Supertramp – Breakfast In America
By Paul Rigby
Breakfast In America is a tough album to listen to. Why? Because, it’s the sort of album that forces you to break out into song every time you hear it. How many times have I had to share, with the rest of the street, my faltering falsetto during ‘The Logical Song’? How many times, have I tried to use ‘Oh Darling’ as a reference track when reviewing hi-fi equipment only to sadly realise that breaking into song two seconds after it begins is not going to help me judge the lower frequency effectiveness or the sense of clarity over the upper midband? When will I learn that ‘Goodbye Stranger’ is not the right track to play late at night because my inhuman wailing wakes up my young son from a fitful sleep to a waking nightmare of a sonic psychological warfare?
Maybe it’s the perfect blend of pop and rock, maybe it’s the infusion of highly melodic hooks and clever lyrics or maybe it’s the joyous tone that runs throughout – even within the more serious and contemplative tracks, there is a sense of rhythm that grabs you. Undoubtedly, BIA is Supertramp’s masterpiece and one of the albums of the year in 1979.
In fact, 1979 was a hell of a year for music with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, rubbing shoulders with Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, The Specials’ self-titled album ran alongside The Jam’s Setting Sons, the Police’s Reggatta De Blanc and Frank Zappa’s Joe’s Garage melded with Public Image’s Metal Box and Gary Numan’s Pleasure Principle. There was a feast of competition out there but Supertramp arguably had the public at large tapping their feet and humming their music as they ran to get the bus to school or their cars to work in the morning.
The album itself starts in storming fashion with the title track. A song, as lead singer Roger Hodgson explained during the creation of this box set, was written when he was a young man, 17 in fact.
“I composed ‘Breakfast In America’ on an old church pump organ, which my mother and I found in the back of this old lady’s house in England covered in cobwebs. I bought it for £26 and the sound of this instrument pulled many songs out of me. ‘Breakfast In America’ was one of the first. I was in a whimsical mood that day dreaming of going to America. I guess part of me thought it might be easier to get a girl to like me in America.”
The album also began to expose the roots of the band’s future split with the different songwriting approach of Hodgson and the other writing force, Rick Davies and their growing difficulties to get along, highlighted by Rick Davies’ own track, to be found on the B-side, ‘Casual Conversations’.
“Rick found his voice in ‘Just another Nervous Wreck’ and ‘Casual Conversations’,” said drummer Bob Siebenberg, “while ‘Oh Darling’ shows Rick’s groove-oriented style.”
Universal, via its A&M imprint, has decided to give this album the special treatment it deserves with a deluxe version that remasters the original album and packs a slipcase full of goodies to boot. You get the album on 180gm vinyl plus CD, a second CD that features live tracks taken from the 1979 tour that has been presented in an intimate and a splendidly raw manner plus a DVD that features singles videos from the album plus rare footage previously broadcast on the UK’s classic, late-night, cult-music show, the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test. Finally, you get a sixty-page hardback book full of interviews, photographs, lyrics, a poster, a replica concert ticket, patch and programme. The whole lot is stuffed within a hard slipcase cover.
During play and comparing the newly remastered release with the original album, there is a frankly enormous increase in related sound quality. The new remaster has a grand, ‘Technicolor’ effect on the ear with a new, broad, expansive soundstage that ranges across the speakers like a blaze of sound across an enormous desert. It’s impressive and sweeping like the first scenes from the film, Lawrence Of Arabia. It’s also impressively rich with a lifted bass that is both powerful and structured while the upper frequencies are mature in their sonic confidence, allowing extra details to flow.
The remaster on its own would have been a triumph and a sole reason to buy this album once more. Couple that with the host of extra goodies which means that any Supertramp fan has to have this box…now.
Stand-out track: Breakfast In America
There is a dramatic and very real dynamic quality about this track that will put severe pressure upon your hi-fi at key moments, specifically when the midband gives way to some of the most powerful drum strikes on record. A great way to test overall performance of your system.
Stand-out track: The Logical Song
The key facet of this track is Roger Hodgson’s falsetto lead vocal. Starting out quite inoffensively, the vocal builds and expands and rises in tone and pitch to a level that will find out any speaker pairing that fails to allow the upper midband and treble to reach its required levels. Listen out for upper frequency break-up or roll-off.
Breakfast In America – A Recorded History
1979 LP A&M 1PSP 3708
1985 CD A&M 3937082
1990 CD Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab 534
2000 LP Simply Vinyl 0000184
2002 CD Universal Distribution 493349
2008 LP A&M 213708
2011 LP/CD A&M 0600753311837