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And That’s a Natural Fact

January 9, 2012

Good Morning/Afternonon, Macketeers. Hope I didn’t keep you waiting long.

I’m listening to pre-famous Supertramp music, and I can honestly say that, while they were a pretty decent band back in the early days, they’re first two albums (which I had never heard before) are pretty uneven and unsatisfying. The second album improves on the first for sheer dynamics, and it is much closer to what they were going to become with their third album, but listening to the first album brought home the fact that they were actually a progressive rock act when they started. They were always dabbling with that prog side back in the day, but really, they were more of a symphonic rock act at best, somewhere between The Moody Blues, Procol Harum, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones on their second album, at least until they arrived at their third album, Crime of the Century, where they finally seemed to have gotten their act together. Their biggest selling album was Breakfast in America, but really, Century was the meatier album, in my opinion.

It’s funny to think they had to jettison much of their early sound to arrive at their own style, which consisted of these cool, urbane jazz-pop fusion arrangements with prog sensibilities inflected in their composition stages. They didn’t seem to know what they were doing on the second album (Indelibly Stamped), having largely abandoned the soft, slightly limp Canterbury-esque qualities of their first album (Supertramp) for a collection of fairly jazzy/bluesy pop songs that may or amy not have hung together well (I’m only on my first listen). It’s a fun-sounding album, but I’m left waiting for the final song, to see if it has any meat on the bones, which so far it lacks.

Okay, here we are on Aries, which is the final track, and it starts with guitar and flute, with a bit of tiney Wurlitzer and congas. Cool bass line, but really, it’s a throwback to the 60s in every sense. I suppose you could align it with early forerunner prog stuff, but it’s got more of a San Francisco vibe than English prog. I suppose that’s one of the things about their style that vexes even as it entertains: their music always had such an American sensibility to it, even as they dropped in all of these deliberately English phrases and references.

“…and be like Johnny Too-Good, Don’t you know he never shirks his coming along.” ~ School

“Could you lend me 15p? I’m dying for a smoke.” ~ Asylum

“Could we have kippers for breakfast, Mummy dear, Mummy dear?” ~ Breakfast in America

So while the first two albums are fascinating listens, I find it amazing that they were made by the same band I grew up with. The second album is kind of a rough template for what came after, but there’s almost no relation, sound-wise. From the first track of the third album on, they just transformed into another creature entirely. More progressive and more rocking, more muscular and assured altogether. It’s like, when they rebuilt the band after the failure of the previous album lead to a diaspora of members, leaving only the nucleus of Rick Davies (keys, vox) and Roger Hodgson (guitar, vox), they just did a complete reevaluation of their strengths and weaknesses and built a band that could utilize both to full effect. Few bands ever get the chance to do this, and fewer still succeed.

And that’s my treatise on Supertramp’s earliest recordings. If I come back to this topic, it will be to discuss the highs and lows of their mid period albums, ‘Crisis, What Crisis’ and ‘Even in the Quiet Moments’. One day, I may even write a classic album review of Crime of the Century, and maybe Breakfast in America while I’m at it. We’ll see.

Time to go run some errands. Have a great day.

Eddie.

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