Crime of the Century est le troisième album de Supertramp, sorti en 1974, et le premier de la formation « classique » du groupe : Rick Davies et Roger Hodgson y sont rejoints par Dougie Thomson (basse), Bob Siebenberg (batterie) et John Helliwell (saxophone). Crime of the Century marque le début du véritable succès du groupe en se classant dans le Top 5 au Royaume-Uni et dans le Top 40 aux États-Unis. Le single Dreamer se vend également bien. En France, l'album est certifié disque d'or en 1978 pour 100 000 exemplaires vendus et disque de platine en 1980 pour 400 000 exemplaires vendus.
Certaines chansons de l'album sont par la suite régulièrement jouées pendant les concerts du groupe : School, chanson acide sur l'éducation, la cynique Bloody Well Right, la ballade Rudy, ainsi que la chanson-titre en fin de concert. La pochette de l'album représente deux bras agrippés aux barreaux d'une fenêtre de prison flottant dans l'espace. Lors des concerts du groupe, une vidéo montrant cette image est projetée sur un écran géant pendant le final de la chanson Crime of the Century.
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Crime of the Century was the album where it all came together for Supertramp, as they composed scores of tracks in order to find the best eight to make this record. Along the way, the group forged a non-traditional and unique sound which falls somewhere along the twisted road between progressive rock and pop music. Produced by Ken Scott, the album is also a sonic masterpiece with incredible dynamics. Crime of the Century was the group’s commercial breakthrough in the West, reaching the Top Five in the U.S. and did especially well in Canada, where reached #1 and stayed on the charts for over two years, while selling over a million copies in that country.
Supertramp’s origins date back to 1969 when Dutch millionaire Stanley August Miesegaes (know as ‘Sam’, and to who Crime of the Century is dedicated) offered keyboardist Rick Davies financial backing to form his own band. In the subsequent auditioning, Davies found Roger Hodgson to play bass and perform lead vocals, along with several other revolving musicians to fill the band. Supertramp got their name from the early century novel The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by William Henry Davies (no relation to Rick) and released their first two albums, Supertramp and Indelibly Stamped in 1970 and 1971 respectively. Despite receiving critical praise, neither album sold well and all members gradually dropped out except Davies and Hodgson. The pair decided to embrace their radically different backgrounds, musical inspirations, and life philosophies. They composed over 40 songs through the next few years, in order to produce a bona fide success.
Crime of the Century was recorded at various English studios by Scott and the group, methodically selecting the best moments to include on the final album. While not a concept album, there is much recursion and referencing amoung the tracks, which consistently alternates primary vocalists all the way through. Lyrically, many of these tracks deal with themes of youth, isolation, loneliness and mental stability, leaving many to initially compare the group to Pink Floyd. However, the musicianship and style of Supertramp is obviously distinct, as has become evident over the past four decades.
The methodical patience and sonic dynamics of this album is evident from the very beginning, with the long, slow harmonica intro of “School”. Hodgson’s verse vocals are first only above his flanged guitar, and then an elongated, strummed guitar section before the song finally fully kicks in. Davies later provides a bright piano lead as, perhaps, the most entertaining aspect of this song, which lyrically touches the same subject matter which Hodgson will master later with “The Logical Song” on Breakfast In America. “Bloody Well Right” gives us Supertramp’s first incorporation of their signature Wurli piano, with Davies’ very entertaining beginning solo. This song has the feel of a totally unique and groovy track with perfect rock aspects disrupting the Wurli solo and an electric guitar lead with a wild pedal wah with perfect textures. Hodgson had moved from bass to piano and guitar in recent years and Doug Thompson was brought on as the full time bassist, and does much to hold the entire song together especially during the second part of the bouncy chorus sections. Originally released as a ‘B’ side, “Bloody Well Right” soon became the most popular song from Crime of the Century and would remain the band’s signature song for years to come.
All that being said, “Hide In Your Shell” is the best overall song on the album, with perfect structure, dynamics, and just the right amount of effects at the right moments. This is dripping with introspective melancholy, presented in four perfectly orchestrated sections (verse/post-verse/pre-chorus/chorus) through each progression. This time Hodgson is on the Wurli electric with Davies accompanying with moody organ during the verses. The song also features a chorus of guest vocalists for background, also masterfully placed and the unique combo of John Helliwell‘s saxophone and an eerie saw, played by an “anonymous street musician”, under the chorus are the climax of the fantastic track. The outro is also a highlight, as it builds and builds to a perfect crescendo to drive the song home. Davies beautiful high piano introduces the progressive ballad “Asylum”, which uses two verses to build the vibe before potently kicking in to the reserved, accented drums of Bob Siebenberg. The song finds its way to a very intense section, where Davies vocals get ever more desperate, accented by the wild musical effects and rhythms. “Asylum” is also lyrically potent, albeit a bit cryptic and poetic;
Bluesy Monday is the one day that they come here, when they haunt me and taunt me in my cage. I mock them all, they’re feelin’ small, they got no answer, they’re playin’ dumb but I’m just lauging as they rage…”
The second side starts with interesting piano runs during the initial verses and later bridge of “Dreamer”, which on its surface seems like the most straight forward pop track (it did reach #15 in the US and #1 in Canada). However, it does contain a very interesting bridge where sonic dynamics are vital once again with building stereo effects. Overall, there is a lot packed into this three and a half minute song. While “Dreamer” seems to scoff at the wide-eyed optimist, “Rudy” takes the opposite approach of life wasted waiting for opportunity. It is the longest and most asymmetrical song which moves through sections of jazz, rock, and prog on its journey. The initial verses are quiet and reserved before the song goes through some strong theatrical sections, containing the most stereotypical mid-seventies musical elements such as high strings and proto-disco rhythms. The song then winds down with orchestration straight out of a classic movie soundtrack.
Hodgson’s final lead on the album is on the ballad “If Everyone Was Listening”, which is built on rocking piano during the verses. The highlight here is the subtle clarinet during the choruses and alto sax lead in mid-section, making this Helliwell’s strongest track. Continuing the recursion, “If Everyone Was Listening” seems to lyrically refer back to “Dreamer”, while adding its own bit of social commentary. The title track “Crime of the Century” concludes the album with a definitive Pink Floyd feel, as it starts with quick lyrical motif identifying some unknown evil force before going into methodical music sections with no further commentary. The song contains a pretty good guitar lead by Hodgson, the first and only appearance by that instrument on the second side, before descending into an unusually long chorded-piano part which seems to do little more than fill in the album’s last few minutes.
With the critical and commercial success of Crime of the Century, Supertramp stabilized their lineup of Davies-Hodgson-Helliwell-Thomson-Siebenberg for the next decade and four subsequent studio albums. Over that period, the group would grow in stature and popularity while increasingly drifting away from the musical formula which made this 1974 album a masterpiece.
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