Saturday, October 02, 2010

album of the day: Breakfast in America

I'll refrain from any extended commentary on Supertramp, thank you very much. Just take this one album, forget anything else, and you've still got a single work of towering genius, at least as far as pop music goes.

I have the odd feeling about this album, and one or two others, that I've always known it. I feel like this music was familiar to me from before birth, as some weird kind of congenital cultural inheritance. The truth is that my sister had a copy that she played regularly, and I eventually felt compelled to buy one for myself rather than wait for her to play it.

I don't feel one way or another about the quality of the music. It's perfectly fine, perfectly suited to the project as a whole.

Breakfast in America has a perfect pop sensibility, too - bouncy, great hooks, and an ideal balance of cynicism, discontent, and nonchalance. For instance, in my favorite, "The Logical Song," which is the pop-song version of Freud's Civilization and its Discontents, but catchier, Roger Hodgson lumps together education, logic, responsibility, and strict adherence to social and political convention. Once you've been in school, you're trapped in this plastic cage of discipline, with no way out:

Now watch what you say or they'll be calling you a radical,
liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won't you sign up your name, we'd like to feel you're
acceptable, respecable, presentable, a vegtable!

Whence into that tight, gorgeous little sax solo by John Helliwell.

Dissatisfaction is a fundamental theme of the album, or at least of Hodgson's stuff, as in the confusedly hopeful travelogue "Breakfast in America":

Take a look at my girlfriend
She's the only one I got
Not much of a girlfriend
Never seem to get a lot
Take a jumbo across the water
Like to see America
See the girls in California
I'm hoping it's going to come true
But there's not a lot I can do.

Good luck with that, Rog. Write if you get anywhere with the California girls.

It's not just Hodgson, either. Rick Davies has his own problems to talk about, for example, in the less well-known "Just Another Nervous Wreck":

Live on the second floor now
They're trying to bust the door down
Soon I'll have a new address
So much for liberation
They'll have a celebration
Yeah I've been under too much stress
And as the cloud begin to rumble
So the juggler makes his fumble
And the sun upon my wall is getting less
Don't, give a damn
Fight, while you can
Kill, shoot 'em up
They'll run amuck
Shout, Judas
Loud, they'll hear us
Soldier, sailor
They'll run for cover when they discover
Everyone's a nervous wreck now

No wonder they're trying to cross the pond.

Even when I was 15, it was interesting to me how strangely disaffected this album is. If I wanted to be very cynical about it, I'd suggest that Davies and Hodgson were deliberately exploiting popular grievances in order to sell records. And I can't really judge that one way or another, in the end.

But I can tell you a couple things.

If you happen to be living through the doomed end of a rapidly failing relationship, and you're pointedly avoiding both this thought and the other party one weekday after work, and you're driving rather far west for your destination directly north, and "Take the Long Way Home" pops onto the radio, it means something.

And if someone you think is lovely suddenly and randomly quotes "The Logical Song" at you, and you know there's no reason it should be there, except that it had to be, and it perfectly and directly addresses you, it means something.

Whether or not it meant anything to Davies or Hodgson.

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