Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Supertramp Album (Part 2)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Check out Part 1 by clicking here!

Breakfast in America (1979, A&M)                                     

A +

The band once again turns back to more pop-radio-friendly territory on this outing, which proved to be their biggest-selling album yet and one of the most famous albums in all of classic rock. Naturally, there are plenty of recognizable hits to be found here, namely Hodgson’s chilling and atmospheric “Take the Long Way Home,” the ironically-sunny pop of Davies’ kiss-off “Goodbye Stranger,” and Hodgson’s clever, adjective-heavy “The Logical Song,” the band’s first Top Ten hit and one of the more impressively sophisticated pop singles to be found on the radio in the late ‘70s. Just as iconic is the album’s title cut, which failed to reach the Top 40 in the U.S. but remains a classic-rock-radio favorite and was later employed as the musical bed for Gym Class Heroes’ “Cupid’s Chokehold.” There’s also some stellar non-singles here, namely Hodgson’s lovely piano ballad “Lord Is It Mine” and Davies’ gritty rocker “Just Another Nervous Wreck.” 

Famous Last Words … (1982, A&M)                                  

B

This was Roger Hodgson’s final album with the band, and it sure sounds that way, too. There’s a somber mood underpinning much of the album, and there are lyrical hints that not all is well in the Supertramp camp. Even the sound of the album seems off, the engineering and mix noticeably being murkier than normal (it’s certainly a far cry from the aural clarity of an album like Quietest Moments, at least), and the production and arrangements seem dated, the album sonically sounding like too much of a clone of Breakfast in America to seem like a 1982 release. There are thankfully at least some good songs to be found here. The album-opening “Crazy” and the wistful folk of “C’est Le Bon” are quite hooky, while Davies seems to be having quite fun on the equally catchy and ‘50s-flavored Top 40 hit “My Kind of Lady,” on which he handles all of the vocal parts to delightful results. Best of all is the fun Hodgson-penned electric-piano romp of “It’s Raining Again,” also a Top 40 hit and their prettiest, at that. I normally cringe at the use of a children’s choir on a pop song, but somehow the coda of “It’s Raining Again” manages to incorporate one in an endearing way that just adds to the song’s sense of playfulness.  

Brother Where You Bound  (1985, A&M)                           

B –

The band’s first post-Hodgson outing finds the band opting to carry on as a quartet with Davies serving as the band’s only vocalist and songwriter. Considering that Hodgson wrote most of the band’s biggest hits, it’s a gutsy move for Davies to try and go it alone. Davies also seizes the opportunity to return the band to more prog-rock-oriented territory, the album’s first single (“Cannonball”) clocking in at nearly eight minutes and the title track clocking in at well over sixteen minutes. Naturally, Hodgson and his winning brand of pop are quite missed here, and the band has never been the same without him, but the album is still surprisingly good and one of the band’s more artistically ambitious albums in some time. The band sounds like its old self on bluesy piano rockers like “Still in Love,” but they also expand their horizons considerably on cuts like the Top 40 hit “Cannonball” and “Better Days,” which both dabble in lite-funk and jazz-pop. The former even incorporates a brass section to nice results; the song technically lacks a real chorus, but the horn riffs do a nice job of giving the song a needed hook. Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour provides the lead guitar on the chilling prog-rock of the title track and nearly steals the show with his atmospheric playing. Just as impressive is the album-closing piano ballad “Ever Open Door,” the opening lines of which cleverly overlap with each other. 

Free As a Bird (1987, A&M)                                                

B

Perhaps in reaction to the modest sales of its predecessor, the band turns here once more to more pop-oriented ground with shorter and catchier songs than the offerings on Brother Where You Bound. It may not be a terribly ambitious album artistically, but the songs are bursting with hooks (making Hodgson’s departure seem much less noticeable here than it did on Brother), the band sounds as good as ever, and the production and engineering are both first-rate as well.  Most impressively, the band makes more of an effort here to try and sound contemporary than it has on its prior ‘80s albums, welding its trademark piano-pop to a more distinctly late-’80s adult-contemporary production, and the sonic makeover surprisingly fits them well. You can actually even dance to some of these tracks, which never could be said in the past about any Supertramp song, and in fact, the lite disco of “I’m Begging You” (one of the band’s most underrated singles) even managed to top the Billboard dance charts!  The equally catchy “It’s Alright” is every bit as danceable. Some might call this album a bit of a sellout, but there’s still an awful lot of craft in both the songwriting and production to admire. The album flopped and quickly sailed into the cut-out bins, but there’s a lot of fine pop tunes here (including the lovely title cut), and the disc doesn’t really lose momentum until halfway through the second side. 

Some Things Never Change (1997, Oxygen)                                  

C

After the impressive forward progress of the band’s last two albums, the band inexplicably takes a complete one-eighty and tries to recreate the sound of their ’74-’83 period, right down to the Wurlitzer electric pianos that were so prominent on the band’s albums during that time and had been wisely abandoned after Hodgson’s departure. Longtime bassist Dougie Thomson has departed, sadly, while Mark Hart (who was a guest musician on Free as a Bird and served as a latter-day member of Crowded House in the intervening years) is a full band member this time out and even serves as the lead vocalist on several tracks. Considering that the group had truly sounded contemporary on its last two discs and done a nice job of trying to restructure its sound in the wake of Hodgson’s departure, the group really misfires this time, not simply because they once again sound years behind the times, but because the return to their old sound just makes you focus unnecessarily on Hodgson’s absence. Putting Hart in place as a second lead vocalist doesn’t do anything to help that, either. Some of the songs are reasonably catchy (“You Win, I Lose” is the best of the cuts here), but try as they might to recreate the glories of old, you can’t truly do that without the band’s most famous lineup fully intact, and the band would have been better served by sticking to the forward-thinking pop of Free As a Bird.

Slow Motion (2002, Silver Cab)                                                        

C +  

The band has apparently learned from the mistakes of Some Things Never Change and made some alterations here. Mark Hart remains in the lineup, but Davies wisely helms all the lead vocals here rather than try to revisit the multiple-lead-singer structure of the band’s heyday, and the band also doesn’t try nearly as hard to mimic the sound of its ‘70s albums as its predecessor does. The end result still isn’t quite as appealing as Brother Where You Bound or Free As a Bird, but it’s a slight improvement on the last album, and the songs are catchier this time as well, highlighted by the endearing “Over You,” which sounds like a lost doo-wop ballad from the late ‘50s. [Intriguingly, this album also marks the debut of “Goldrush,” which the first lineup of the band traditionally played to open its shows but somehow never got around to releasing on record.]