Brother Where You Bound

Supertramp

A&M, 1985

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/02/2017

Two voices will always remain indelibly stamped with the Supertramp sound: Roger Hodgson’s high wail, so key to songs like “Dreamer” and “The Logical Song,” and Rick Davies’ gruff, slightly hectoring tenor, which gave necessary grit to tracks like “Goodbye Stranger” and “Bloody Well Right.” The combination of those voices on Supertramp’s classic albums was potent and necessary to the success of the band’s prog-pop sound in the mid-to-late 1970s.

But after 1982’s famous last words, Hodgson left, and a bitter Davies opted to continue fronting the group solo, taking over all vocals and songwriting duties in addition to keyboards. This being the mid-‘80s, he also brought in an array of session players to buffet the sound and add jazz flourishes and then landed David Gilmour to solo on the title track (on hiatus from Pink Floyd at the time, Gilmour was keen to work with other musicians).

The immediate finding here is the sound leaning more heavily on piano and keyboards than on guitar – although since this was 1985, nobody noticed. The second finding is that the album really had no pop hits or winning radio-friendly singles with the exception of “Cannonball,” as the now-quartet seemed keen to return to its more prog roots of the early ‘70s. The third is that the lyrics are more straightforward now, a mix of Cold War-politics and personal confessionals to Hodgson that also work in the context of any relationship or friendship. And the fourth is a much stronger emphasis on jazzy sounds and saxophone solos, not only in the 16-minute title track but spread out across the first four songs as well.

 It's certainly true to the spirit of the original Supertramp, if not necessarily the sound. But it will hold limited appeal to those who haven’t been true believers from the beginning (to wit: If you think the band’s best songs are “Casual Conversation” and “Fool’s Overture,” you’re the target audience here). “Still In Love” aims for the cheesy, thin-sounding pop of the ‘80s and fails, “No Inbetween” is an unmemorable piano ballad and “Ever Open Door” is along the same lines but a little more heartfelt, the flip side of “Cannonball’s” angry sentiment, sounding like a Greg Lake song mixed with a hymn (so, nbtc__dv_250 Works Vol. 1).  And even “Better Days” is pretty darn corny, sounding like a cross between Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” and the Alan Parsons Project, with some random flute playing and a dance beat to give this stale Cold War screed some sort of life.

That leaves the title track and “Cannonball.” The latter was the band’s last hit in edited form; as usual, the longer version is recommended, as the jazz playing meets the robotic pulse to create something different and chilly, spaced with the occasional nifty instrumental break (note the “Billie Jean”-style guitar sound that underpins the second verse, for example). But the lyrics are straightforward and mad, Davies working out his feelings against an ex-girlfriend or, possibly, Hodgson, building to a shouted climax of “You can say what you want all day / But I’ve never been so outraged / And I’m washing my hands of you / How could you be so untrue?” / You know I can’t stand no more.”

As for the 16-minute “Brother Where You Bound?” Yikes, where to start? This one has all the elements in place for a prog classic – David Gilmour on guitar, a long run time, political lyrics – and yet it cannot coalesce its many parts into something truly memorable and cohesive. The piece started at 10 minutes during the famous last words sessions and was pulled, but the band revisited it to give it a bit of a Cold War twist and some quotes from 1984 over the (long) introduction. Davies’ gritty voice and staccato delivery of the choruses is a good contrast to the verses, while the saxophone provides a breath of air from the general feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia that hovers over the track. Unfortunately, a strong six minutes of this gives way to a series of unrelated instrumental breaks and jams, some decent (Gilmour’s spot at 10 minutes in) and most rather dull before returning to the main instrumental theme to close out the track. It would have been interesting to hear how the band envisioned the piece originally; I suspect it would have axed the middle six minutes of noodling and kept the beginning and end, which would have made for a better song. Perhaps there wasn’t enough material to fill an LP?

Whatever the case, this is the last somewhat interesting album Supertramp made, though by no means is it near the level of the Hodgson/Davies classics. Again, longtime fans may want to check it out, but most others should stick with the full-length of “Cannonball” and call it good.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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