May 28, 2005

Singing, dancing, running as fast as we can

In the comments to my 20th-anniversary review of Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, a poster named Chris asked me whether I had heard Roger Hodgson's album In the Eye of the Storm, saying it was "like the last good Supertramp album." I had heard it, a number of years ago, when I lived with a guy who was a big Supertramp fan.

Part of the character of the original Supertramp lineup was the contrast between Hodgson and Rick Davies, who traded off lead vocal duties from song to song. After Hodgson left the band in 1983, they proved they could continue without him, with fairly decent work such as the albums Brother Where You Bound and Free as a Bird. But they wouldn't be able to match the success of their masterpieces such as Breakfast in America or Crime of the Century, as Hodgson took most of the band's best sound with him: not only his distinctive falsetto voice, but the more introspective songwriting as well. Immediately after embarking on a solo career, he hit success with his debut album, In the Eye of the Storm.

But is it the "last good Supertramp album"? Yes and no. Certainly many of the typical hooks are there; the distinctive keyboard style, and of course Hodgson's voice. The first cut begins with a droning note, over which is overlaid various clips of babies crying, people speaking, etc., that are reminiscent of such songs as "A Soapbox Opera," "Take the Long Way Home," or "Fool's Overture." On the other hand, In the Eye of the Storm relies more on synthesizer and electric guitar, and less on the Rhodes electric piano that was so much a part of Supertramp's best work.

Here and there, though, you get glimmers of the old Supertramp sound, and in the last three tracks, "Give Me Love, Give Me Life," "I'm Not Afraid," and "Only Because of You," it comes out full-bore. The closing track is, in fact, exactly the sort of slow, climactic, layered song that always seems to close Supertramp's best LPs.

In the Eye of the Storm is, to my ears at least, a step away from the natural evolution of Supertramp's sound had Roger Hodgson stayed with them. But it's a good listen nonetheless, and at least fans of Supertramp will find themselves in familiar territory.