Honestly, I never thought I'd find a piece of music my parents liked that was actually good. My mother really doesn't listen to anything from back in her day. She listens to whatever the biggest hit is, such as James Blunt. Sure, she likes the occasional Beatles, but she said she was never a Beatles fan in her day. My father is a Kenny G and Alabama fan. I gave up on him. However, one day, he told me his favorite band is Supertramp. Now of course, everyone knows the song "Take the Long Way Home". I never really paid attention to the band, though. I decided to pull out Breakfast in America and see what the band was all about, and why my father found them interesting enough to save up his money and go to his first concert ever to see them.
Supertramp's roots lay in progressive rock. The British band draw influences from their progressive contemporaries of the time and commercial successes, most noticeably the Beatles. Their first few albums in the early 70s were strictly progressive albums, but as they continued to find more and more commercial success, they moved to a much poppier sound and attempted to create commercial success. However, the prog keyboards remained, they kept their woodwind instruments an immense and vital part to the band's music, and the song lengths exceeded the normal pop standards, most capping out at over 5 minutes. Supertramp's largest success came with Breakfast in America, spawning 4 huge hits.
Supertramp manages to create enjoyable pop music. Disco, at the time, was just beginning to fade away, as 1979 was "the year disco died." In more up-tempo songs, disco influenced bass fills occur all over the place. However, the real instrumental standout on this album is the keyboard. The keyboards carry everything interesting about the music on the album. Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson both are accomplished keyboardists, and create a jazzy feel with their chord accompanying along with melody creating. If both are playing, they can carry the tune themselves, and the rest of the band is pretty much just there, not doing much of anything. No wonder the band had so many breakups in its career, with both keyboardists competing for melodies and grabbing all the attention for themselves. John Davies brings a whole new dimension to the music with his harmonica, most noticeably in Take the Long Way Home. Overall, the band draws many influences in, such as Bee Gees vocal harmonies and Beatle-esque melodies.
However, one last part of the music is either hit or miss. John A. Helliwell plays various saxophones and clarinets, usually taking solos in a bridge. His best playing is usually in the lighter songs, such as Lord Is It Mine. Helliwell tries to bring power into his solos, but ends up just squealing horribly and only distracting the listener.
Of course, as this is essentially a pop album, the singles are generally best songs on the album, as they are mainly the only songs that are able to make the catchy hooks needed to make a good pop song. The 4 singles, The Logical Song, Goodbye Stranger, Breakfast in America, and Take The Long Way Home, all have a voice of their own and are instantly recognizable. There are a few hidden gems on the album, such as Just Another Nervous Wreck, but mostly, the singles take the cake.
Goodbye Stranger, which would have made for a terrible song without the guitar solo at the end, shares the same intro as nearly every other song on this album, the main keyboard theme and singing. The bass and drums add in accents here and there, but the main theme for the first half of the song is the keyboards and singing. When approaching the two minute mark, the drums pick up for a bit, but the song eventually reverts back to the intro. Goodbye Stranger gets boring after a few minutes and is drawn out for far too long before reaching the climatic point at the end with a guitar solo. The guitar solo is by far the standout solo on the album, beating out anything Helliwell throws out.
Breakfast in America is the shortest song on the album, and makes a good length for the song. No extenuated keyboard intros, the song enters into the verse immediately. The bass and keyboard compliment each other very well in this song, and Helliwell makes an ok appearance on the clarinet, trading off with the vocals. The trombone makes some great nuances in the verse that really add to the texture of the song. Breakfast in America is the best single on the album.
However, Supertramp is absolutely terrible at making ballads. Lord Is It Mine is terrible, just a keyboard and vocals for most of the song. The vocals fail to impress, and the climatic chorus absolutely falls apart and leaves a listener let down. Unfortunately, the standout on the song is actually Helliwell. In the bridge, he pulls out the clarinet for a solo, and it's his best appearance on the album. The song continues to make horrible attempts at pop hooks, and is by far the largest letdown on the album.
Supertramp stands out at creating pop singles and still maintaining their own style and their own voice. I give them credit for doing that, but not much more. My father must have been taken aback by the occasional occurrences of harmonica and woodwind instruments, and thought he'd found himself a pretty cool band. He was right, in that Supertramp makes some of the better 70s pop songs, and some are still heard today.
Breakfast in America
Take the Long Way Home
Just Another Nervous Wreck