Supertramp Crime of the Century, 1974, A&M Records
"Bloody Well Right"
"Hide in Your Shell"
"If Everyone Was Listening"
"Crime of the Century"
We’ve reached the mid-70s but there is still time for a bit more art rock before the punk explosion. Supertramp, one of the first bands to be signed to the UK arm of A&M records were on the verge of splitting up after the failure of their first two albums (hmmm...we’ve been here before) but with no David Bowie to save them, they turned to a wurlitzer piano and a harmonica. Here’s how it went:
Their third album Crime of the Century spent 17 weeks in the UK album chart peaking at number 4 and is considered by the band to be where they reached their artistic peak. It’s a transitional album which saw Supertramp moving towards more of a poppier sound. They recorded a staggering 42 songs for this album before picking the final 8 to include, although a number of rejected tracks appeared on later albums. Their line up changed a fair bit but at this time Rick Davies provided vocals and various types of piano, Roger Hodgson vocals and guitars, John Helliwell on Saxophone and Clarinet, Dougie Thompson on bass and Bob Benberg on drums
School starts with a lone harmonica like a Western movie and then it’s all piano. Bloody Well Right is one of their more popular songs but the one and a half minute wurlitzer intro seems a bit indulgent to me and I found the rest of the track a bit underwhelming, which is unfortunate since this was a successful single and is one of Supertramp’s signature tunes. Hide in Your Shell sounds like a 1970s infomercial and the vocal is weak and reedy sounding at the beginning. Just when your ready to give up the vocal gets stronger and the saxophone kicks in and it actually becomes pretty enjoyable. Asylum has a nice soaring quality. It’s very epic sounding. Dreamer is the other hit on this album, it made number 13 in the singles chart, but I really don’t like this song. The vocal is just very annoying. Rudy includes train sounds and a station announcement recorded at Paddington mainline rail station in West London as well as crowd noises recorded in Leicester Square. It feels a bit like an old jazz tune and is definitely one of the better tracks. If Everyone Was Listening has some nifty clarinet action but again, I am less than excited by it. The drums and guitars on closing track Crime of the Century are sweet and the piano is also used to great effect. For me this is probably the strongest track.
The album cover created by photographer Paul Wakefield was his idea of what would happen to the person convicted of the crime of the century. It was originally supposed to be a person’s face screaming behind the bars floating in space, but having only hands was decided to be a more striking image and better conveyed the idea of there being no way out for the convicted person.
It’s definitely a mixed bag of an album and is probably the one I’ve liked least of all those I’ve covered in this column so far. Apologies if that upsets any Canadian readers because Crime of The Century was extremely popular in Canada, it reached number 1 and stayed in the Canadian album chart for more than 2 years. It’s well respected as an art rock album so if you like a bit of piano focused art rock with poppy leanings then it’s worth a go. It is certainly quite an accessible album which is not something that can be said across the board for music of this genre, but it’s a bit too nice for me. I think I’m ready for the angry kids to start smashing things up.