Breakfast In America, by Supertramp
In 1979, after having released 5 studio albums in the course of nearly a decade, the group Supertramp released their magnum opus after months of recording and mixing, Breakfast In America. Mixing accessible and upbeat songs with a perfectionist approach to art songs, and with a dueling duo of singer-songwriters at the helm of the group, the album was recorded in great stress but was simultaneously an artistic and commercial triumph, selling more than twenty million copies to the present day. While I am familiar with much of the music from this album–it is hard not to be, since nearly half the album were massive hits–I have still never listened to the full album before and thought it would be worthwhile to do so given its importance as a template for FM radio albums released afterwards. So, despite its hype and considerable popularity, does the album hold up? Let’s see.
The album begins with “Gone Hollywood,” which discusses the disillusionment that people feel about fame and culture when they know more about it, opening the album with a dark mood but bright and beautiful instrumentation. “The Logical Song” is a beautiful but melancholy song about the effects of boarding school on the heart and mind of a sensitive boy. “Goodbye Stranger” is a song with ambiguous meaning but a beautiful and catchy musical structure nonetheless, despite its somewhat ominous lyrics. “Breakfast In America” hides pointed critique of America’s materialistic culture in a sing-song effort. “Oh Darling” offers an apology to a lover for past behavior along with an expressed desire for reassurance and continued love. “Take The Long Way Home” captures the melancholy of being beloved by audiences but struggling with relationships on the home front, a pointed and moving examination of the gulf between public and private. “Lord Is It Mine” is a melancholy piano ballad about the struggles of coping with the difficulties of life, a moving if downbeat song. “Just Another Nervous Wreck” continues the theme of focusing attention on people whose lives are a mess, showing a sense of ambivalence about the success that the band was reaching at this time. “Casual Conversations” laments the failure of communication in a relationship but is uncertain about where blame is to be placed. “Child Of Vision” closes the album with a downbeat exploration of the cynicism and failures of communication in this world, pointing to the inherent conflict between people of different worldviews.
There is a lot to like and appreciate about this album. The meticulous care spent in recording and overdubbing shows in beautiful production and instrumentation and backing vocals all over this track, even the most obscure album tracks are crafted with obvious care and attention. Not only does the album sound great, so much so that almost any song on this album could have been a hit in the right conditions–Lord Is It Mine, Casual Conversations, Child Of Vision, and Gone Hollywood being real standouts among the album tracks, there being no duds here at all–but the album’s songs work on at least three levels. Many of the songs appear to deal with the drama and struggles of the two lead singers in dealing with each other, many of the songs look at the relationship of people within their personal relationships with family and loved ones, and also larger questions about society and the conflicts and tensions that run within the larger world in which we are a part. Whether it is the sound, the meaning of the songs, or the larger context in which they exist, in which someone considers this album a masterpiece, there is a lot to appreciate and little wonder that so many have enjoyed this album so fondly, no matter the toll it put on the artists themselves.