- Vancouver, British Columbia - My first exposure to this album was as a teen. My Mom was a fan of the band, and I can’t quite remember how she got her hands on this album, but it was her favourite. I remember hearing it and thinking that I couldn’t believe how high those guys were singing. I didn’t give the album much thought.
In 2005, Gym Class Heroes released a track called “Cupid’s Chokehold.” While not a particularly excellent song, the chorus rang a bell, and I couldn’t put my finger on where I’d heard it from. I just chocked it up to either the Gym Class Heroes releasing a fantastically catchy chorus, or some song I’d heard years previously.
As one would assume, it was the latter. The song sampled was the title track to this album, and I recently decided to give it another spin. And I feel quite bad for brushing it off before, as it is quite a good album.
This would be the best-selling Supertramp album, selling six million copies, hitting the top of international charts, and snagging a Grammy. But tensions were building between the band members, and co-founder Roger Hodgson was displeased with the final result.
The 70s were an interesting time musically, and this album is no stranger to that sentiment. A quick look at the band and you’d swear they were all stoned hippies. Then you listen to them, and are certain they’re all huffing helium. In fact, that high-pitched vocalization heard predominantly through the album can result in a casual audience either being turned off, or dismissing it as silly.
But this album needs more scrutiny than that. The theme is one of disillusioned life in many forms. The opening track, “Gone Hollywood,” tells the tale of a man wishing he had never set foot in California. “The Logical Song” tells a story about a man who rejects the teachings of his elders, as they haven’t contributed to any fulfillment in his life. The title track expresses a yearning to live a simple life and pursue the emptiness of the American dream. “Take The Long Way Home” then might be the follow-up track.
One needs only look at the cover art to believe this. After all, why have New York, the city of hopes and dreams depicted as a diner (and a skuzzy looking one at that)? It’s as if all the wishes that new immigrants have are only to be met with mediocrity.
But what is it that’s so endearing about this album? Musically, it dances that standard classic rock feel with a progressive rock mood, and the result isn’t dull. In fact, many times during the album I feel like I’m listening to the soundtrack of a demented circus that is marching through a city, shunning the inhabitants. The vast instrumentation really helps with that. We have a tuba that comes trolling in, a saxophone that blares through and leads us away, and most interestingly a Wurlitzer Electric Piano, which displays different sounds depending on how hard it’s played.
I can’t help but wonder if some people bought the album expecting something goofy and got far more than they were expecting – something deep and introspective, a little dark. I’ve often wondered the same thing about Peter Gabriel’s fourth self-titled album (or “Security” for you Americans out there). Was the album successful because audiences heard the seemingly funny-sounding “Shock the Monkey” and expected a light-hearted album? This wouldn’t be a bad way to actually get such albums good exposure, to be honest. I mean, both albums have endured 30+ years. The immediate accessibility of a humourous aspect opened the door for a more fulfilling audio experience.
As for the album itself, it is constructed in a very standard way at first with very powerful tracks in the first half then a wind down on the second, but the last track “Child of Vision” is something else entirely. This is a fast-paced song that’s strangely sad, and then the lyrics cut out halfway through leaving only the instruments to pick up the slack. It continues on for seven minutes, never getting dull, nor leaving a feeling of being abandoned. One wishes the album would continue, but then you realize there was no other way to end it.
Now I believe in what you say
Is the undisputed truth
But I have to have things my own way
To keep me in my youth
Steve’s Track Picks:
Breakfast in America
Child of Vision
Rating: 4/5 Sour Grapes