for weeks and it was a welcome relief from the incessant stream of mind-numbing disco that had saturated the airwaves for years. It was the right sound at exactly the right time and people just couldn't get enough of it as it sold over four million units in the US alone. While I'm still partial to their incredible "Crime of the Century," I've gained a lot of overdue respect for this admirable recording and will no longer hold the group's amazing success with it against them. It's the least I can do. 4.4 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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