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Supertramp - Crisis? What Crisis? CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.59 | 453 ratings

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2 stars I think a real "crime" was committed in the music-buying world when Supertramp's incredible "Crime of the Century" album didn't become the huge hit that it deserved to be. I'm sure the guys in the band felt the same way because they had put their heart and their soul into it, stood back and admired the high quality of their finished artwork and then watched it peak out at #38 on the charts and fail to produce a smash hit single. There's never a definitive reason for these things but they had to be asking themselves "what in the hell does the public want?" Scarcely a year later they found themselves on the other side of the world, sequestered in the A&M studios in bewildering Los Angeles, trying to follow it up but I get the feeling that a lot of the creative wind had been knocked out of their sails over "Crime's" fate and the songs on "Crisis? What Crisis?" reflect a modicum of disillusionment.

Fading in with what sounds like someone strolling down the street whistling, the band sets the mood by slipping into "Easy Does It," a laid-back song if there ever was one. The casual, not-a-care-in-the-world aura of the music belies the pressure-to-produce- marketable-product stress they were undoubtedly living with behind the scenes. "And if we had the time/and time's so hard to find/I can't believe what you say/start sending those shadows away," Roger Hodgson sings. Next comes the best track on the album, "Sister Moonshine." Sound-wise I consider it a precursor to the chart-topping "Give a Little Bit" from the LP that was to follow. The song features big, broad strums on the acoustic 12-string guitar and a lively, catchy pop melody that lodges in your brain. At the same time the claustrophobia that results from day after day of isolation inside a recording studio far away from home rises up through the words as Roger sings "Oh, I wish I'd been a gypsy/then maybe I could read the crystal ball/'cause surrounded by these walls/just makes me feel uneasy."

"Ain't Nobody but Me" is a welcome shift of gears as it has a bit of a bite to it, something that this album has little of. Reed man John Helliwell creates a layered horn section that's pretty fat and the 50's doo-wop feel of the chorus distinguishes the cut from the others. Roger's expressive guitar work at the end has a distinctive Robin Trower growl to it, as well. But impeccable production, mix-down and engineering techniques can only take a group so far and on "A Soapbox Opera" one senses that the tune just isn't strong enough to meet the demands they put on it. Starting with what sounds like a heated argument drifting in from the next room, the overly-subdued atmosphere they establish never allows the song to rise up from the floor level. "Mary, oh tell me what I'm living for/'cause I feel like I'm tossed in the river," Hodgson laments. The lush orchestration and chorale are a nice addition but they eventually flounder in this mediocre composition.

Unfortunately the uninspiring verses and busy choruses of "Another Man's Woman" aren't much of an improvement. I know they were doing their level best but it just sounds forced to me. When the piano break comes along after Richard Davies finishes singing things change for the better, though. The band energetically jumps back in, Roger spices it up with an engaging guitar effect and Helliwell multi-tracks another full horn section to save the cut from the reject file. Fortunately they're able to maintain that momentum as their signature Wurlitzer electric piano's pounding rhythm and funky tone opens the entertaining "Lady." This number has some drive and dynamics to go with the California-style "Ooo-la-la's" that give it personality. They toss in a nice touch on the end when they drop everything out except a cappella vocals and finger snaps.

I'm not sure where Davies' usually tasteful mind was at when he opted to amateurishly imitate a muted trumpet on the front and back of "Poor Boy" but it's neither cute nor clever. The tune lumbers along in a lazy, carefree shuffling groove but there's not much to praise here except for John's elegant clarinet solo. The slow, bluesy "Just a Normal Day" follows but what's needed at this juncture is some pizzazz, not another melancholy downer. The sax and strings are decent but words like "Well, I just feel that every minute's wasted/my life is unreal/and anyway I guess I'm just not rated/at least that's how I feel" are just too self- pitiful. Come on, boys, cheer up! (Someone should have informed them that there were literally thousands of struggling groups outside the studio door that would have LOVED to have been in their shoes.)

Finally you get signs of life and some emotional vocalizing on "The Meaning." Here it seems that Hodgson is referencing his disappointment over "Crime" as he sings "Has the record been holding your heart?/it's beginning to squeeze you apart" with considerable angst. He pleads repeatedly for meaning and answers but there aren't any forthcoming. Helliwell's soprano sax lends much-needed spirit to the proceedings, as well. The band wraps it all up with the excellent love song "Two of Us" that has a dreamy organ fade-in before the acoustic 12-string takes over and Roger warbles "Every time that I'm feeling down/oh, they pick me up and they spin me around/tell me where do we go/tell me where do we go from here?" Lucky for us they found their direction again on the next album.

It's understandable that Supertramp was going through a frustrating, lesson-learning phase when they put this project together and, considering that they'd been touring right up to the first day of recording, these compositions were most likely the cream of what they had penned at the time. It just goes to show that you can have all the talent and state-of-the-art technology in the world surrounding you but in the final analysis you're still only as good as the songs you perform. Supertramp was more often than not a great group but, in the case of "Crisis? What Crisis?," they were just barely average. 2.4 stars.

Chicapah | 2/5 |


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