LIST OF SUPERTRAMP REVIEWS:
Supertramp (1970) / Indelibly Stamped (1971) / Crime of the Century (1974) / Crisis? What Crisis? (1975) / Even in the Quietest Moments... (1977) / Breakfast in America (1979) / Paris (1980) / ...Famous Last Words (1982) / In the Eye of the Storm (1984) / Brother Where You Bound? (1985) / Hai Hai (1987) / Free as a Bird (1987)
LIVE CONCERT REVIEW:
Even though Supertramp is considered a second-wave prog act, their debut album was released only a year after the genre's first-wave stalwarts Yes, Genesis and King Crimson released their own debut albums. But Supertramp wouldn't achieve commercial success until 1974, which was the same timeframe when those second-wave prog acts like Styx, Kansas, and Rush started to gain prominence. Hence, this album is really only retroactively famous, recognized chiefly for being the quasi-obscure, humble beginning of a very popular musical group. However, don't dismiss or ignore this album; while it's hardly a brilliant piece of work, it's certainly enjoyable in its own right.
Supertramp was started by Rick Davies who was somehow able to secure financial support from a Dutch millionaire. (I didn't know there were millionaires who did that sort of thing. Now I'm going to have fantasies the rest of the day about being a millionaire from the '60s and '70s funding rock 'n' roll bands.) Davies recruited Roger Hodgson for bass and lead vocals, Richard Palmer to play lead guitar and write lyrics, and Robert Millar on drums. Hodgson and Davies were to become songwriting partners. The other two would exit the band before 1974.
I like to think I eventually would have heard this album even if Supertramp never released anything beyond this. (Of course there are so many bands from this era that I've never heard of, so it might have been 2030 or so before I found it.) Unlike many budding prog acts from 1970, these guys chose to write gentler songs as opposed to the overblown and pretentious things we would oftentimes get from other upstart prog groups. Early Supertramp preferred to make their art subtle and melodic. I'd wager “Words Unspoken” is easily within the 90th-95th percentile of prog songs released in 1970 as far as melody is concerned. There are no other words to describe it than “beautiful.”
But it's obvious to me why this album didn't sell very many copies: It has really no gimmicks to speak of. Instrumentation-wise, I would probably call it 'standard.' I mean, they didn't even use synthesizers or Mellotrons, for pete's sake, which pretty much anyone who was anyone in art-rock was using in 1970. The only weird instrument I notice is a flageolet played by Hodgson in quite a few of these tracks, and a Russian guitar known as a balalaika provided by Palmer. (I'm not sure where the balalaika can be heard, but I would make an educated guess that I'm hearing it play throughout “Shadow Song.”) There's nothing against “gimmicks,” by the way, since they can be very interesting and some of my all-time favorite bands of this era were doing amazing things with synthesizers and Mellotrons. But this surely shows that Davies and Hodgson weren't much for experimentation at least as far as instrumentation is concerned. That was a trait they would bring with them when they cut those famous albums.
If I were to complain about one general thing in this album, it's that there are far too many quiet spots in which they piddle about for lengthy periods of time making vague, quiet jazz-noodles. They're reminiscent of the middle of King Crimson's “Moonchild” except not quite that vague. One reason quiet moments can be great is they make the louder moments seem all the more glorious. The problem is these moments can get so uneventful that I start to space out. “Maybe I'm a Beggar” is a good example of this sort of song, which starts off very slow and threatens to start boring me to tears. But then things pick up when a fueled Cream-inspired rock 'n' roll jam pipes up midway through. ...Oh, I should have mentioned that this album has a lot of jams in it. Perhaps this is more like a polite Traffic album.
That brings me to mention my favorite song on the album, “Nothing to Show,” which starts out loud, energetic, and catchy. A Traffic album would have been all the better if they covered it! I'd be threatened to call it hard-rock, but surely enough it has a piddly quiet section in the middle of it... which is among the more listenable ones of the album due to having a consistent, click-heavy percussion track.
I didn't get around to mentioning very many songs in this album, but maybe I don't have to. I'll close this review by saying that even though this is hardly a great album, it's far better than simply being Supertramp's nearly forgotten debut. If you're a fan of this group's peak material, then check it out. 11/15
Indelibly Stamped (1971)
Supertramp's second album veered away slightly from the progressive-rock leaning of their debut and instead focused more on rock 'n' roll. And that's not a bad idea, because rock 'n' roll is awesome! This was also a direction that I suppose made sense for them since they were getting nowhere among the art-rock crowd. Much like their debut, this apparently garnered high critical praise at the time (according to Mother Wikipedia), but they still continued to have problems selling this record. I guess putting a sweet pair of bare breasts on the front cover didn't do much to help in those matters. (Another note: she has a lot of tattoos.)
The good news is that these melodies are strong. Not as strong as a Beatles album, but what is? Even though this album is largely forgotten these days, it continues to be a must-have for anyone claiming to be a Supertramp fan. It opens with the enjoyable “Your Poppa Don't Mind,” a boogie-rocker with a catchy melody, a hard, chugging groove. It's nothing terribly complicated, as boogie rockers tend to be. But as boogie-rockers also tend to be, it's fun. And in those regards, it sets up the mood for the rest of the album. I mean, if nothing else, prepare to enjoy yourself.
But not everything on here rocks. This album also wins me over for its diversity. One of the nicer songs of the album is “Rosie Had Everything Planned,” which is a folk song with a strikingly beautiful melody. It might just be my penchant for liking pretty folk songs, but that's my favorite song of this whole album. Though a close second is “Potter,” which is a gritty and snarly '70s rock 'n' roll song. Of course this is Supertramp, so don't expect anything as hard-hitting as Led Zeppelin. But this is humorous and it's catchy, especially as they are seeming to ramble off lyrics as quickly and loudly as they can. (Oh they use the 'N'-word. I would issue a warning to people easily offended by this things, but I guess politically correct nut-jobs wouldn't buy this album anyway on account of the breasts.)
Two Vaudeville-inspired songs add to the diversity of this record, although I'd wager they constitute two of the weakest songs of this album. I'm not sure why, but I just can't get into their spirit. “Coming Home to See You” has waaaay too long of an introduction, which doesn't mesh at all with the frantic Vaudeville bit that follows—that isn't terribly catchy anyway. But at least I enjoy listening to the silly organ and harmonica solos they bring us in there. The other Vaudeville song “Friend in Need” is only two-minutes long, so it doesn't do much harm, but it seems kind of half developed. Another song I don't really care for is “Remember,” which sounds like it was trying to build itself up to be a huge anthem of some sort, but it doesn't really work. However, at least the melody is pretty good, and the 'failure' of that song hardly inhibit my overall enjoyment of this record.
Some review sites, such as the All-Music Guide, criticize this album for having too many “long-winded instrumental sections.” I'm not really sure what points of this record they were referring to, since all but one of the tracks are kept below five minutes. And the exception, the closer “Aries,” is one of my favorite songs of the album. I mean, it gets a cool groove going with tambourines, shuffly acoustic guitars, bongo drums, tambourines and maracas, jazzy organ solos, and a noodling flute reminiscent of Jethro Tull. And it's FUN! The reason I don't do yoga is because it's stupid, and listening to awesome songs like this are far more relaxing.
There was a personnel change here. Of course the two central figures of the band Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson who continued to write the songs and—unlike the debut—they also wrote the lyrics. On bass and other miscellaneous instruments was Frank Farrell who co-wrote “Rosie Had Everything Planned.” On flute and saxophone was Dave Winthrop. And on drums was Kevin Currie. Apart from Davies and Hodgson, none of these guys would stick around for Supertramp's next album.
I really wasn't expecting to put so many of these songs in the A- range, but I guess that's what happens when I listen to albums that are so enjoyable. Maybe it falls just short of being considered a great album, but it's definitely a very good one, so let's give it a well-deserved high 11/15.
Crime of the Century (1974)
I believe Roger Hodgson must be some kind of beautiful soul for coming out with such a terrifically uplifting song as “Hide in Your Shell.” Without a doubt, it's one of my favorite songs ever written--and it has held that status ever since the first time I heard it nearly 10 years ago. It starts with some pulsating electric keyboards and an engaging synthesizer solo before Hodgson begins to sing a gentle melody. This gradually builds up with darker keyboard passages and timpani-like drums and then becomes completely airborne for the chorus that that features among other things thick saxophone passages and a theremin. (I don't know why, but I'm always excited to hear a perfectly executed theremin.) The song spans epic length, almost seven minutes, and reaches the chorus three times, and amazingly it hits me equally those three times.
And yet that isn't a terribly celebrated song, is it? It wasn't released as a single, and most critics who've written reviews of it don't seem to think much of it. So I guess I'll chalk this up as a weird opinion of mine. And this is a good thing, because it's fun having an unusual opinion about something. ...Oh, and this might have been Supertramp's third album, but it was their first to make any real impact on the charts. It was released a whole three years after their previous, which--in the 1970s rock 'n' roll world--was a friggin' eternity, so there's little surprise that their earlier albums are generally forgotten about.
The opening song “School” has often drawn parallels to Pink Floyd's The Wall to the point that some people think Hodgson and Davies should have sued Roger Waters. True, there are certain similarities. The lyrical matter is probably the most blatant of them--it's about how the institution of school stifles the imaginations and creativity of young minds. However it has some musical similarities as well: there are sound effects of children playing on a playground, and there is a prominent passage that's stylistically similar to “Another Brick in the Wall." That is, it features a crystal-clear and deep bass guitar that pulsates along with funky licks from a high-pitched rhythm guitar. ...Of course, I wouldn't support such a lawsuit (even though it would be a novel thing for someone to sue Roger Waters for something for once). At best, all Pink Floyd were guilty of was expanding upon some ideas that Supertramp first proposed. Ideas are not copyrightable. Another thing that The Wall never did that “School” does was anything like its final half, which is a high-flying and spirited pop-rock jam with some frantically played acoustic guitar, some terrific piano playing, and a little bit of wah-wah guitar. You see, unlike Pink Floyd, these guys weren't afraid to ROCK.
“Bloody Well Right” is the most beloved song of the album even though it was actually released as the B-Side to the less-celebrated “Dreamer.” It's a catchy and snappy tune that's loaded with its fair share of drama, but certain parts of it--notably the jazz piano playing throughout--turns out to be quite playful. I actually like listening to “Dreamer” quite a lot whenever it pops up, which is probably some kind of indication that I am overrating the CRAP out of this album, but I have to ask myself a simple question when I hear it: Are they overdoing it with those rapidly pulsating electric keyboards? I think if you asked a skilled player to improvise a song done in a generic Supertramp manner, he/she would play exactly that. “Rudy” is very dramatic has plenty of interesting musical passages, but it never really takes off for me--at least in the same way that “Hide in You Shell” took off. Perhaps the best thing about it is how it gradually evolves into a heavy, proto-disco groove in the final third. This is part is quite similar to a 1977 Alan Parsons Project song called “The Voice.” “Asylum” is another minor gem that probably takes too long to get going, but when it does, it's heavy, dark, dramatic, and soulful. It's orchestrated brilliantly and sung with absolute verve by Richard Davies. Its main downfall is the melody isn't especially memorable.
I'm having a tough time coming up with a rating for this album, and I was torn between a 12/15 and a 13/15. On one hand it has “Hide in Your Shell” in it, which I like a lot, and all these other songs are solid. On the other hand, that's the album's only truly great moment, and I think 13-scoring albums ought to have a few more goodies in them. Oh well. So I guess I have to go with a 12/15. However, don't fret too much over this “low” rating, since they've got a 13-scoring album in them yet!
Crisis? What Crisis? (1975)
Before starting the Supertramp reviews, I figured Crisis? What Crisis? would get a 10/15, which is a grade I reserve for albums that are good but have a number of flaws. The reason for that is this is the only classic Supertramp album from their 1974-1979 Golden Age that I rarely listen to. Another reason: This is a marked step down from their previous album, Crime of the Century, even though it's done in the exact same style. And nobody likes inferior sequels.
It turns out there is a pretty good reason Crisis? What Crisis? succumbed to inferior-sequel-itis: After this group finally came out with an album that sold, their record company--being a record company--wanted a follow-up to come out as quickly as possible. The only way they could comply was to use leftover songs. Nevertheless, as I was listening to this album extensively to prepare this review, I found out that I was actually enjoying these songs quite a bit. Sure, it's main problem is that these songs don't quite hit me like the peak songs of Crime of the Century--nothing that quite matches the staying power of “Hide in Your Shell,” “Bloody Well Right,” or “School.” However, if you liked the other songs of that album, then you ought to like these songs almost equally as much.
It starts with “Easy Does It” a lighthearted, two-minute pop song that reminds me of solo-Paul McCartney. The melody is cute and likeable. What else do you expect from it? That's followed up with “Sister Moonshine,” which is such a strong tune that I think it ought to be included on Supertramp's Greatest Hits compilations. I guess the only thing holding it back was something technical: It wasn't a hit. However, it contains so many melodic/instrumental turns that catch my ear and make the song into a delight.
“Ain't Nobody But Me” is darker and characterized by a heavy, sultry piano, wobbly guitar and watery Hammond organ. The chorus it breaks into is more soaring and thoughtful, and you know, it's choruses like those that made me turn into a Supertramp fan in the first place. It might not be as memorable as one of their hits, but it has soul. “Soapbox Opera” is a theatrical ballad that comes off as a bit unfocused and not nearly as BIG as I think it could have been, but I like its thick atmosphere, and there are also plenty of interesting vocal hooks interspersed throughout.
“Lady” isn't a Styx cover, so you can safely remove your fingers from your ears as it starts up. It's a pretty bright and punchy pop-rock number with solid pop hooks and *sigh* more of those rapid-pace electric keyboards. That is, I don't particularly mind that style--on principle--but that's another example of them shoving it at you. “Another Man's Woman” definitely has its moments, but so much of its six-minute running length is little more than space-out fodder. Albeit entertaining space-out fodder.
“Just a Normal Day” is a ballad that starts off awfully slow, but a saxophone comes in during the final third and lifts my spirits quite a bit. Really, I think this is proof that all ballads need a good saxophone solo. Some even meatier saxophone plays during “The Meaning,” which is a rather dark epic featuring plenty of loud, soaring vocals weaving its way through a theatrical melody. The concluding song is “Two of Us” (not to be confused with The Beatles song!) which is a very slow-moving ballad with a strumming acoustic guitar and a thick church-like, organ in the background. It's sort of an underwhelming conclusion; however, that oboe solo toward the end is beautiful.
In the end, this album was a step down for the group. However, it's not as large of a step down as some people (including actual members of the group) claim it is. While this does lack a definitive hit single, the quality of these songs/arrangements continue to be high. From now on, I'm going to think of this as nothing less than a fitting companion piece to Crime of the Century. 11/15
Even in the Quietest Moments... (1977)
Supertramp's fifth album was by far their most beautifully produced and most consistent product, which by some accounts would make this their best album to date. Though I would be careful by distinguishing it as such since I think the highs in Crime of the Century easily surpass the highs of this album. (I guess such complaints is what comes from really liking a song in their back catalog and wishing they would just repeat it.) This is also their most prog-oriented album; four of these seven tracks span past six minutes. One of them, “Fool's Overture,” is nearly 11.
However, nobody can deny the immense likability of “Give a Little Bit,” which turned out to be a Top-20 hit for the group. Composed by Roger Hodgson before joining Supertramp, he said it was inspired by The Beatles. (This statement might be pretty obvious if you notice that it sounds like a more developed version of Paul McCartney's “Teddy Boy,” which was written while McCartney was still a Beatle). Hodgson included the song here hoping it'd help lend the album a shimmering, Beatles-like aura. While nobody in their right minds would mistake it for a Fab-Four tune, Hodgson definitely had the right idea. It's a well-polished, melodic and joyous song with a soaring melody that you can sing along with. The sound mixing was done perfectly, as there seems to be about a half dozen acoustic guitars strumming all at once, but it doesn't get in the way of Hodgson's vocal performance. And naturally, the additional instruments all add to the song's beautiful texture: shuffly drums, deep crystal bass, and the juicy saxophone solo in the middle. It's a very good song: my only complaint that it's only one notch away from what it needed to become a great song.
I'd say the same thing about “Lover Boy.” I like listening to it quite a lot and it's just about *perfect* when it comes to production, but it rather lacks what is necessary for me to sit up and really enjoy it. It starts out rather slowly with a cabaret-ish piano riff that sparkles like jewelry. However, it isn't long before the atmosphere gets cloudier and we get a rather darker mixture of pianos, synthesizers, and electric guitars. It runs quite long, nearly seven minutes, which could be one of its problems. However, I think most of its problems lie with the tune, which is OK but not exactly something I'd like to whistle under my breath. (Urgh! I gave the song an A-, and genuinely think it deserves it, but nevertheless laden its commentary with complaints!) I have a similar complaint with “From Now On,” which sounds like it wants to be a show-tune about an everyman trying to cope with a dull life. Show tunes aren't bad things (in my book!), and I continue to find the song entertaining, especially as it progresses to its gospelish ending with an epic, repeating verse like “Hey Jude.” I just think it takes too long for it to start rustling up dust.
As far as lengthy and slow epics go, I think I slightly prefer the title track, which has its heart rooted in folk-rock instead of theater-rock. It also builds up a little bit of tenseness, and thus it gives my ears that much more reason to stick with it. With that said, the concentration on that one seems to be on its instrumentation and sound production and less on its melody, which is OK but not terribly infectious. Nevertheless, I suppose the point of the song was the atmosphere, which does carry me up in the air a little bit and waft me along with its dreamy and pastoral soundscapes. “Babaji” is one of the best songs of the disc even though I'd say it also lacks a truly great melody. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable, bouncy piano-pop Supertramp classic if there ever was one. (And behold! They managed to create that bouncy pop sound without resorting to anything quite as overblown as “Dreamer.”)
“Fool's Overture” is the album's 11-minute prog epic that's as impeccably produced as anything here, although it seems to take quite awhile for it to actually get started. Its first three minutes is basically someone playing thoughtful notes on a piano, which fades away into a Winston Churchill speech and crowd noises. THEN we get an OK but ultimately empty synthesizer groove before FINALLY--five minutes into it--we get into the meat of the song, which is a rather heartfelt piano ballad sung by Hodgson about the declines of empires. ...I do enjoy listening to the song and definitely appreciate its ambitious subject matter, but it could have used more action, I think. Or at least a little less padding. An example of a piano ballad without padding is “Downstream,” which is absolutely lovely.
I did have some complaints about this album, but I find it to be an overall impeccable product that makes--if nothing else--a consistent listen. Its melodies are all good, but nothing really pops out at me like great melodies always seem to do. Nevertheless, I think this album fittingly deserves a solid 12/15.
Breakfast in America (1979)
Is there really any doubt that this was Supertramp's shimmering moment? Not only was this by far their greatest commercial success, but it also has their highest concentration of excellent songs. “The Logical Song” I'm sure everyone recognizes from the classic rock radio--each station of which must play it at least a half dozen times per week. And if you're anything like me, you really love hearing it when it pops up. Not only does it have a very catchy melody that was designed by Roger Hodgson to sound like a Beatles song, but it has lyrics that contain some enjoyable rhyming patterns. (“When I was young / It seemed that life was so wonderful / A miracle / Oh, it was beautiful, magical”) Of course the song is beautifully produced, too. It contains use of their characteristic pulsating electric piano, and in this instance, it actually helps lend the song a crunchy texture as opposed to a simple flurry as it was in “Dreamer.” And everyone who ever discusses the song loves to bring up the saxophone solo, which they should bring up because it is utterly phenomenal.
This album, by the way, is usually called Supertramp's pop album. It is said they were inspired to make this album, because they wanted to do something fun for a change. Which wasn't a bad idea at all, because all albums ought to be fun... Shouldn't they? The opening song “Gone Hollywood” is instantly notable for Hodgson giving an impeccable imitation of the Bee Gees' feathery falsetto vocals. But don't worry if you're the type who hates disco: the song is rooted far more in progressive-rock than it is disco. If you doubt that statement, notice that it contains an extensive section that is heavy on the subdued atmosphere and noodly saxophone, which requires a grand-sized crescendo to return to the verses. Another progressive-ish song is the album's closing song “Child of Vision,” which is tight and polished, and I like those moments when Hodgson sings his long-drawn-out crooning “Chiiiiiiild of Viiiiiision, Wooooon't Yooooooou Liiiiiiiisten?” It also has a very enjoyable, extended jazz piano solo in its final third. However, the main thing holding it back, for me, is that's yet another instance of Supertramp totally abusing their signature, pulsating synthesizer sound. I mean, it just gets monotonous.
The title track is pretty great, though. It's not really Beatles-esque, but I could definitely see it appearing on Band on the Run. Except I don't think Paul McCartney would have brought in those not-so-subtle Middle-Eastern influences into the mix! ...And, yes, you're going to have to hear that bendy clarinet solo in there, which is positively golden. “Oh Darling” might share the name of a Beatles song, but it's a totally different tune. Not as good, of course, but it's nevertheless perfectly nice with a decent melody and some lovely acoustic guitar textures. (With that said, I'm less enamored with that keyboard pattern they play throughout the song that never changes.)
If Hodgson was in the habit of writing Beatles-esque tunes, then “Lord is It Mine” must have been his “Let it Be.” It's the kind of piano ballad with a beautiful melody that sticks in your mind, and its melancholic lyrics that manage to manifest itself in my throat with a lump. Although the standalone lyrics aren't exactly great poetry. (“I never cease to wonder at the cruelty of this land / but it seems a time of sadness is a time to understand / is it mine, Lord is it mine?”) But hearing how Hodgson performs it in the song, he has a way of making me hang onto every word of it for dear life. Another one of this album's great songs is “Take the Long Way Home,” which starts off with one of the coolest harmonica solos that I've ever heard in a pop song. Its melody is so catchy and the chorus is so soaring that it's one of those songs that I have the irrepressible urge to sing along with.
The weakest bits of the album end up coming towards the end, starting with “Just Another Nervous Wreck,” a theatrical number with heavy vocals. It makes a fine listen, but there's nothing particularly spectacular there in terms of melody. It doesn't even have a cool sax solo to keep me interested! (There is an electric guitar solo in there, but somehow Supertramp seems better with woodwinds.) “Casual Conversations” is another song that doesn't thrill me to death; it comes off as a undeveloped, especially with that plodding synthesizer pattern that doesn't go anywhere. But it has a perfectly pleasant tune, so I won't complain about it too much.
This isn't a perfect album by any means, but I think I am in agreement with the world that this is by far Supertramp's greatest album. I mean, it's the one with “The Logical Song” on it. What else do you want? 13/15.
Well, if Supertramp were ever going to release a live album, the year 1980 was probably the best time to do it, which was hot after the success of their mega-selling hit Breakfast of America. The best place to record the album was probably immaterial, but I suppose Paris was just about as good as anywhere. (Although I'm curious how they managed to find enough Parisians willing to attend unless they happened to be opening for Woody Allen or Jerry Lewis.) This is also a good example of a live album that nobody needs. I mean, Supertramp were a mighty decent band, but as far as a live act, they weren't Cream or The Who. They strove to do little more than faithfully execute their studio songs.
Considering how much I praised Supertramp albums for their production--even sometimes more than the actual songwriting--the more stripped-down quality of these songs can be a difficult pill to swallow. Notice how uninspired I was about this version of my favorite Supertramp song of all time, “Hide in Your Shell,” that all I could muster was a plain A. The main reason for my lack of enthusiasm is that I miss that theremin desperately! Regardless, though, that continues to be an excellent song; I still get approximately the same “high” from listening to this version as I did the studio cut. But I just think I'd rather hear the studio version again than listen to this.
And really, I've written pretty much everything about this album than I need to. The fact is, if you're going to buy this album, you're gonna get it whether or not you get advice from me. I can confirm at least that you'll enjoy it. I think. After all, there are a whole lot of Supertramp songs here, and whatever could be finer?
Most of the material they chose for this concert seemed to be out of Crime of the Century era and a few picks each from their subsequent three albums. There's absolutely nothing from either of their 1970 or 1971 albums, which I find disappointing! But I suppose Supertramp were only going to play songs that the vast majority of their audience actually heard before. That is, their French audience. One thing they do get right throughout are the woodwind solos, which they wouldn't dare cut down since they're so much part of their respective songs' souls. Thankfully, that delicious oboe solo is still there for “Breakfast in America,” which is also easily one of Supertramp's catchiest songs, so no surprise that it's one of the highlights. Another obvious highlight is “The Logical Song,” which comes fully equipped with a blistering saxophone solo.
There is one Supertramp song here that I was previously unfamiliar with: “You Started Laughing.” It turns out it was a Crisis? What Crisis? era B-side to the single “Lady.” ...It's not a fantastic song or anything, and it comes across to me as rather lethargic with a melody that doesn't interest me much. However, it's nice to hear it regardless. Another so-so pick was “From Now On” from Even in the Quietest Moments..., and their snooze-worthy rendition of it didn't help matters. Though the reason I call it snooze-worthy is mostly because they apparently didn't tour around with a full gospel choir to help nail that ending like they did in the studio. ...One hit song that's conspicuously absent from this is “Give a Little Bit,” which I guess was actually performed at the show, but Hodgson and Davies didn't like how it came out.
“Dreamer” still has a pretty catchy tune, but they're still murdering me with those rapid-paced keyboards. However, the audience sounds like it's having fun clapping along with it, and I do enjoy listening to Frenchies enjoying themselves. ...By the way there are a few moments (not many) when Hodgson and Davies try to speak to the crowd in French. Though they weren't especially good at it; the ends of some of their sentences inevitably veered into English.
I'll conclude the review by stating that even though I don't think I have much use for this album, I feel nevertheless compelled to give it a fairly decent score. I mean, being an album filled with earnestly performed Supertramp tunes, there weren't a whole lot of ways that it could go wrong. So, here's a wickedly strong 10/15.
...Famous Last Words (1982)
Perhaps one of the more quizzical reviews I've ever written in my life was my original review for this album. I mean, I totally panned it. I can't even remember what was going through my mind as I wrote it. I complained that the album was totally devoid of melody. However, as I listen to it today, I think that statement is resoundingly false. While this material isn't as bright, catchy, or addictive as much of Breakfast in America, it definitely has its fair share of solid stuff. ...But, then again, isn't that where the disappointment sets in? That this isn't really a worthy follow-up to their previous album? After all, that album had “The Logical Song.” The best this has to offer “It's Raining Again.”
Even though it has an entirely decent tune, I'm disappointed how little it actually develops. It starts right away with a simple four-chord progression played with jingly synthesizers, and they don't cease playing until that wimpy excuse for a chorus pops up. (“Come on you little fighter / No need to get up-tighter.”) And, boy, is that chorus ever bluh! Hodgson sings it in exactly the same manner as he does the verses, which is the opposite of the soaring way he did choruses in “The Logical Song” or “Give a Little Bit” or “Dreamer.” The song strikes me as deflated. Uninspired. But as I said, the melody is OK, and it has a way of getting pleasantly stuck in my head. Hence the A- in the track listing. ...Weirdly, I somehow prefer the version that appears on Hodgson's album Classics Live, which has a heavier rhythm section and a fatter saxophone solo.
You might be able to guess why Hodgson comes off as deflated in this record; he was seriously contemplating his departure from the group. And depart from the group, he would, which makes this album his farewell to Supertramp. He was also entirely isolated as he wrote his songs to the extent that Rick Davies had no idea what he was up to. Both these men had different visions of what this album would be. Davies wanted to gear this more towards progressive-rock, but after Hodgson came back with a load of pop songs, Davies had to shelve some of his material. (One such piece Davies wrote for this album was the sprawling epic “Brother Where You Bound,” which would be destined for the first Supertramp album sans Hodgson.)
Hodgson must've been feeling pretty terrible about having to leave the group, by the way. You kind of get that idea when you hear him sing that the haunting and melancholic ballad “Know Who You Are,” which is quite beautiful by the way. There's also a Davies tune I particularly enjoy here, “My Kind of Lady,” which is a fluffy bit of cabaret that has a pleasant, swinging groove and a likable melody. Davies also penned the enjoyably jazzy “Put On Your Old Brown Shoes,” which has a fun, snappy beat; my only main complaint about it is that it never bothers getting out of its lite-happy mood.
One song that manages to excite me a little bit is the closer, “Don't Leave Me Now.” Although that might be for all the wrong reasons. It's an epic, six-minute power ballad that I can, though no stretch of the imagination, envision Bonnie Tyler doing a cover of it in the vain of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Nevertheless, it has a pretty good melody, and I find it enchanting hearing Hodgson singing to the moon whist playing grandiose arpeggios on his piano. What I don't like about it is that it's really only a chorus that gets repeated over and over again. Halfway through, Hodgson quits singing altogether, and all the song has to keep us company is a somewhat cheesy electric guitar solo, a minimalist harmonica, and a lonely lady singing forlorn “la-la-lahs.” It sort of dies a slow and agonizing death.
Probably the best song of the album is the opener “Crazy,” which seems more related to Breakfast in America than anything else here. It still comes off as quite dark, though, which could be off-putting to some; that pulsating piano has a kind of crazed drive to it as opposed to the more lighthearted pulse of “The Logical Song.” It's also supplemented with a few deep and spooky synthesizers lurking in the background while a heavy guitar makes exclamation marks. But it's all very well done; the most enticing thing about it is its hooky melody that takes quite a few interesting twists and turns.
In conclusion, this album is surprisingly decent considering how much of a mess Supertramp was in at the time. With that said, it's also probably their worst album ever to feature Hodgson. Regardless, let's give it a well-deserved 11/15.
In the Eye of the Storm (1984)
Released by Roger Hodgson
If you wanted to get the full Supertramp experience and you were planning on skipping Roger Hodgson's 1984 solo album, then don't! Take a moment to check it out. Granted, he wasn't doing anything more phenomenal or even different than what he had been doing previously with Supertramp, but this is an especially good Supertramp-esque album that I'd rank somewhere halfway between Even in the Quietest Moments... and Crime of the Century. Some reviewers like to point out that this isn't really prog, but that it lies somewhere between that and pop. I would point out that that description also pretty much sums up every Supertramp album ever released (apart from that one with the boobs on the cover).
This also strikes me as an album Hodgson made directly as a response to his frustration over how lackluster the material for ...Famous Last Words was. Either that or, I suppose, I could state the more obvious thing: This was the album he would have made if he didn't have to make room for all those daggum Rick Davies songs. (By the way, I'm not officially stating a preference towards Hodgson or Davies. It's not like they're running for Congress.)
The most important thing I could say about this album is that I find its first three songs phenomenal. The first is “Had a Dream (Sleeping With the Enemy),” a towering, eight-minute epic with a danceable, rubbery rhythm and an appealingly infectious melody that Hodgson belts out in that fiery manner in which he belts out things. (Was that a lazy description? Eh, if you've made it this far in my Supertramp reviews, then you probably know exactly how he belts out things...) Of course, the song also comes equipped with a bouncy keyboard--Exhibit A in The Case Against Hodgson Being Completely Uninterested In Deviating From the Typical Supertramp Sound. The only newer developments, as far as sound goes, are typical '80s embellishments such as the electronically enhanced drums and the washy synthesizers. ...But we'd already gotten a little taste of that in ...Famous Last Words.
This album is so Supertramp-esque that if I didn't know better, I would have assumed its second song, “In Jeopardy,” was something Rick Davies wrote. I mean, wasn't he the guy generally responsible for the jazzy tunes? (Well maybe it's not quite as full-on cabaret, but it does have a bit of a jazzed-up tinge to it.) Though I guess the bouncy keyboards in that song are pure Hodgson through and through. (I guess Hodgson must be clinically unable to contain himself in that department.) At any rate, that could be the best song of the disc. The melody is infectious and a whole lot of fun, and its verses are equally as great as its soaring chorus. If Hodgson had ever gotten close to writing another “The Logical Song,” that was it.
The third song of the album is “Lovers in the Wind,” a beautiful piano ballad with an ethereal atmosphere and a haunting melody. It gets pretty close to matching “Lord is it Mine" but comes just a little bit short. Nevertheless, I relish at the chance to hear another one of his tuneful and haunting ballads and his genuinely moving vocal performances.
The remainder of the songs don't quite capture me as much, but they're good nonetheless. The closer “Only Because of You” is a magnificent power-ballad that manages to hold my attention quite well for its mind-bogglingly long eight-and-a-half minutes. (Though that brings up a question: Did it really have to be that long?) “I'm Not Afraid” has a pretty tight groove and features some snarly vocals from Hodgson, although it doesn't actually win me over until it gets to the more upbeat, jangly part at the three-minute mark in which he sings reassuringly “I'm not afraid of nothing, I'm not afraid to cry / I'm not afraid to live, I'm not afraid to love, I'm not afraid to die”. “Give Me Love, Give Me Life” starts out like another one of his piano ballads, and--once more--the melody isn't anything less than pretty. A minute into it, it takes a bit of a turn when a danceable beat and tight pulsating keyboards show up. (The keyboards that live at Hodgson's house must live the good life considering how often he massages them.) The only song on this album that doesn't really win me over is “Hooked on a Problem,” which is lumbered with a stiff and monotonous groove. But even then, I'd say it had a pretty decent tune.
I'm really not sure what's the public sentiment of this album, but I suspect there's a fringe crowd out there who enjoys it more than Breakfast in America. I might understand why, too: It's somewhat more consistent, and it's more emotionally intense. However, the reason I think Breakfast in America beats this album handily is simply that it lacks anything that truly challenges those hit songs I love so much. Plenty of these songs get close and their execution was brilliant, but I'm just not head-over-heels in love with them. Nevertheless, 12/15.
Brother Where You Bound? (1985)
There was one thing for certain: Rick Davies seemed far more at a loss without Roger Hodgson than it was vice versa. Not that this first Hodgson-less album is the worst thing that ever existed; it just suffers from blandness. Take the opening song, for instance, “Cannonball.” It's easily the finest thing here, but it's basically only a club-dance beat that goes on for seven-minutes without ever changing. (Of course they noodle around with various instruments along the way, but that's only to keep us from getting bored!) Now, as you could see from the A- I slapped on that sucker, I happen to enjoy it as a club-dance tune quite a bit. The groove--taken on by an upbeat piano, snappy bass-guitar, infectious funk guitar, and the occasional horn section--makes a remarkably enjoyable listen. Granted, seven minutes of it is quite a lot, but I could think of much worse things to tap my foot to for that amount of time while I'm at work.
The second song is really where things start to get disappointing. While “Still in Love” makes an OK listen overall, it's the kind of song that comes and goes without making a distinct impression on me. The sound production is crisp, which is to its benefit, and I do like hearing a very extended saxophone-solo noodling around with its well textured groove. However, the groove itself is completely bland, and the vocal melody is so forgettable that it might as well not even be there. That's followed up with a piano ballad “No Inbetween,” and... oh... piano ballads always used to be carried out so soulfully and touchingly by Hodgson, but all Davies could manage here was a something that comes off as woefully stuffy. Its tune isn't particularly memorable, either. Very, very disappointing. A much finer piano ballad is “Ever Open Door” even though I'd still classify that as a bit stuffy. I like Davies' passionate vocal performance, and there are occasions where I start to like the melody. (That wasn't much of a compliment, but there you go.)
Easily one of the better songs of the album is “Better Days,” which comes off like a perfectly good Rick Davies tune! Or in other words the things, we used to patiently listen to in between Hodgson songs! It's a very serious and highly dramatic song that actually does gain a little bit of traction. The only thing I'd say that really betrays it is that it has this really long and horribly dull section where we hear a whole lot of sound-clips taken from the 1984 U.S. presidential campaign. ...I mean, nothing spells 'exciting' more to me hearing clips of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Geraldine Ferraro, and Mr. Sleepy Eyes himself, Walter Mondale trying to get themselves elected. ...I know Supertramp once put a Winston Churchill speech in one of their songs, but keep in mind wasn't so wild about that, either! And at least then it was a coherent speech from someone who had some real flair. These sound-clips are flatly spoken and last only a few seconds each.
The title track is 16 minutes long and also starts with a bunch of old clips of people talking. What were they trying to do? Pan out the album? Even when they get to the meat of the song, I struggle to find anything so terribly interesting about it. Once again, there's not much in the vocal melody department to keep things afloat, but I suppose Davies did as much as he could to mask this by singing as dramatically as he could. The only parts of the song that I actively like are those moments when I hear him stylishly groan-singing to a dance-beat. This dance section appears in brief spurts in the song's first half, but it's also allowed to close out its final four minutes. ...Easily the worst bits of the song occurs in the middle where there's an utterly tedious avant-garde instrumental interlude, which features someone playing random, pseudo-jazz chords on a piano. And then I hear crowd noises start to fade in. The crowd seems a bit angry, as I'd imagine they were bored-out-of-their-skulls from listening to the song. Then for about five seconds, there's total silence. (I mean as if they weren't boring me enough already, they had to go and throw silence in there.) Then it becomes a song again when I hear an arpeggiating guitar fade in, which is soon accompanied by a pulsating rhythm guitar, an '80s drum playing a few fills, and some super-clear bell-synths. However, the longer and longer this particular section goes, the more I bored with it. ...So it seems this 16-minute song has only about four minutes of actual, worthwhile substance to it. (Sorry.)
I've read a few reviews from people who genuinely like this album, so it seems Supertramp fans have trouble reaching a consensus about it. For me, all this album has that's worth hearing is “Cannonball” and the first bits of “Better Days,” and I could take-or-leave the rest. ...I'd say, as a whole, the album is respectable, and it continues to showcase their considerable skill in instrumentation and sound-production. This seems like the sort of album that was so cleanly produced that it would have come off as impressive to a rich kid in 1985 listening to it with brand new, state-of-the-art stereo equipment. As a whole, though, I'd say this album was a bit of a snooze-fest and an overall disappointment. It's a shame. 8/15.
Hai Hai (1987)
Released by Roger Hodgson
The first time I played this album, it wasn't for very long. I noticed immediately that it was rife with the typical sounds of late-'80s adult contemporary music, which are washy synthesizers, programmed bass-synthesizers, and those loud, whooshing electronic drums. Many-a-'70s-pop-star also attempted to update their sound in similar ways in the late '80s, and it wasn't usually with success. However, once I started listening to this album more closely (because I was fixing to review it)... Whatdayaknow? It grew on me!
The first thing to note is that Hodgson's vocals were so sharp that they could cut through just about anything. That even includes the typical '80s adult-contemporary sound, which is generally quite dense. Another important thing never to forget was that the guy could still write a pretty good tune. Granted, there's no melody here strikes me quite like the first three songs from Hodgson's first solo album In the Eye of the Storm, but enough of these songs come close. I certainly think Hodgson's fans would be missing something if they were pass up Hai Hai.
The best song on here is probably “London,” which has a mild reggae flavor and features lyrics about him pining to be back in London. (“I live in California, but it's really not the same / Oh, so take me home again”) You can hate synthesizers all you like, but he chose a pretty amusing one there that is reminiscent of steel drums. He uses that instrument, of course, to create an unbalanced reggae groove. I also like that synthesizer he uses at the beginning of the song, which sounds like a sitar. Additionally--I guess to help remind us that he's the Supertramp guy--he enlists the help of an oboist who lets off quite a few good noodles throughout the piece. So, in spite of the song's obvious '80s production standards, Hodgson managed to create something that pops out at me in good ways. ...And I haven't even mentioned the best thing about the song, which is the catchy, catchy, catchy melody.
Now, some of these songs unfortunately do get lost inside of those bland, '80s adult-contemporary atmospheres. “You Make Me Love You” is a mid-tempo song with whitewashed synthesizers flooding the background and an uninteresting robo-synth setting its pace. Thank goodness it has a decent melody, and I find the experience amiable enough that I still enjoy listening to it. ...The title track really loses me, though; it has the same problems as “You Make Me Love You” except the robo-synth groove is even more monotonous, and Hodgson sings it with such a super-serious flare that he loses his likability factor. Its saving grace, once again, is that there are a few strong vocal hooks that manage to grab my attention.
The album opener “Right Place” has a really cool first few seconds with a blaring harmonica and a huge and dark synthesizer chord. After that, an enjoyably bouncy robo-groove pipes up, and Hodgson turns in a vastly entertaining vocal performance that, at a few points, includes these really amusing guttural noises. I also like the way he sings the chorus in short bursts: (“Be! High! Have! Fun! Everyone needs it baby!”) The follow-up song, “My Magazine,” is nearly as good; it's based on a pretty catchy riff and Hodgson really belts out that chorus.
One of the highlights of the album is surely “Land Ho,” which was an old Supertramp song that was never released in an album. (Notice that Rick Davies gets a writing co-credit!) The hooks are insanely catchy, especially the chorus, which is positively addictive. With no second thought of the matter, I think the song rightfully earns its place as one of Hodgson's best songs. The bouncy “Who's Afraid” is nearly as good, but the chorus doesn't quite sweep me away as much.
The one thing this album is lacking in is ballads, which surprises because that's always been one of the guy's major strengths. This album's lone ballad is “Puppet Dance,” and as usual, I like the melody and the vocal performance in the chorus. However, the verses can get pretty dull, and thus I can do nothing else but deem it the lesser sibling of “Lord is it Mine” and “Lovers in the Wind.”
If you really like Roger Hodgson and you've been avoiding this album because of its blatant late-'80s production quality, then don't! While I agree that this production was more of a hindrance than an enhancement, this album still has its fair share of good songs in it. 11/15
Free as a Bird (1987)
Somebody who's been reading my Supertramp reviews sent me a message with some insight regarding why Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies complimented each other so well. Hodgson was good at writing melodies and soul-bearing lyrics, and Davies had the song-production sensibilities. Since both parties released albums in 1987 that happen to be similar to one another (that is, adult-contemporary music), we have a convenient means of putting this to the test and hearing how they sounded without one another. And indeed, you can hear it: Hodgson's Hai Hai was burdened with dated and murky song production, but it had some fantastic tunes on it. Davies' album, on the other hand, is so pristine and polished that it glistens, but the songwriting isn't up to par.
With that said, the songwriting here does mark a pretty significant improvement over Supertramp's previous album, which was the lackluster Brother Where You Bound. It did, however, take me a few passes before I really started to grow fond of this. Hearing the album opener, “It's Alright,” for the first time was a little like watching the pilot episode of a new sitcom. I found it overly cutesy at first and I didn't really get it, but after a few listens, it somehow crept up on me and turned into something I really enjoyed. The best way I can describe the song is to call it a plastic-merengue. (Forgive me if I don't know my Latin dances very well!). It's performed with crystal-clear piano, a grooving synthesizer, some tootin' trumpets, and a drum track that's arranged brilliantly. Moreover, that simple melody Davies sings throughout this I find unforgettable. Although I do wish Hodgson would have popped by the studio and helped Davies out with the lyrics! (“I want you in my arms tonight / You know you whet my appetite / It might be wrong for us to care / And maybe something's in the air”) Supertramp releasing straight up dance music can be a difficult pill to swallow for some of their hardened fans to swallow. However, taken on its own terms, I find it to be quite good! (I guess I've never been a huge proponent of these guys' prog stuff, anyway.)
This is probably the least popular album Supertramp ever released. The common complaint is that it's bland, which is a legitimate complaint considering many of these songs are orchestrated in similar ways. Of course the presence of crisp, '80s electric drums and the heavy use of synthesizers also prompts a few listeners to throw the term “dated” at it. Though, I prefer not to use this term too much; when I consciously decide to listen to something 1987, I'm usually aware of what I'm getting into.
Maybe the main reason I don't understand the heavy discord for this album is because the title cut sounds an awful lot like a Supertramp song from 1979. The melody is beautiful, and Davies' performance of it is soulful. I postulate Davies wanted to prove to the world that Hodgson wasn't the only person who could write a good Supertramp ballad. I think he succeeded. Another lovely pop song is the mid-tempo “Not the Moment,” which has a catchy melody and slick instrumentation. My favorite thing about it is a high-pitched synthesizer making wobbly science-fiction chords that comes in occasionally. ...The saxophone there, I'd say, is a mite Kenny-G-ish even though it still gives us a few interesting twists here and there. (The only twist Kenny G could ever manage was twisting my head off its neck.)
Even though many of these songs sound alike (to the extent that I'm not going to mention everything!), I find everything here enjoyable as a whole. Perhaps the worst song is “Never Can Tell With Friends,” which starts out with an annoyingly high-pitched, pulsating synthesizer pattern. What comes after that is a series of heavy organ chords, and then it for some reason turns into a slow dance ballad that sounds like it was lifted from some cheesy prom in the '70s.
The sprawling, seven-minute album closer “An Awful Thing to Waste” is an alright dance song even though it's in exactly the same vein as “It's Alright.” Except it's less infectious. It reminds me of one of those lengthy disco songs from Cerrone. Is that a compliment or a put-down? I have no idea. (But probably yes.)
While I by no means think this is a horrible album, I also think it's very far removed from matching the classic Supertramp style. While I think the songs--on a case-by-case basis--are generally good overall, the saminess of these songs proves to be a drawback. Nevertheless, I do love that title track. And I'll also probably continue to find amusement from that cheeky dance song “It's Alright” until the day I die. (I can picture myself dancing to that--and annoying all the nurses--when I'm in a nursing home.) Overall, I can kinda recommend this album to you, just so long you don't mind too terribly much that Supertramp went full-on pop here. 10/15
Roger Hodgson Live in Snoqualmie, Wash. (August 12, 2013)
When I first started going to concerts in the Seattle area, I was so nervous that I would arrive to the events extremely early. Like, obnoxiously early. However, once I was becoming more comfortable with going to these venues--particularly ones such as the Snoqualmie Casino that I've been to a number of times already, certain things started to become routine. This event was even more routine than usual, considering it had been almost exactly one year ago to that very day that I saw Roger Hodgson perform at the very same venue.
With that said, I still arrived to this event extremely early, but that was for a different reason. That was to do a more proper visit of Snoqualmie Falls, which was something I'd done (kind of by accident) when I saw Roger Hodgson last year. Here, look. I snapped a magnificent picture.
Now, comes the next question: If I saw Roger Hodgson last year, why did I need to go again?
Well, I love Supertramp, as well as Hodgson's solo stuff. But even then I could easily have passed on this encore. But then I wrote this line in my review of that Hodgson concert: “Hodgson left the stage telling us all 'It's been really fun playing for you guys,' and 'I'll be back soon.' Surely if he makes good on that promise, I will be there once again in the crowd.” ...Well, was I going to lie?
At any rate, this also turned out to be worth going to again. This time I was sitting more towards the center of the stage, and there weren't so many drunk people around me this time.
So anyway, I still arrived to the concert too early, because I thought I would spend more time at the hiking trail at Snoqualmie Falls. I walked around trying to find it, but apparently it was closed. There was a sign said it would open again in Spring 2013. I tried to reason with the sign, telling it that Spring 2013 was in the past, but it was of no use. It was an inanimate object.
So I ended up arriving at the land of video game slots and stale cigarettes two hours early. I bought a Diet Coke for $2 out of one of the vending machines and then an ice coffee for $3. (You can tell I'm comfortable with a place when I order an ice coffee. Drink an ice coffee in an unfamiliar place and your bladder might explode.) I took that ice coffee outdoors in the hot sun and was... on my iPhone and... typing out an overdue concert review.
Even though I make fun of the video game slot machines in my mind every time I go this place, I was semi-curious this time enough to give it a try. However, when I attempted to get money out of the cash machines, I just... couldn't figure out how they worked. I mean, usually I consider myself technically savvy, but I just could not figure out how to operate the cash machine. The machines either weren't recognizing my credit card, or I was just not using it correctly. (Seriously, though, I watched someone else use it before I tried to use it. What was I doing wrong?) It was just as well it didn't work, anyway. I had already thrown enough money down the toilet buying those drinks.
When I entered the concert stadium, there was hardly anyone there. I refused the help of an usher who asked me if I knew where I was sitting. That was a mistake, since I didn't actually know where I was sitting. I thought I had the right place at one point and sat down, but after reexamining my ticket, I realized I had it completely wrong.
The place eventually filled up, of course, and it was another well-attended show. If Roger Hodgson can consistently attract a few thousand people, then why shouldn't he keep coming back? He asked early on how many among us attended the show last year, and there was scattered but strong response. Then a bunch of middle aged guys donning T-shirts from a tour in the '90s quite verbally expressed that ... well, they're old. Well, most people at the show were quite old.
Hodgson then said he figured people would have returned, so he said he was going to change up the set-list. This excited me. I knew there are certain songs Hodgson has to play (“Hide in Your Shell,” “The Logical Song,” “Give a Little Bit,” “Dreamer,” “Breakfast in America,” etc.). But there were plenty of less significant songs he could have scrapped but substituted them with ones he hadn't performed in awhile (“Lord is it Mine,” “Gone Hollywood,” anything from Supertramp's vastly under-appreciated first two albums, anything from his thoroughly excellent 2000 solo album Open the Door, other than “Death and a Zoo,” which he performed last year.)
But, as it turned out, the set-list was almost exactly what he played last year. ...Maybe he meant he changed the song order? Well, even the song order was similar: Both shows started with “Take the Long Way Home” and was followed up by “School.” And then there was “In Jeopardy.” He played “C'est le Bon,” “Child of Vision,” “Sister Moonshine,” and “Even in the Quietest Moments.” The only song from Open the Door was and continued to be “Death and a Zoo.” He even said almost the exact same thing about performing “Lady” as he did last year, about how he just loves playing that opening sequence.
So, this was me virtually reliving that same moment I lived last year. ...Do you know how many times I wish I could relive past moments?
Of course I think all these songs are great, so I enjoyed sitting back and listening to them once again. Moreover, last year I was made to feel a bit uncomfortable with these broad-shouldered guys sitting next to me, drunk people talking to me, and spilled beer on the bottom of my shoes. This year, I got none of that. With that said, however, the people around me were still managing to distract me... a little more than usual.
Why I shouldn't pay attention to audience members around me: There was a young woman (early 20s) and and older, very heavy-set man (late 40s/early 50s) sitting right in front of me. Initially, I thought very little of this. It was a father and daughter. It must have been. Then, at one point I saw them holding hands. This struck me as odd, since you usually don't see fathers and daughters doing that, but I suppose such a thing wouldn't be completely unheard of. THEN, at the corner of my eye, I thought I'd seen them kiss lips. I convinced myself that was unlikely (and, I was making myself determined, by this point, that I wasn't going to be paying more attention to audience people). But such a resolution didn't take. My mind was diverted from the concert and focused on these two individuals when, during one of the more popular songs when everyone was standing up, I saw the two were dancing and bumping their thighs together. And then I caught them definitely smooching each other on the lips. ...Now I'm not opposed to the idea of very young women dating old fat men, but actually seeing such a thing in the flesh comes once a blue moon. The fat man certainly wasn't wearing elegant clothing, and neither was the girl, so I was ... REALLY ... curious how they found each other. But that's just not the kind of thing you ask people. (Well, I guess on the other hand I would probably never see them again... If I could somehow prevent myself from continually being haunted by past embarrassments...)
What made this situation even more curious to me was that the woman standing next to the girl was clearly her mother (they both had the same distinctive facial features). What was going on? What did the girl say to her mother before she brought her boyfriend home for the first time? ...Well I guess I will have to succumb to the sad realization that I will die and never know the answer to that question.
So anyway. That was what my second Roger Hodgson concert was like. Excellent pop music whilst being inappropriately fascinated with the people sitting in front of me.
I'm being careful not to end this review with a statement saying that I'll come back to see Hodgson again if he announces he'll come back next year, so I won't feel obligated to go again. However, I might anyway, because it's difficult for me to say "no" to the prospect of hearing "Give a Little Bit" and "The Logical Song" in concert.
Roger Hodgson Live in Snoqualmie, Wash. (August 9, 2012)
I've never been inside of a casino anywhere before this night. The reason for that is because I am firmly against giving money away for free to people whose only nit in life is not having enough money for a second yacht. However, this particular casino did manage find a way to lure me in. It was something I couldn't refuse. That is, they invited Roger Hodgson (the guy from Supertramp) to play at their facility. (Yeah, I had to call him “The Guy From Supertramp” to people I know in real life. And even then, most of them had no idea what I was talking about. That guy's a superstar in my world!)
I would also say that this was far more of a “normal” rock-concert venue compared to all the other ones I've been to this year. That is, it wasn't at a local community arts facility, or an upper-crust winery, or a converted movie theater. It was a mid-sized, outdoors stadium with a stage elevated up high, and it was situated with rows and rows of bleacher seats. But by far the most “normal” thing about the venue was that there were plenty of opportunities to buy beer. (Huh! Apparently beer comes in plastic bottles now. I bet The Blues Brothers would be thrilled to hear about that.)
The worst thing about this venue, for me, was its location. It was roughly a one-hour drive from my home, but since I had to make that journey through congested rush-hour traffic, it took roughly ninety minutes. (I'm spoiled now, I guess. I used to have to drive at least four hours before finding a decent concert anywhere.) Once I got to this place, I ended up missing the turn, so I kept on driving searching for an appropriate place to turn around. That was when I saw a sign for Snoqualmie Falls. I took that as a message from God that I was supposed to visit that water fall from the opening credits of Twin Peaks. (I was an hour early, so why not?)
Snoqualmie Falls was as big as it was gushy. I took it in but only for a minute or two, and as I was doing so, I let that haunting Twin Peaks theme run through my mind. Then I left. I couldn't afford to lollygag. There was a Roger Hodgson concert to attend to.
This casino was huge and had the stench of stale cigarettes. It was located on an Indian Reservation, which meant the establishment was exempt from the state's indoors smoking ban. I saw people puffing on cigarettes and cigars everywhere including one guy sucking on a fat ole stogie while standing around in the bathroom waiting for a cubicle to open up. (All this free money the casino gets from gamblers, and it can't afford more cubicles?)
The casino's predominant features were its rows and rows and rows of slot machines. There were thousands of them. It was nuts. But they weren't real slot machines. They were video games. In other words, this was the lamest arcade I've ever been to in my life. Not to mention that it also shattered the preconceived notion I had about casinos, which stemmed from watching 1960s films. Before arriving, I thought it might have been fun to put a quarter or two into a slot machine just to say that I did it, but if this place couldn't even be bothered to have the kinds machines that make a fthfthfthfthfthfth after pulling a lever, they can forget it! I walked around that place looking to see if they had any interesting video games such as Turtles in Time but couldn't find anything.
I also went into the casino having absolutely no idea where to go. I'm pretty sure that was a deliberate design feature of the place in hopes to lure a concertgoer or two to play the slots. But it didn't work on me.
I estimated that stadium could hold approximately 1500 people, and the seats were very jam packed together. Although I might not have been so apparent how close together these seats were if I didn't happen to be sitting next to someone with impressively wide shoulders. I mean, this guy was built exactly like that red monster from Looney Tunes (Gossamer... Thanks, Wikipedia) except that his head was above his shoulders. Roger Hodgson told us at the beginning of the show that we were free to do whatever we wanted during the concert, which included but was not limited to dancing, singing, and hugging the person next to us--even if this person was a stranger. I said 'OK' to the dancing and singing bits, but as far as hugging strangers next to us goes, I don't think I would have been able to get my arms around that big ole hunky dude.
This guy also happened to have the strong odor of Old Spice deodorant about him. Although I appreciated that greatly on account of it being a far nicer smell than your traditional B.O. In addition to Old Spice, I was also smelling the thick, musty, sweet vapors of beer throughout the show thanks to some guy in front of me who spilled a cup, and it leaked underneath my shoes.
The most significant problem with being seated at the side of the stage was that I was directly underneath one of the speakers. I remember hearing that harmonica blare out at me at the beginning of the first song--“Take the Long Way Home”--not so much coming out like a harmonica but rather like the most ear-piercing, soul-splitting banshee scream I could ever imagine. It felt like somebody took a couple of sewing needles and poked my eardrums with them. Thankfully, as I've been in the habit of doing lately, I brought earplugs with me. I did notice, however, that no one else around me seemed to have had them with them. Me and my desire to conform with people around me made me hesitate before putting them in. But then I figured they must all have been deaf, so I put them in.
I'm sure it wouldn't surprise anyone that if I were to make a bell-curve of the ages of this audience, it would have been a steep and narrow one, peaking along 45-55 age range. At least 95 percent of the people there were obviously teenagers or college-aged in the late '70s, and there were very few outliers. I could see only a minuscule sprinkling of really ancient people, and I especially looked long and hard around me for anyone under 35 and noticed approximately one. (And that one was clearly accompanying a 45- to 55-year-old father.) This means, I suppose, the casino's concert manager was exaggerating before the show when he said that Supertramp appealed widely to four generations. That is, unless he was intending to appoint little ole me as the official delegate from Generation Y. ...For sure, the lack of age-ranges at the concert was a shame, since I'm sure most younger people would love his songs if only they'd listen to them. (The older people are on their own, though.)
The stage was set up with three sets of electric keyboards (some which were double keyboards) in addition to a full-on grand piano. If the keyboards were to do battle with the guitars, then the guitars would have to surrender, because it'd be a splinter-bath. There were only two guitars that I could see: a bass one and an acoustic one. The acoustic guitar would only be played by Hodgson when he wasn't on keyboards, and he would be on keyboards the majority of the time. Additionally, there was a standard drum kit and a small gathering of saxophones.
The concert was supposed to start at 7 p.m. according to the ticket, but it wasn't until 7:30 or so before it actually did. However, even this delayed-start wasn't long enough for some people. After Hodgson was through performing “Take the Long Way Home,” he noticed a few people still taking their seats.
"You're late!" he said to them. "You've missed the best song! I won't play it again!" Then he chuckled and said: “I love embarrassing people.”
Of course, Hodgson was jovial and friendly throughout the show, smiling infectiously the whole time except for when he was in the middle of a song. But if he was in between verses or inside of an instrumental interlude, he would often have been seen flashing a warm smile or two.
His distinctive voice sounded almost exactly like it did on the old records; it would have been nearly impossible to tell that it had aged. Perhaps even more impressively was that he managed to keep his long, thick head of hair. I mean, I couldn't even manage that past 22. Of course in recent days, Hodgson's hair has started to gray a bit. He'd also been developing some deeply-set smiling wrinkles. But that only made his smile seem more endearing.
He told the crowd one of the reasons he enjoyed giving concerts so much was because--every night--it was like embarking through a journey of his life. He said nothing preserves memories quite like music does, and he hoped playing his songs would bring back deep memories for everyone in the crowd. For sure, I was one of those rarer people in the crowd, because some of my memories of these songs only went back a few days! (...Er, I wanted to finish my Supertramp reviews before going to this concert, but unfortunately a lot of that was done at the last minute. When Hodgson was in the middle of “Don't Leave Me Now” from ...Famous Last Words, all I had going through my mind was Oh no, not this song again.)
However, there were a few songs he performed that evening that I think sounded better than the studio versions. One such song was “Two of Us,” which turned out to be haunting and effective. I mean, it was a pretty rare thing to hear an artist actually improve something that was so meticulously produced in the studio. Another song I thought was improved was “C'est Le Bon,” which moved me so much when I reviewed ...Famous Last Words that I didn't even bother giving it a mention. Well, it was breezy and fantastic there on stage!
Otherwise, I enjoyed everything else equally as much as their respective album counterparts. They were also pretty much performed exactly the same apart for a few minor, nuanced things such as the band's woodwind player--Aaron McDonald--using a soprano saxophone in “Breakfast in America” instead of a clarinet. (Though if I weren't actually looking at the instrument, I doubt I would have have been able to tell the difference!) Also, regarding the song, Hodgson told us he was inspired to write it while living in England and wanting desperately to visit California for--specifically--the girls. However, he wasn't able to visit the place, so he wrote a song about it instead. He said initial reaction he'd gotten from writing it was quite strong.
"Everybody loved it except for one person: My girlfriend," he said. "It wasn't good for the relationship."
Of course one of the highlights of that evening was “The Logical Song.” Most of the people in the audience were seated most of the time, but that moment inspired many dances. Another major highlight was “Hide in Your Shell.” Hodgson said people have approached him, telling him that particular song helped them through some rough patches in life. Even though I personally am not able claim such a thing, I still count that as my favorite Supertramp song of all time. I've also probably listened to it 100 times after putting it on a mix-CD that I made circa 2004. So of course that was great to hear! I'd say the best thing about that live performance was--lo and behold--they reproduced that theremin sound in the chorus. Remember in my review of Paris that I complained they left that instrument out? Hodgson must've heard my complaint and rectified it immediately. This was far superior customer service than what I got from Hewlett-Packard that one time my hard-drive died.
Hodgson and McDonald (who not only played the saxophones but also played another set of keyboards) were getting rather gleeful when they performed that frantic xylophone-ish intro to “Lady.” (There weren't actual xylophones. They played keyboards set on xylophone.)
“I just love playing that; it's so much fun!” Hodgson said about it. “I just want to play it again!” So they did. That was quite a tight and complicated sequence to play live, and I'm sure they had to spend a lot of time in rehearsal mastering that. ...Or maybe they didn't, and they were both keyboard geniuses?
“Fool's Overture” was certainly an ordeal. I mentioned a few times already that Hodgson played his songs exactly like the studio originals. That song was exact to extent that they even played a recording of the Big Ben chimes and the Winston Churchill speech. My opinion that the original's synthesizer sequence being a bit blank still stands, but that stuff came out at me like miniature sonic booms over those speakers. A vastly different experience. Another one of the more memorable songs that evening was “In Jeopardy,” which was from his first solo album.
He didn't end up performing a whole lot from his solo albums, which surprised me a bit considering I thought he would have tried to advertise them more to the crowd. One solo-career piece he performed was “Death and a Zoo” from his 2000 album Open the Door. Even though it wasn't one of the 'famous' tunes, it was a lot of fun to watch the band perform. Each of the keyboardists, the drummer, and the bassist had a tiny percussion instrument or two with them--mostly shakers, springs, and jangly things--that they played into their microphones to imitate animal sounds. (They also played recordings of actual animals, such as growls, stampedes, and elephant trumpets.) Toward the end of the song, there was a massive drum-heavy instrumental section, and Hodgson got out of his seat and played a few heavy hits on an electric drum.
One song Hodgson revealed to us that he was saving for the end was to honor the city of Seattle. That was “It's Raining Again.” Fortunately for all of us--at this outdoors venue--it happened to be sunny and dry. ...Well, it's a pretty good gamble that it'd be dry in July and August, since those are the only two months we have “off” from the rain. But surely come September when it starts raining again, I'll have that song running through my head. (One of his solo career songs that I noticed he'd been performing at other stops on his tour but didn't perform this night was “London” from Hai Hai. I'm guessing that had something to do with one of its lyrics, “I really miss the rain”, potentially being perceived as insensitive!)
And then there was, of course, “Give a Little Bit,” which was a huge, huge, huge favorite. People seemed to respond to it much more than they'd even responded to “The Logical Song.” But that was probably because it came along much later in the set. Another one of the show's especially fun moments was when he performed back-to-back renditions of “Easy Does It” and “Sister Moonshine.” He invited the audience to start it off by helping him whistle the intro.
The only slightest disappointment with the set-list was that he didn't get around to performing “Lord is it Mine,” which I think is easily the guy's finest ballad. But what we got instead was pretty much the next best thing: a passionate performance of “Lovers in the Wind” from In the Eye of the Storm. He played that one at the grand piano. (Where else?) Another lovely ballad he delivered to us from the grand piano was “If Everyone Was Listening.”
The audience at this place was generally well-behaved, but considering a lot of them were guzzling beer out of plastic bottles, there was bound to be a little bit of rambunctiousness sooner or later. One such rambunctious person was a woman sitting directly in front of me who had already arrived to the stadium plastered. Between every single one of Hodgson's songs, she would scream out to him either one of two things: “Roger! I love you!” or “Roger! Thank you!” The first time she did that, she got a glance out of Hodgson who rather shyly mouthed a 'thanks.' However, he ignored her after that. She had also been chatting quite loudly throughout most of the show, which was pretty impressive considering how there was this freaking loud speaker hanging 15 feet above our heads. One person she was chatting with was the same person who made that puddle of beer underneath my shoes. At one point, I noticed that a garment of hers had suddenly appeared on the ground next to my feet. I couldn't tell what it was, and I didn't much care to find out. Generally, I'd find that pretty annoying, but I didn't mind it in that case considering it helped soak up some of the beer.
At one point--toward the end of the show--she had irritated the man sitting directly behind me to the brink of insanity. And this really wasn't the sort of man you'd want to cross. Even though he was quite short and had a boyish frame, he was ripped. I mean, he had muscles were bulging out every which way. (Hm, was it kind of unusual that I was in such intimate proximity to two people who obviously spent a lot of time lifting weights? They must play Supertramp a lot over gymnasium sound systems.)
Anyway, the tiny, muscley guy yelled at the loud, drunk lady using lots and lots of F-words. I will not reprint the F-words in this review, but feel free to insert them yourself wherever they make grammatical sense (and some besides).
“Are you going to sit down and shut up, or are you going to ruin this next song, too?” he said.
“Bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep!” she retorted.
“Have some respect for the music!” he said.
“This is a concert!” she said, making a loud “cK!” sound when she said “Concert.”
Fortunately, this confrontation didn't go too far beyond what I printed, except she turned around about seven times to give him the stink-eye. In the line-of-fire between him and the stink-eye was, of course, my head.
Sometimes when I'm in the middle of a concert, I get lost in their spell and I'm under the impression that they're going to last forever. But they always seem to end. The concert was great, of course, and the band was tight and professional. Apart from the lack of “Lord is it Mine,” Hodgson performed every single song that I wanted him to. I mean, there was nothing other than that missing. Also, from what I understand, it was rare for him to tour the Pacific Northwest. I think the last time he was in this region was when he toured with Supertramp. I find this lack of attention puzzling considering he lives in northern California, and this is practically his backyard. I mean, compared to all the other places he visits. (Man! I looked at his touring itinerary. He's about to go all over the place in South America. Wow!)
Hodgson left the stage telling us all “It's been really fun playing for you guys,” and “I'll be back soon.” Surely if he makes good on that promise, I will be there once again in the crowd. But hopefully next time I'd be able to avoid the drunk lady.