SUPERTRAMP-CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

SUPERTRAMP-CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

Very few groups are overnight successes. Most groups spend years struggling, trying to make a commercial breakthrough. Then after years of trying, success comes the way of the fortunate few. That was the case for Supertramp. It took three albums, and several changes in lineup before Supertramp made a commercial breakthrough.

Supertramp’s commercial breakthrough came with Crime Of The Century, which was released in September 1974. On its release, Crime Of The Century received widespread critical acclaim. It was widely accepted that Crime Of The Century was by far, Supertramp’s finest album. That was reflected in sales. Crime Of The Century reached number four in Britain and number thirty-eight in the US Billboard 200 charts. This resulted in Crime Of The Century being certified gold in America and Britain. That, however, wasn’t the end of the commercial success.

Just over a year later, Supertramp returned with the followup to Crime Of The Century, Crisis? What Crisis?, Released in November 1975, Crisis? What Crisis? saw the rise and rise of Supertramp continue. They were now well on their way to becoming part of rock royalty. 

As soon as Crime Of The Century was released, A&M Records were pushing Supertramp to record another album. However, Supertramp were touring North America. During the tour, Roger Hodgson injured his hand. This resulted in Spertramp having to to cancel the rest of the North American tour. With extra time on their hands, Supertramp decided to begin work on what would become Crisis? What Crisis?

While extra time would be welcomed by any band about to record an album, there was a problem. Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson’s principal songwriters didn’t have a vision for their fourth album. This had been the case with Supertramp’s sophomore album, Indelibly Stamped. So, when work began on what became Crisis? What Crisis?, Rick and Roger were having to think on their feet. This could prove costly.

For Crisis? What Crisis? Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, who had formed a potent songwriting partnership,  penned the ten tracks on Crisis? What Crisis? These ten tracks were recorded between summer and autumn 1975, at A&M Studios, Los Angeles, Ramport Studios and Scorpio Studios, London. 

When Supertramp began recording of Crisis? What Crisis?, Ken Scott returned as co-producer. Along with Supertramp, he would produced Crisis? What Crisis? Crisis? What Crisis? As the sessions began in the summer of 1975, Supertramp’s rhythm section featured Bob C. Benberg played drums and percussion, Dougie Thompson bass and Roger Hodgson vocals, guitar and keyboards. They were joined by Rick Davies on keyboards and vocals, while John Helliwell played saxophone and clarinet. By autumn 1975, Crisis? What Crisis? was completed. It would be released in September 1975.

On the release of Crisis? What Crisis? in September 1975, it wasn’t well received by critics. Some went as far as to ridicule some of the songs on Crisis? What Crisis? For Supertramp, this was a disaster. However, over the past forty years, a new generation of critics have looked at Crisis? What Crisis? with fresh and unbiased eyes. Crisis? What Crisis? it seems was a better album than the original critics would’ve had you believe. Sadly, this was too little, too late.

Having made the breakthrough with Crime Of The Century, Supertramp were determined to became part of rock royalty. Given the poor reviews of Crisis? What Crisis?, the sales didn’t match Crime Of The Century.

When Crisis? What Crisis? was released, it reached just number twenty in Britain and number forty-four in the US Billboard 200 charts. This was a disappointment, as Crime Of The Century had been certified gold in America and Britain. At least Crisis? What Crisis? was certified platinum in Canada and gold in France and Germany. While this success was welcome, Supertramp had wanted to replicate the success of Crime Of The Century. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. Why though? That’s what I’ll tell you after I’ve told you about Crisis? What Crisis?

Easy Does It opens Crisis? What Crisis? The introduction is understated. It’s not unlike a city awakening. Just a carefree lone whistle sets the scene for the vocal. It’s accompanied by an understated rhythm section, keyboards and firmly strummed guitar. Roger’s vocal is tender, hopeful and tinged with envy.  Here, the lyrics could easily be about any rock star. They’re about identity and coping away from the fame and limelight. Roger seems to envy people who know who they are and where they’re going. 

Just strummed, chiming guitars accompany Roger’s impassioned vocal on Sister Moonshine. Memories come flooding back, about when he was younger. He wishes things had been different. So, his imagination runs riot, singing “I wish I was a minstrel.”It’s as if he wants to escape from reality, and the drudgery of everyday. With a probing bass for company, Roger makes his escape from reality.

Ain’t Nobody But Me is the first of three songs where Rick Davies takes charge of the lead vocal. The arrangement is dark, dramatic and even gothic. Swells of organ, a dark, deliberate piano and the rhythm section accompany Rogers vocal. He delivers it abruptly. This adds to the drama. So, do the searing guitar. Then seamlessly, the rest of Supertramp add harmonies and Roger’s vocal takes on a tenderness. When it drops out, a blazing saxophone, blistering guitar, washes of organ and driving rhythm section combine. They play their part in a heartfelt paean, where elements of doo-wop, R&B, rock and soul combine seamlessly, to create one of Crisis, Not Crisis? highlights.

Straight away, A Soapbox Opera sounds as like Pink Floyd. Snatches of conversation, washes of synths and a lone, melancholy pain sets the scene for Roger’s wistful vocal. When he’s alone, he’s searching, searching for something to believe in. He’s struggling though. Meanwhile, Supertramp produce one of their trademark arrangements. Later, swathes of strings dance and ethereal harmonies sweep in, as the arrangement veers between dramatic to melodic.

Rick Davies returns on Another Man’s Woman. Again, an understated arrangement emerges from the distance. Just a jaunty piano solo makes its presence felt. It’s joined by Rick’s vocal, a chiming guitar and then, the rhythm section. As the jaunty arrangement unfolds, Rick vocal ranges from tender to a swagger. Meanwhile, searing guitars, stabs of piano and harmonies provide a backdrop during this tale of being the “other man,” and the danger it entails.

A marimba plays before the arrangement to Lady unfolds. It gives the listener a brief taste of Breakfast In America. This comes courtesy of urgent keyboards. They’re joined by the rhythm section, who add an element of drama. Roger’s vocal is impassioned, needy and urgent. Later, there’s a brief nod to Come Up and See Me, Make Me Smile, as Supertramp stretch their legs. Their arrangement provides the perfect accompaniment for Roger’s needy plea to the “Lady” in his life, as it reaches a dramatic high.

Just a Normal Day sees Rick and Roger share the lead vocal. They did this effectively on Crime Of The Century. As a lone piano takes centre-stage, the arraignment looks as if it’s about to head in the direction of jazz. It takes on a laid-back sound as  the lyric “I like nothing better than sitting here with you.”  The “Poor Boy” isn’t for complaining “as long as you’re right here with me.” By then, the arrangement has grown, and is shuffling along. As the rhythm section provide the heartbeat, a clarinet plays and harmonies add to the laid-back, understated, irresistible jazz-tinged sound,

There’s an element of drama to the piano and eerie synths that swirl above the arrangement to Just A Normal Day. They provide the backdrop to Roger’s pensive vocal. So do the rhythm section, keyboards and swathes of strings. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Roger’s soul-baring vocal on this beautiful, moving and thoughtful song.

Just like many of the songs on Crisis? What Crisis?, The Meaning has an understated introduction. It emerges from the distance, a sci-fi sound and urgent vocal combining. Soon, they’re joined by keyboards, woodwind and the rhythm section. By now, it’s as if Supertramp are drawing inspiration from prog-rock, jazz and the theatre of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Later, the arrangement grows in drama and an almost desperate Roger searches for “The Meaning.”

Two Of Us closes Crisis? What Crisis? An organ adds an atmospheric, dramatic backdrop before Roger’s confused vocal. He wonders “where do we go from here?” Meanwhile, an acoustic guitar, washes of organ and later, drums accompany him. Hopefully, he sings “as long as we’ve got the “Two Of Us” I’ll carry on.” However, one wonders if it’s more in hope than expectation.

Forty years ago, when Supertramp released Crisis? What Crisis? it wasn’t to the same critical acclaim as its predecessor Crime Of The Century. When Crisis? What Crisis? was released in September 1975, it wasn’t well received by critics. Some went as far as to ridicule some of the songs on Crisis? What Crisis? which some critics said, was an unfocused album. For Supertramp, this was a disaster. 

Especially when Crisis? What Crisis? failed to replicate the commercial success of Crime Of The Century. Just when Supertramp looked like becoming part of rock royalty, Crisis? What Crisis? stalled at number twenty in Britain and number forty-four in the US Billboard 200 charts. This was a disappointment, as Crime Of The Century had been certified gold in America and Britain. At least Crisis? What Crisis? was certified platinum in Canada and gold in France and Germany. While this success was welcome, Supertramp had wanted to replicate the success of Crime Of The Century. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

Critics referred to Crisis? What Crisis? as a disjointed, unfocussed album. They also felt that Supertramp had rushed the recording of Crisis? What Crisis? That was down to A&M Records. 

They were desperate for Supertramp’s fourth album. So, when Roger injured his hand on their North American tour, Supertramp got to work. The only problem was Rick and Roger didn’t have a vision for the album. It was a case of using leftover songs from Crime Of The Century. At one point, Supertramp run out material. So, they stopped recording and wrote and a two new songs, including Ain’t Nobody But Me. These songs formed the basis for Crisis? What Crisis?, which has been reevaluated by critics.

Over the past forty years, a new generation of critics have looked at Crisis? What Crisis? with fresh and unbiased eyes. Crisis? What Crisis? is a better album than the original critics would’ve had you believe. There’s a reason for this. Back in 1975, a new breed of critics were making a name for themselves. They saw groups like Supertramp as music’s past. As a result, many albums didn’t receive a fair hearing. That may be the case with Crisis? What Crisis?,

While Crisis? What Crisis? may not have been one of Supertramp’s classic albums, it’s a far better album than the original reviews would have you believe. Crisis? What Crisis? is variously, beautiful, dramatic, melancholy, melodic and thoughtful. Elements of jazz, prog-rock, R&B, rock and soul can be heard over Crisis? What Crisis? ten tracks. This makes for an intriguing and underrated album. That’s why Supertramp’s fourth album, Crisis? What Crisis? is one of the hidden gems in Supertramp’s back-catalogue.

SUPERTRAMP-CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

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