Life at 33 1/3: No crisis after all

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Supertramp, Crisis? What Crisis? (A&M)

“Crime Of The Century” is a brilliant album, and gave Supertramp the commercial breakthrough that key members Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies had been struggling for through five frustrating and sometimes very miserable years.  They’d been down in the deepest valleys, especially on a disastrous tour in Norway where they lost most of their equipment.  It’s to their credit that they kept going as the future on frequent occasions must have looked very dim.

Then suddenly, with “Crime Of The Century” everything fell into place.  In September 1974 I was present at the launch in one of London’s small theatres where they performed the entire album “live”.  I was utterly impressed.

By early summer 1975 their record company started pushing for a sequel.  They wanted it released well before Christmas.  Not very good news for a band that had been touring non-stop, and if anything needed a rest.  Supertramp was by now a highly successful unit, and they probably should have refused, but they didn’t.  So in the summer of 1975 they duly entered the A&M studios in Los Angeles without a single new song to record.

A photo of the scribe taken in Paris minutes before the Orient Express left for Venice with Supertramp and a couple of very thirsty Norwegian journalists onboard.

They had no other option but to go through their own waste bins, checking out discarded material, leftovers and outtakes from the “Crime Of The Century”-sessions.  And this would become “Crisis? What Crisis? “.  Actually there wasn’t even enough material to fill a complete album, so Rick Davis and Roger Hodgson were forced to write two new songs on the spot.

The group members have never talked nicely about the album.  It was a nightmare to record, and lacked both the cohesion and quality songs that made “Crime Of The Century” such an impressive work.  But the sleeve is striking, it’s both funny and scary, carrying a message that is just as valid today as it was 40 years ago.

To be fair, the music has stood the test of time surprisingly well.  Their keyboard-driven prog light with its airy coat of pop has an immediate appeal to it, boosted even more by the way the two singers’ very different voices are blended; Davis scruffy and worn, Hodgson bright, almost childish.

The album is very playable on lazy summer mornings.  I have a weak spot for “A Soapbox Opera”.  Neither of the single releases – “Lady” and “Ain’t Nobody But Me” (one of the two new songs) – were hits.  But the album sold well enough, and quite a few of the tracks became fan favourites when performed live.

Hodgson still plays songs from the album, and they lose none of their appeal when performed solo, just him and his electric piano. Check on YouTube.

Supertramp never tried to make a new “Crime Of The Century”.  They were going somewhere else, working their way step by step towards the airy and elegant “Breakfast In America”.  To get there they had to shake off some of their more pretentious habits.  Probably not to Rick Davies’ liking as the band relapsed after Hodgson left them in 1983.  Davis now being the group’s sole writer, took them on a trip to nowhere called “Brother Where You Bound”.

That album was premiered for the press in May 1985 on a chartered train ride from Paris to Venice with the Orient Express.  I was there too.  Rick Davis neither liked me nor my Norwegian colleague.  We laughed too much, and kept hiding in the bar every time they tried to play the record.  Don’t think they ever got through a single track as they had problems with the electricity.

In Venice, introducing the pretentious and extremely tedious 30 minute video made to accompany the album, Davis uttered these angry words:

– And to the Norwegian journalists I just want to say:  This is not a comedy!

And it wasn’t.

Released: September 14, 1975

Produced by: Ken Scott and Supertramp.

Contents: Easy Does It/Sister Moonshine/Ain’t Nobody But Me/A Soapbox Opera/Another Man’s Woman/Lady/Poor Boy/Just a Normal Day/The Meaning/Two of Us

Personnel:

Rick Davies – vocals, keyboards

John Anthony Helliwell – wind instruments, vocals

Roger Hodgson – vocals, guitars, keyboards

Bob C. Benberg – drums, percussion

Dougie Thomson – bass