Review Summary: A return to the progressive sound that once made them famous, a Supertramp without Roger Hodgson stumbles out of the gate but ends up with a sonic masterpiece with Rick Davies firmly in charge.
“I’ll put the past way behind me, pick myself off from the floor.”
A bit of history. Things had been very irritable between lead songwriters and vocalists Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies since Even in The Quietest Moments. With their massive success that came with 1979’s Breakfast in America, Hodgson and Davies barely spoke about musical ideas anymore and more or less wrote their own songs speratley. With an extensive tour and eventually a mediocre follow-up album in Famous Last Words, Davies and Hodgson split. Though Hodgson cited personal and spiritual reasons as why he left the band, a main factor was the relationship that he had with Davies that had deteriorated since they had first met in 1969. However out of loss can come gain and that is what occurred with the recording of Brother Where You Bound.
The album as a whole is worthy of praise but is nothing that can be seen as radically different. The opener Canonball was a hit single on both sides of the Atlantic when it was trimmed down from 8 minutes to 3. The songs set the standard for the rest of the songs on the album: a keyboard driven rock that rarely uses guitars. However, Davies makes up for it with great production (some of the best Supertramp has ever had) and a crystallite sound that would come to define Davies’ playing in the future. The album continues with a few forgettable songs such as No In between and Still In Love. Both songs with no real punch to them and a bit too poppy.
Though a terrific musician, one of Rick Davies’ biggest downfalls were his lyrics. Often catchy and simple, they would border on being too “lower fifth” and were never evident of any social commentary. Another downfall was using lyrics too much and not letting the musicality build in different pieces. This was apparent in the first three songs on the album but it all changed with Better Days. Better Days is a brilliantly conducted and composed song that uses great sound effects that really brings the listener into the album. Themes of despair, mystery, distrust, and inequality are prevalent throughout the album and reach their apogee here. The great array of synths really brings out the urgentness in the song and the dramatic factor while John Helliwell’s saxophone solo at the end creates a beautiful tapestry and allows the listener’s imagination to wander.
However, side two is what takes the cake and makes this album a truly excellent album in every way. Brother Where You Bound, a track demo that was originally intended to be a 10 minute song on Famous Last Words, became the first true progressive rock piece that Supertramp had done in the last 10 years. Clocking at 16 minutes, it is the longest Supertramp song and one of my favourites. David Gilmour provides the scorching guitar solos while lead guitarist Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy provides the rhythm guitar. An absolute masterpiece, Brother Where You Bound’s concept may be dated (the cold war), but it’s musicality will last for many years to come. This is Supertramp as a true band here, everyone having specific and unique parts that together create such a flow of sound and a beautiful track.
Davies ends off the LP with Ever Open Door that many have interpreted as a call from Davies, urging Hodgson to come home. Though he never did, the album stands as a marquee for any progressive rock fan, especially the second side. Perhaps one of the greatest arrangements in Supertramp’s history. Though the album is not a complete one, side two alone makes for an excellent listen for any fan of music.