I reached into my crates and pulled one of my uncle’s records out at random to revisit. Oddly enough, I pulled out Supertramp’s album EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS, which was recorded in Nederland, Colorado, a town that’s not far from my home. I really like the album artwork, a photograph of a snow-covered piano. According to my vigorous online research, the photo was taken at a ski lodge in Boulder County, again not far from my home. Even stranger, the album was released 44 years ago this month! I guess it’s kismet.
After admiring that album cover, I flipped the sleeve over and checked out the tracklisting. My heart kind of sank. The only track I recognized was the first one, “Give A Little Bit.” I guess I should talk a little bit about my relationship with Supertramp: I don’t really have one. Sure, I love all the singles I grew up hearing on classic rock radio, but I’ve never sat down and given one of the band’s albums a listen. My favorite Supertramp song is probably “Bloody Well Right” off of CRIME OF THE CENTURY. Looking into the band’s discography, it seems that 1979’s BREAKFAST IN AMERICA (the album they released right after EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS) is the band’s big album. I’ve heard over half of that album’s tracks on the radio over the years.
But I’m not here to talk about BREAKFAST IN AMERICA. I’m here to discuss EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS. The album opens as I said, with “Give A Little Bit.” Even though I’ve heard this song hundreds of times, I was surprised at how great those crisp opening guitar chords sound. This is a great way to open a record, though this song feels a decade older than it is. Rather than being a song from the year Star Wars came out, this feels like a 1960’s summer of love song. The core message of the song is very hippy-dippy and runs counter to the slightly snarkier tone of the majority of Supertramp’s songs I’ve heard over the years.
The second track, “Lover Boy,” is a piano ballad with some nice guitar tossed in for good measure. The whole track is drizzled with some syrupy strings that belie the song’s subject: the titular “lover boy.” Apparently this lover boy has read a book on seduction and uses deception to entrap women. I love the jaunty piano riff; it really grows on you and is a nice contrast to the song’s dark themes. A little over halfway through the runtime, the song has a fake out ending and when the song resumes, it’s much darker and more guitar-driven. Usually, I don’t care for tricks like that, but I thought it worked well here.
The third track, “Even in the Quietest Moments,” opens with chirping birds and a clarinet, which is strange but not unwelcome. Soon, however, the track devolves into a mystical-acoustic ballad that sounds like a parody of something off of LED ZEPPELIN III. The lyrics are addressed to God seem to be about the distance between God and man. It’s competent, but I still found myself feeling a little embarrassed to be listening to it. “Downstream” is another piano ballad, and here I should point out that EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS does not feature Supertramp’s trademark Wurlitzer electronic piano. The zany, high energy the Wurlitzer brings to many classic Supertramp singles (“Goodbye Stranger”) is entirely missing from this record. “Downstream” is a simple love song about…taking a boat ride on a Sunday? This straightforward song frankly feels like filler.
The next track,”Babaji”, reminds me very much of George Harrison’s solo track “My Sweet Lord.” The obvious reason is the references to Indian/Hindu spiritualism but also because both songs are about “being strangers” to God and yearning to be with a higher power. Apparently, yes, I had to look this up, “Babaji” is about Mahavatar Babaji, a religious figure Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson greatly admired. There’s probably a lot going on in this song that my ignorance on the subject matter obscures, but for the most part, I think this is a solid enough track. This was released as a b-side, and it feels like one.
EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS finishes up with two really strange tracks. The bizarre piano ballad “From Now On” and the lengthy prog track “Fool’s Overture.” The former has the strangest/laughable lyrics on the album:
“Sometimes I slowly drift away
From all the dull routine
That’s with me every day
A fantasy will come to me
Diamonds are what I really need
Think I’ll rob a store, escape the law
And live in Italy”
I like the lyrical hook and the saxophone paired with it, but this track is goofy. There’s a vocal choir that comes in near the end, too, that is like crazy icing on a batshit cat. “From Now On” is so ballsy that by the end, it convinces me that it’s not insane but actually rather awesome. Well played, Supertramp. “Fool’s Overture” clocks in at 10 minutes and 53 seconds–which, can I say: what the heck, Supertramp? Why not find an extra seven seconds and push this thing to eleven minutes? “Fool’s Overture” is a mishmash of songs/song ideas that also features sound clips of Winston Churchill. According to Wikipedia, it took five years to write, which checks out as this thing is sprawling and probably blows you away when you’re high…but honestly, it felt a bit too generic for me. Yes, a song featuring weird woodwinds, Winston Churchill, and William Blake is generic. Whenever I hear stuff like this, I think about how intricate and challenging it was to create and how eager I am for it to be over. Prog is not my favorite genre by any stretch, so maybe I’m biased, but compared to some of the prog I’ve liked over the years (Gabriel era-Genesis), this doesn’t stack up as anything other than a couple of long songs stitched together.
Overall, EVEN IN THE QUIETEST MOMENTS reveals a more subdued version of Supertramp I was unfamiliar with. Clearly, the band’s non-singles output is worth checking out, though I get the impression from this album that it’s a bit spottier than I might have thought. Still, half of the songs work for me, and other than “Fool’s Overture,” even the misses on the record were interesting.