Review Summary: Supertramp’s debut album is different of the mid-late 70’s/80’s stuff. But it still is a great underrated album.
“Supertramp” is the eponymous debut studio album of Supertramp and was released in 1970. The line up on the album is Roger Hodgson, Rick Davies, Richard Palmer-James and Robert Millar.
Supertramp is a British progressive rock band formed in 1969 under the name of Daddy, before changing their name to Supertramp, in the early of 1970, inspired by a book of William Henry Davies, “The Autobiography Of A Super-Tramp”. Sponsored by the Dutch millionaire Stanley August Miesegaes, the vocalist and pianist Rick Davies put an ad on the Melody Maker looking for members for the band’s line up, in 1969. Rick Davies saw join to him the vocalist and guitarist Roger Hodgson, the vocalist and guitarist Richard Palmer-James and the drummer and percussionist Robert Millar.
Thought their music was initially categorised as progressive rock, they have soon incorporated a combination of more traditional rock, art rock and pop into their music. The band’s work is mainly marked by the great inventive songwriting of Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies and the very distinctive and unique voice of Roger Hodgson. Supertramp soon would enjoy great critical and commercial success when they incorporated a more conventional musical approach with radio-friendly elements into their music, in the late of the 70’s. Because of that, they became known as one of the best and most successful progressive rock bands, selling more than 60 million albums in the world, reaching their peak of commercial success with their sixth studio album “Breakfast In America”, which has sold more than 20 million copies.
“Supertramp” was sometimes released under the name of “Now And Then”. This is in general considered one of their albums that feature more progressive characteristics, in their entire career, having long instrumental passages and with emphasis on keyboards and guitars. “Supertramp” is the only album of the band that includes the participation of Richard Palmer-James, as a band’s member, who acts as a lyricist in addition to playing other musical instruments. Later he became the lyricist of King Crimson. Robert Millar also acts only on this album from the group, as drummer. He unfortunately suffered a mental breakdown and left the band shortly after the departure of Richard Palmer-James.
“Supertramp” is quite a bit different than some of their later radio and AOR musical material. It’s inundated with some instrumental meandering, with greater emphasis and attention granted to the keyboards and guitars than to the writing and to the overall effluence of the music. All music was written by Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies and all lyrics were written by Richard Palmer-James. The album is bookended by the two “Surely” musical pieces, which gives to it a kind of a conceptual air. Despite all the tracks are good, I really think that the tenth track “Try Again” deserves a very special mention. In the first place it’s very rare to see a Supertramp’s song with more than 10 minutes. In their entire musical career, only three songs have more than 10 minutes. Only “Brother Where You Bound” and “Fool’s Overture” have that in common with this one. In the second place “Try Again” represents the best moment on the album. This is basically a progressive ballad expanded to making of it a sort of a great epic track. It has really a great, moody and melancholic chorus based around some nice vocal harmonies specific of Roger Hodgson, and has an excellent screechy guitar solo, too. This is, in reality, a well made track but it also shows that the band needed some more time to develop their music. So, we can’t expect of it the same quality level and the maturity of “Fool’s Overture” or even of “Brother Where You Bound”. But the rest of the tracks are all in general good. There are some attractive moments too, such as the mixture of ardour and subtlety that arises in “Words Unspoken”, “Surely” and “Nothing To Show”, there are some tasty emotional acoustic songs like “Home Again” and the decent rockers “It’s A Long Road” and “Maybe I’m A Beggar”. These are catchy songs with convincing riffs, good vocals, engaging lyrics and nice instrumental passages.
Conclusion: “Supertramp” represents a different start, so different that someone who doesn’t know enough well the story of the beginning of the band doesn’t recognize this album as a true album of Supertramp. It’s very different from their next releases, because this is an album more in the vein of “Trespass” of Genesis or “The Aerosol Grey Machine” of Van Der Graaf Generator. “Supertramp” is strangely a very interesting and curious album, because and despite its simplicity and naivety, it’s in general, an album much more progressive than some latter efforts from the band. “Supertramp” is a good album, very well balanced and with a musical purity that no more could be presented in any other album from them. Because of that, this is an album that reminds me, very often, “Trespass” of Genesis. Concluding, “Supertramp” is a very nice album for a debut album. However, it’s far from being a great album because it has some weaknesses. But it’s definitely better than some of the other studio albums made by them in their last years.
Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)