The Very Best of Supertramp
A&M / Universal
Unless you’re a diehard fan or geeky collector of progressive ’70s rock, this is the only Supertramp album you’ll need. Fifteen tracks clocking in at a generous 79 minutes, traipse through their mid-late ’70s prime years (two early and thankfully out-of-print albums from 1970 and 1971 are not-surprisingly omitted), hitting most of their best, and all of their most popular material. Track by track liner notes with snappy quotes from the band add extra value to this quality recap. Beating Genesis to the punch, Supertramp — named after a cult classic book, W.H. Davies’ The Autobiography of a Supertramp — meshed their prog-rock with intricate pop, goosing it with a bit of jazz and blues courtesy of John Helliwell’s spotlight stealing woodwinds. They crossed over in a big way on 1979’s mega-platinum Breakfast In America, which sold over 18 million copies worldwide, but first achieved a strong US following with 1977’s Crime of the Century, their most fully realized work. The end came quickly, as the Breakfast follow-up live double set Paris (which is MIA here) and 1982’s appropriately titled …famous last words tanked, sending reedy singer/guitarist/songwriter Roger Hodgson, best known for his vocals on the ubiquitous “Take the Long Way Home,” scurrying to a solo career which he’s still trying to get off the ground. By 1985’s unexpectedly solid Brother Where You Bound, the end was calling, even though the band continued to soldier on, releasing a few nondescript albums until 1997, none of which are represented on this collection. In fact only 12 minutes (two tracks) are devoted to Supertramp’s post-Breakfast work, an indication of the popularity, but not necessarily the quality of their later albums. Certainly the progressive elements that made Crime, Crisis What Crises?, Even in the Quietest Moments, and Breakfast so refreshing in their multi-genre appeal, are all but absent on their later work, showing that founder Hodgson’s input was missed. Speaking as someone who lived through the Breakfast years and swore off the band forever after that album ruled the airwaves, hearing this music again after twenty some years is a startlingly enjoyable experience. Beautifully produced and often meticulously constructed, the songs — some might say mini-suites — flow between tempos and unique pop construction. From the drama of the young schoolchild screaming just before the opening crescendo of “School,” which leads off this disc, to the faux-blues of “Ain’t Nobody But Me” to the epic “From Now On,” with its classical piano riffs and the pop smarts with crafty wordplay of “The Logical Song,” Supertramp’s music remains more than a crusty curiosity from quarter century old progressive rock has-beens. With a distinctive sound, a knack for melody and a reach just within their grasp, they’re a band worth rediscovering. The Very Best of Supertramp contains all the reasons why.