Music is wonderful because of how powerful it becomes when shared with others. Imagine hundreds of thousands of people singing in unison, or imagine a theatre full of fans clapping along to a beat — that’s powerful.
We’ve all been to a concert or two that seems to be surrounded by intrigue and euphoria. We’ve all experienced a musical moment that we’ll never forget, and, for the most part, those moments are shared with other people.
But, there’s something special about having a record (or a band, or a genre…) that is your own, a piece of music, or set of pieces, that no one except you (and perhaps a select few others) can appreciate and enjoy.
Whether it’s appreciating the nuances of a song, or picking apart elements of a songwriter’s style, there is something comforting, and perhaps even reassuring, about having music that feels like “your own”.
For me, and many others, that music is Supertramp.
As far as esoterica goes, Supertramp might not be the best example of such a label. Though the band struggled to achieve commercial success in the beginning, they smashed through in the mid-1970s with Crime of the Century and Even in the Quietest Moments…, eventually climaxing at Breakfast in America, one of the decade’s most complete pop-rock works.
But, through all of that, lies one record that is as perpetually forgotten as it was rushed. Crisis? What Crisis?, a weirdly titled LP that was released in 1975, makes an observer question it before even putting the needle to the vinyl.
The cover, which features a man nonchalantly sunbathing under an oversized umbrella while an industrial landscape explodes behind him, is a visual splash of colour that stands out in any record collection. It is this dry, quintessentially English sense of humour that makes Supertramp so quietly satirical.
An even ten songs long, Crisis? was a rushed record. Pressured to create something that would live up to the immense geniosity of Crime of the Century, Supertramp’s five members were thrust into a Los Angeles studio shortly after a gruelling tour and commanded to recreate the magic of their previous effort.
Even though they didn’t create tunes that carry the same epic gravitas and grace as those on Crime (particularly “School”, “Rudy”, “Asylum”, and the title track), their follow-up is still pretty damn good.
Opening up the record is the Roger Hodgson-penned suite of “Easy Does It” and “Sister Moonshine”, the latter of which carries a listener through a magical acoustic journey that culminates in a jauntily bouncy keyboard solo.
After the dark and mysterious “Ain’t Nobody but Me”, written by Rick Davies, the other voice of the group, the listener is left to feast upon “A Soapbox Opera”, a stunning expression of hopelessness and sorrow accompanied by gorgeous strings and the lonely voice of Hodgson. The first side of the record concludes with “Another Man’s Woman”, a hard-rocking, guitar-driven piece that carries an immense amount of angst and musical integrity.
Following Hodgson’s delightfully glum “Lady”, Davies reappears with “Poor Boy”, a Broadway-style tune that, while running just over five minutes, sounds as if it was meant for a scene change in a cheeky musical. The next pair of songs, narrated primarily by Hodgson, features the depressing “Just a Normal Day” and the philosophically sound “The Meaning”.
Finally, the audience is treated with “Two of Us”, a brilliant ditty with Beatles-esque instrumentation and a longing call that creates a truly unique atmosphere. After 47 delightfully disorienting minutes of progressive rock, the album comes to a lovely end.
Using bookends that make one think of Simon and Garfunkel, the record begins and ends in the same way. The opener starts with a solemn yet calm whistle on a London street, while the finale crescendos with the distant cry of a lonely man. If one had to sum up this record (and many of the band’s other works) in one overarching word, it might be “juxtaposition”.
In this work, the shades of grey and black illustrated on the cover don’t quite spill into the music. While the lyrics are bleak and, at some points, downright depressing, the instrumentation is as joyous as anything, with backing vocals that bounce and strings that amuse.
While this record objectively does not contain within it the same pace and direction as Crime nor the catchiness of Breakfast, it does have an eclectic sheen to it that makes it an entertaining listen.
At this point, it’s difficult to distinguish whether my immense adoration for this record comes from the quality of the music itself or simply the fact that it is so fondly etched in my memory that the lyrics come almost naturally upon listening.
Regardless, this album, and the entire catalogue of Supertramp remains incredibly close to my heart. So, if you’re a prog fan who yearns for lighter sounds, or even a pop-rock fanatic who wants something more than Breakfast in America, I cannot recommend Crisis? What Crisis? Enough.