When Roger Hodgson left the band in 1983, many were ready to write Supertramp off for good. After all, the interplay between his distinctive high-pitched vocals and Rick Davies’ gruff, bluesy tones, as well as their differing songwriting styles, had always been one of the main points of attraction for the many fans of the band. It was therefore quite a shock for the sceptics to be confronted with such a strong release as 1985′s Brother Where You Bound – a still relatively underappreciated album that, however, can easily be put on a par with the band’s renowned Seventies output.
Starting from the elegantly minimalistic cover, depicting the stages of man’s evolution in five different colours on a pristine white background, Brother Where You Bound simply oozes class. Supertramp always had the uncanny knack of marrying catchy hooks with interesting, thought-provoking lyrics, and this album is no exception. Rick Davies, left alone to cope with vocal duties, unleashes a performance that is nothing short of awesome, especially on the album’s pièce de resistance, the 16-minute title-track. Add a couple of prestigious guest musicians to the mix, and you have a near-masterpiece on your hands.
In the best tradition of a band known for strong opening tracks, “Cannonball” does not disappoint the listener. Backed by a steady, almost danceable beat, and introduced by Davies’ scintillating piano, it is one of the vocalist/keyboardist’s many songs about a broken relationship, where you can positively hear the anger in his voice, belying the mock-cheerfulness of the sudden bursts of horns and the almost singalong coda. However, while the horn-heavy “Still in Love” seems to reprise the apparently carefree mood ofBreakfast in America, on the whole the songs come across as definitely more somber and less accessible. Both the slow, understated “No Inbetween” (featuring great keyboards and sax) and the relentless “Better Days”, with its frantic pace and splendid flute solo, convey an aura of almost claustrophobic pessimism and disillusion
Interestingly, it is mainly Davies’ voice that makes Brother Where You Bound a markedly darker, less upbeat offering than Supertramp’s 1979 mega-hit,Breakfast in America.The title-track, in particular, is anything but an easy, radio-friendly listen, made up as it is of various parts interspersed by recorded voices, odd noises and sudden silences, underpinning the oppressive atmosphere conjured up by lyrics imbued with all the paranoia of the Cold War years. Davies’ stunning, highly dramatic vocal performance and David Gilmour’s trademark, crystal-clear guitar tones link all the pieces together to create what is possibly the band’s best epic. In comparison with such a wild, exhilarating ride, album closer “Every Open Door”, a slow, moody piece, is a tad anticlimactic, also on account of its decidedly more optimistic message.
If you only know Supertramp for the likes of “Dreamer” and “The Logical Song” (which is as perfect a pop song as they come), you will probably be inclined to dismiss them as little more than ‘prog-lite’ for those who hesitate to delve into the more demanding examples of the genre. Although it is true that the band possess a great feel for melody and memorable hooks, they are also outstanding musicians, and purveyors of above-average lyrics. While they may represent the ‘easier’ side of prog, they do so with inimitable style and class, displaying songwriting skills that are far from average. Brother Where You Boundis a prime example of ‘crossover’ prog at its very best, and as such highly recommended to anyone but those prog fans who think that ‘pop’ is inevitably a bad word.
1. Cannonball (7:40)
2. Still in Love (4:28)
3. No Inbetween (4:41)
4. Better Days (6:12)
5. Brother Where You Bound (16:34)
6. Every Open Door (3:05)
* Rick Davies – keyboards, vocals
* John Helliwell – saxophone, vocals
* Bob Siebenberg – drums
* Dougie Thompson – bass, Cha Cha, background vocals (2)
* David Gilmour – guitar solos (5)
* Scott Gorham - guitar (5)
* Scott Page – flute (4, 5)
* Marty Walsh – guitar (1, 2, 4, 5)
* Doug Wintz – trombone (1)