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Old 01-02-2015, 10:38 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Cool In the Belly of the Blackdragon

Greetings all,

I made a rookie error with my first attempt at a journal, and even though I'm glad I completed my list of 'The 26 Best Sabbath Tracks', its title was poorly thought through and I was left with the question of 'Now what?'.

I aim to redeem myself with my second attempt, and (if approved) I hope it will allow me to offer a decent contribution to the high standards of MB journal writing.

In the Belly of the Blackdragon will invite readers into a varied world of essays, lists, debates and personal entries from all the corners of my musical tastes, (which I like to think is ever-evolving). I feel that with a new title, and a fresh, diverse set of ideas I can offer a more rewarding reading experience.

I aim to cover albums, artworks, musical experiences, band history, detailed lists and perhaps some creative efforts to satisfy readers and make the most of this opportunity.

Nice one! Peace.

P.S. - As a taster, I posted a mini essay in the Rock & Metal forum of the site, analysing a Black Sabbath artwork. I have written a follow up concerning the artwork of Paranoid and will post that, along with the original, before moving on to other aspects of music in the future.
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Old 01-02-2015, 11:35 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Good luck! I'm looking forward to the essay about the artwork for "Paranoid". If I recall correctly, it has guys in bright spandex jumping around with swords... should be fun!
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Old 01-02-2015, 01:48 PM   #3 (permalink)
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ESSAY I - ALBUM ARTWORKS
BLACK SABBATH [1970] -

'Unseen Violence'

The cover art for Black Sabbath is the most timelessly powerful and harrowingly iconic album cover in the history of rock and metal. Even on first glance, without proper inspection, the beholder is shown a completely saturated image of darkness, mystery and the promise of an other-worldly experience. What we see is purely Gothic horror story; captured and framed to forever terrify and intrigue those who stumble across the band’s debut album.

Black Sabbath's cover gives us the image of an androgynous figure in a black cloak, standing upon the dead autumn ground surrounding an old watermill. Many have erroneously claimed that the figure is a drawing of Ozzy Osbourne, but that claim is illogical, as Osbourne did not don clothes of that fashion until late into his solo career (a point to which I will return soon), and so the identity of the figure within the context of the picture remains an absolute mystery. An idea that the figure is an unwelcome omen is reinforced by its juxtaposition with the image behind it. The watermill, a symbol of old, rural and agricultural virtue should permeate a hard-working, clean-living Protestant ambience, but that is not the case in this picture. The figure, with its features teasingly kept just out of focus, and its full form hidden by its tightly wrapped cloak could be seen to be smiling as it stands among the ruins of nature and man. Everything about the artwork appears dead, from the bare, scarred trees, to the still mill and its unkempt surroundings. You may be justified in thinking that the mill is abandoned. Where are its workers and inhabitants? Is that black rectangle doorway a signal that the door has been broken down and the figure’s dark will has been forced upon whoever lay behind it? Every one of these questions remains unanswered, there is no context to the piece when it is viewed on its own, but therein lies only a fragment of its power. We may consider that the figure is the bringer of the barren world you see before you. It sits completely central within the picture, and its black hole eyes are an intimidating betrayal of its hidden intent.

But what is this power? If you were inclined to read the poem included in the album sleeve, penned by an anonymous writer, you may have read the following words;

‘Still falls the rain,
The veils of darkness shroud the blackened trees,
Which, contorted by some unseen violence,
Shed their tired leaves’

The poem itself may be a sub-Alastair Crowley veined imitation, but it offers the line ‘unseen violence’, which captures exactly what makes the Black Sabbath cover art so frightening. Unlike the majority of heavy metal album covers, Black Sabbath visual companion is completely understated and offers only the aftermath of an event that the beholder can only guess at. This ambiguity is furthered by the elimination of time. When is this piece set? The witch-like spectre in the pre-industrial countryside suggest a medieval setting, and all of the demonic connotations that accompany that suggestion seem apt, but in reality the picture could be set in any time. One may read into this image a far more modern and frightening meaning, as you may observe the unnatural coloration of the surroundings. Odd purples, blues and greens stick onto the bark and leaves of the tree, and the walls of the mill. The trees in the background are an impossible red, and the obscurity of the water behind the reeds gives it a sickly, rancid texture. Is this figure the bringer or prophet of the nuclear apocalypse, a fear that would have been alive and well in seventies Britain? The lack of animal and vegetable life and the angry, scarred landscape may suggest so, but even so, the picture remains tortuously ambiguous, until it is paired with the album’s music.

Never before has an album’s sound complimented its artwork so effectively as on Black Sabbath, and the distant, tolling bells and thunderous rain bring the images in the picture to life, echoing that understated feeling of terror and unease. Upon placing the album down and concentrating on the music, the listener may be forgiven for assuming that the image will hold no further bearing on proceedings, and that it was only made to mildly frighten you. That assumption is smashed with such bold simplicity by the opening lines of ‘Black Sabbath’ that you may even feel chills running down your spine. Ozzy Osbourne asks desperately with his signature howling voice;

‘What is this that stands before me?
Figure in black which points at me,’

What is that if not a direct reference to what you are seeing before you, right there on the album cover? You may have even asked a similar question yourself, and now that artwork gains a new dimension. It’s almost as if Osbourne and the band are breaking the fourth wall and talking for you. This innovative feature is often overlooked, and only when one takes the time to consider it can its amazing effect truly be recognised. I’ve yet to see (or hear) this technique used in music in the same fantastic way. It amplifies the fear to a primal level, and although as the album continues, its effect is less prominent, its initial shocking declaration remains as a reverberation throughout. It becomes associated in some way with each of the album’s tracks, and all of their various Gothic themes; ranging from political corruption, magic, treachery and devilry seem to emanate from the mysterious figure.

How many times have you read or heard a statement professing that Black Sabbath were the pioneers and creators of the heavy metal genre? How many interviews have you seen with modern metal stars, who claim that the innumerable styles, trends, sounds and vibes of heavy metal were born from that tolling bell, from that opening line and from that disturbing artwork? Black Sabbath is generally considered (although not by all) to be the first heavy metal album, and its legacy remains constantly evolving to this day. What this piece proposes (as disturbing as it may seem) is that the figure in the artwork; the ‘big black shape with eyes of fire, telling people their desire’ was actually the founder of the genre, and that Black Sabbath were merely the prophets of its message. Geezer Butler has revealed in the past that the inspiration for the song ‘Black Sabbath’ came from his own paranormal experience, where a black shape entered his bedroom and stole a book of black magic from the foot of his bed. That experience no doubt led to the creation of the shadowy figure, and coupled with the lyrics, gave birth to the metal genre. Interestingly, throughout most of the seventies, Black Sabbath and bands like it were treated with disdain by the establishment and music critics, despite their popularity with music fans. Sabbath and the bands inspired by them sang about the darker side of life, and did not shy away from bluntly discussing the perils of war, religious evils, politics and mass conformity. Even today, long after the Cold War era and into the post 9/11 decades, they still warn of a forthcoming disaster and untold injustices against man and his descendants. All of this ruin, Armageddon and fear stems directly from that image that appeared in record stores back in 1970 and it seems that the legacy of the shadowy invader remains as strong as ever. Its message is vague in detail but undeniably clear. It foretells the downfall of man and the ushering in of a demonic reign. Religious fanatics and concerned parents should not have blamed Sabbath for their diabolic songs; they should’ve turned their attention to the figure, which (nameless as it may be) has taken on an almost deified personality in heavy music.

The band have revealed (if bashfully) in past interviews, a flirtation with occultist activities, usually at the request of their contingent, or as a way to seduce impressionable girls. Superstition has never fully removed itself from their psyche, as that first encounter between Geezer and his alleged spirit thief pervades everything he wrote about since it confronted him. Osbourne and Tony Iommi are rarely seen without their large steel crosses around their necks, despite their constant association with Satanism and the occult. Clips can be seen of Osbourne praying before gigs and talking openly about his Christian faith (albeit a vague and non-offensive confession). Perhaps most interestingly of all, the most common image of Osbourne in the 21st Century is of his long, black hair, dark sunglasses and billowing, black cloak. This attire is one that many incorrectly assume has been his style since the early days of Black Sabbath. In fact, his adoption of such clothing is a relatively new trend and is one that bizarrely imitates the look of the figure from the Black Sabbath artwork. On a superficial glance, this may not seem so strange, but when one considers Osbourne’s past taste for bright, white clothing and brighter coloured hair, paying consistent homage to an artwork character from over thirty years ago seems incredibly strange. When coupled with his stooped posture, this donning of the figure’s clothes that so frightened the singer in the band’s debut song appears to be inspired by intimidation or fear of that old ghost among the reeds. One may even read into this connection that the Prince of Darkness (one of the four godfathers of heavy metal) has a continuing relationship with the figure, and that the reprise of the rain and bells featured at the end of the 13 album serve as a ritualistic tribute to that frightening witch that still haunts the minds of music lovers the world over.

This short essay may have passed from the realms of mere speculation into fantasy, and the origins of the spectre in the real world probably have more logical (and hallucinogenic-related explanations) but the connections remain eerie, and deepen the dark wonder surrounding a rock band that seem to work hard at masking their depth of feeling outside of their music. Whether or not you believe that Black Sabbath brought forth heavy metal or not, you cannot deny that a certain frightening figure standing upon the bank in the Oxfordshire countryside has had a monumental impact on the world of rock and metal, and will continue to do so as long as the genre exists and the youth of generations continue to listen to Black Sabbath. Its appearance in any bedroom or in any clearing, or on the shelves of any record store is an omen of heavy sounds; angry, weird and wonderful. Let us not forget, as Osbourne observed:

‘Is it the end, my friend?
Satan’s come around the bend,’
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With a half of bitter, bread and jam,
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When the copper fades away!'
- Jethro Tull

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Old 01-02-2015, 02:02 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Glad you took the plunge. I was seriously floored by your Black Sabbath cover essay, which I see you've transferred in here, good idea. As Oriphiel says though, I'm not sure what you can do with an out-of-focus warrior on "Paranoid", but it'll certainly be interesting!

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Old 01-02-2015, 02:26 PM   #5 (permalink)
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ESSAY II - ALBUM ARTWORKS
PARANOID [1970] -

'Mad Men in the Woods'

In the first essay, I discussed the power that an artwork can have on the music and the legacy of an album, especially one as revered and influential as Black Sabbath, and although the debut is consistently pushed to second place in the wake of its younger brother Paranoid, its artwork remains a far more dominant, timeless and ultimately representative example of a heavy metal album cover. So, what about Paranoid's artwork? At first glance it may appear unworthy of a fully dedicated analysis. This essay seeks to disprove that and demonstrate that there is far more to this piece than just mad men in the woods.

Paranoid is an album that brought the themes teased at in Black Sabbath thundering into the 20th Century; complimenting the debut by allowing the band’s writing to evolve from magic, fantasy and psychedelic narratives into the modern world, where war-mongers, narcotics and machinery are our devils and plagues. The Modern-Gothic imagery on songs like ‘War Pigs’, ‘Hand of Doom’ and ‘Electric Funeral’ are some of the most harrowing and timeless in heavy music, and Paranoid can be described as a record that swapped subtle terror for searing, apocalyptic visions. Though to many fans who often outright ignore or simply forget about the album’s art, the image supplied is nothing but a dated, cheaply made throwback to the days before album covers became slick and stylishly made. The cover shows us the strange photograph of a man charging out of a darkened forest, wielding a sword and shield and wearing what appears to be a costume devised for live-action role-play. This at first may appear as a step back from the frightening majesty offered by Black Sabbath, and seems almost completely removed from the horrors of the machine age, cosmic pilgrimages and the Vietnam War (which has perhaps been the most powerfully visual war in human history). This lunatic swordsman is no-one’s idea of the grotesque war pigs, and he certainly isn’t the doomed anti-hero from ‘Iron Man’, so who is he? The answer perhaps plays to one of Sabbath’s greatest strengths; ambiguity.

Look closer at the image, specifically to the left and away from the glowing, orange marauder. Is what you see familiar? That forlorn, dead and rotting tree trunk has appeared before. Anyone who seeks to find continuity in the band’s visual aids may argue that it’s the very same tree, which sheltered the figure in black from the debut album’s cover. Its coloration and texture is uncannily similar, and it stands above the same wild and unattended grass. It is the only other solid object in the photograph along with the swordsman, but its inclusion is arguably unnecessary. It upsets the central focus on the work’s primary figure and adds nothing but evidence to suggest this is set in a wooded area. The conclusion can be drawn (not without justification) that these are the same woods from which the figure in black emerged, and the swordsman represents another ungodly agent conjured by its diabolical power. It also seems incredibly apt that the background of the artwork is bathed in a thick, deep blackness, shrouding the trees, and perhaps even the cursed watermill. As Ozzy Osbourne announces in one of ‘War Pigs’’ most powerful lines;

'No more war pigs have the power,
Hand of God has struck the hour,'

Talking of striking the hour is no doubt relating to the popular metaphor used to predict the likelihood of a nuclear apocalypse, and as we all know, the night is darkest at the midnight hour…

But if this picture shows us the ‘lieutenant’ of the figure in black, brought forth into the world as the day darkens and the end-times prophesised in the songs come true, why does the swordsman appear almost comical? Its effects (not without their charm) and its attire have all the look of a character from Doctor Who; a programme famous for using low-grade special effects and costumes combined with ambitious imagination. It may be coincidence or design that Geezer Butler is a confessed mega-fan of the show, and it is notable that his 1997 solo album Black Science was greatly inspired by his affection for 60s science fiction programmes, but apart from being a huge influence on his lyric writing, the comically cosmic appearance of the swordsman may have a more sinister and revealing relevance.

As you may or may not know, Sabbath’s second album was originally to be titled War Pigs, and Osbourne has stated angrily that the title of the album is far too removed its artwork. Superficially he may be correct, but Paranoid may have accidentally been a far more relevant title all along, (if the connections made in this essay are to be granted any kind of gravity). The album’s sleeper hit single ‘Paranoid’ is praised for its wild speed (when played live) catchy, simple lyrics and overall bittersweet attitude. Osbourne sings the song so well because he often makes light of and masks his genuine mental health issues by playing to his moniker of the ‘Crazy Man of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, but on close inspection the lyrics of the song are unsettlingly dark, and the theme of paranoia is one that offers a cornucopia of different ways to represent itself artistically. It is an ambiguous illness, and Sabbath play ever-strongly to ambiguity. But if we are to analyse what buzzwords we associate with paranoia and its numerous variants, we may conclude that paranoia is a compilation of: solitude, isolation, fantasy and fear. Fear is the strongest of these words, and combined with fantasy, the mind can conjure up unlimited amounts of nightmarish scenarios to feed its ailment.

Look again at the face of the swordsman, and consider that the features are blurred (as were those of the figure in black) and the expression is an incalculable mix between rage and fear. There is a deeply self-conscious look to the man’s stance and stare, and one could argue this is someone trapped in a nightmare. Imagine the swordsman to be a victim; exposed, disregarded and even mocked by you the viewer, forcing him to lash out in an uncertain world, where he is too often lost in in a dark and uncertain place. His pitiful battle dress and look of an outsider in a dark forest give the swordsman all the attributes of a self-projection, and a soul corrupted by the influence of that dark figure, that first brought the dark side of life into popular music. This concept is reinforced by the song’s lyrics, as Osbourne sings:

‘I need someone to show me the things in life that I can’t find,
I can’t see the things that make true happiness, I must be blind,’

His confession is truly believable, because when the childish pride taken in his off-stage antics are considered, his psyche is inescapably twisted. Many people rally around Osbourne as a source of great inspiration and even comfort because he makes us laugh about the sadder things in life, and that’s exactly what the swordsman in the Paranoid artwork does too. When one considers the uncertainty of the Cold War era, of fighting post-colonial wars in foreign jungles, with the death of the post-war dream, the space age and the new atomic oblivion that could await us all, it becomes less difficult to feel a strange affinity with the mad and lonely swordsman. Is this a statement, professing that the figure in black has awakened musicians and artists to the inherent evil in human affairs, and that we are no better, no more evolved than this wretched, blurred fool? Isn’t the image of a doomed figure, battling false demons in a world he cannot fully comprehend or understand, and clinging to petty gestures of civilisation and order a surprisingly powerful metaphor for humanity?

If we consider the infectious nature of paranoia, embrace the ambiguous nature of the Paranoid sleeve cover, and listen to the songs with that image in mind, we may find, as we did on Black Sabbath that both albums start with a single explosive statement or image, and allow that to trickle through the entire record. This is the reason why I first described these albums as ‘brothers’, because their continuity, timelessness and intelligent dedication to consistent themes place them above and beyond anything that came after them. Every one of the album’s songs contains evidence of paranoia, of uncertainty and of rage against the invisible enemies in life. None of these invisible enemies are more prominent or iconic, than those mentioned in the record’s opening line:

‘Generals gathered in their masses,
Just like witches at black masses,’

Geezer and the band are making an instant connection to their debut, and reminding us that the ‘witches’ or the witch who instigated the first mass (or Sabbath), has evolved, and become the host of unnamed military puppet masters, who were never more infamous than during that period. Such an observation never ceases to be intimidating, and shatters our illusions of the world around us, making us feel ever more like the mad men in the woods that we too soon ignored on first inspection. In the internet age we are ever more exposed to people who make claims such as those heard in the opening line of ‘War Pigs’. We call them conspiracy theorists, and their theories are often makeshift (much like the battle-dress of the swordsman), their conclusions wild and fantastical; preaching the coming of a New World Order; a faceless, ambiguous, yet consistently frightening cult-like movement with thousands of variants and intents. We view these people from a distance (both physically and psychologically) and may even laugh at their concerns. We may see ourselves in this situation as quite like the apathetic doctor from ‘Fairies Wear Boots’, who said:

‘Son, son, you’ve gone too far,
‘Cause smokin’ and trippin’ is all that you do,’

But perhaps what we simply don’t want to admit is that we all have those fears, and that in our own small or big way, we are all trapped in our own dark forest of the mind, and take more than just enjoyment from the heavy music of albums like Paranoid. The swordsman is just another prophet, sent to warn us of the next coming tyranny, which waits to leap out at us out of the darkness.

This essay scratched the surface of a theme that, thanks to that teasingly clever combination of ambiguity and subtlety, can continue to be discussed at length and bring forth many interpretations. This two-part essay has attempted to unlock the secrets of Sabbath’s first two album covers, and shed some light on the catalysts for the celebration and elaboration of the darker side of life in hard rock and metal. We may conclude with the idea that, Black Sabbath may be (accidentally or intentionally) the band that managed to capture and channel the fear of the masses, and put them to music in such a way that we don’t even realise that they’re speaking for us. I speak of Ozzy Osbourne in particular, as it is revealingly odd that so many people who have no obvious symptoms of mental illness find such a strong connection to him and his unique sense of humour, but as Norman Bates once said;

‘We all go a little mad sometimes…’
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When the copper fades away!'
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Old 01-02-2015, 02:48 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Good post, extra points for psycho reference.
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Old 01-02-2015, 02:54 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
Glad you took the plunge. I was seriously floored by your Black Sabbath cover essay, which I see you've transferred in here, good idea. As Oriphiel says though, I'm not sure what you can do with an out-of-focus warrior on "Paranoid", but it'll certainly be interesting!

Welcome!
Appreciate all your support, man, and to everyone who takes the time to read it. Big thanks!
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Old 01-02-2015, 03:07 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Fantastic work! I admit that I initially thought the cover of Paranoid was just a cheap way to depict someone seeing threats everywhere (i.e. swordsmen jumping out from behind trees). But you've made some great points, especially when you pointed out that the observer could very well be the swordsman lashing out. Definitely made me think twice. I can't wait to see which albums you look at next!
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Old 01-05-2015, 05:56 AM   #9 (permalink)
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ESSAY III - L,I,S,T. I,T.
THE 14 BEST SUPERTRAMP TRACKS

For this piece, I will be borrowing the medium employed in my short-lived '26 Best Sabbath Tracks' to pay tribute to a band that probably sits as my second favourite of all time. Supertramp are a band I discovered in my mid-teens after watching an advert for their Retrospectacle compilation album. At the time, I was living only for heavy (ish music) and my meagre CD collection was fast collecting bands like Ozzy, Rainbow, Whitesnake and Cream. Tunes like 'Dreamer', 'Breakfast in America' and 'The Logical Song' seemed a million miles away from my tastes, but somehow, this quirky, piano heavy band with their weird moniker managed to draw me in. Since then I've had the thought that 'Capitalism may have its flaws...but if it wasn't for TV advertising, I'd never be listening to Supertramp.' (Not even Stalin could resist those melodies).

I've always felt that Supertramp were an overlooked and underrated outfit, that their place in the ever-nostalgically catalogued music of the 70s and 80s was unjustifiably uncertain. So in my own small way, I'd like to thank Rick, Roger and the lads for providing us with so much fantabulous music, and I invite you to join me as I visit the 14 best (in my humble) greatest Supertramp songs ever!

In the words of Commando's John Matrix, 'Come on, Bennett. Let's party!'

(please note that the songs are not listed in any particular order...it's just not that kind of list. Y'dig?)


1. School from Crime of the Century [1974]

You may have even raised a smile or given a chuckle, as you turned over a record with such a bold and ominous title, with the understated themes of imprisonment and yearning on the artwork and found that the opening song was simply titled 'School'. There have been countless songs about being an awkward kid, trying to survive in the cold world of school, where all of the injustices, rhetoric and hypocrisy of the adult world first becomes clear. But 'School' sounds (to me) like the one that spawned all the others. It is an absolutely timeless piece of music, that employs clever wording, deceptively muscular vocals and fluid musicianship in a way that makes it sound like it was written solely about your school-time experience (even if you loved or hated it). That is the essence of Supertramp's power; they are able to conjure such powerful images without pretence or cheap effects.
We are led into a musical lecture of fatherly advice by that haunting harmonica, and all of the raw emotions and grudges held against such unbending institutions are laid bare in just a few lines of ingenious lyrics. Perhaps unfairly, the pedestrian ‘Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)’ remains the quintessential anti-school anthem, but in this writer’s humble, it pales compared to the nostalgic majesty of ‘School’, and the line that reads:

‘After school is over, you’re playing in the park,
Don’t be out too late; don’t let it get too dark,
They tell you not to hang around and learn what life’s about,
And grow up just like them, won’t let you work it out,’

remains one of the most cuttingly apt observations in rock history.


2. From Now On from Even in the Quietest Moments... [1977]

A cinematic, springy, defiant piano riff begins this song, and although it may not seem the most obvious choice for an entry, the way that ‘From Now On’ begins with such delicate melancholy, slowly building to that anthem-chant of an outro is achieved with such sly subtlety that on first listen that you even be taken aback. The song has deep sadness to it, which is constantly offset by the bittersweet saxophone segments and plucky piano accompaniment. It tells the wavering story of a man contemplating his mediocre place in the world, as he laments that his lifestyle and career may never emerge from being comfortably mundane. Supertramp have a way of making sad lyrics sound happy, but there is a true tiredness to Davies’ singing, and the track carries the weight of depression that all people suffer at some point in their lives. What makes this song so incredibly moving is that it is played in two parts, and the first, lonely verses lead us with slowly growing intensity to that pragmatic confession of,

‘Guess I’ll always have to be,
Living in a fantasy,
That’s the way it’s got to be,
From now on,’

What stops this song from being a self-pitying drag is that inclusion of the choir of singers answering Davies’ lines. Their sudden bursting presence gives a huge buoyancy to the ending of the track, and reminds the singer and all of us that we’re not alone with our troubles, and that there’s a world beyond personal gain. It’s a brave and touching song, which probably best shows the intelligence and heart of this great band.


3. Shadow Song from Supertramp [1970]

Tramp’s debut is one that those who don’t like call ‘self-indulgent and overly instrumental’ and it’s one that those who do like call ‘prog’. The dark ambience, mood and naļve passion of this album is something to be admired, and the finest example of that is featured on ‘Shadow Song’. I fell in love with this track as soon as the line,

‘Did your shadow ever speak to you?’

was uttered. There is a murky, psychedelic atmosphere to this song that is beautifully infectious. Its lyrics are a rambling bout of confessions and insinuations about mysterious influences in the lives of its listeners. The vocals border on sinister, and produce a calming, yet wary reaction that is joyfully inconclusive. Davies may not have been at the peak of his singing ability, but ‘Shadow Song’ thrives on its lack of bombast and slickness. It can be interpreted by anyone to mean anything, but its meaning will always be draped by a suggestively mischievous singer plucking at your sub-conscious and drawing out all kinds of weird thoughts and memories. This track is maddeningly addictive, and it is a shame that it remains as part of a wrongfully ignored record. The heavy, druggy vibes dished out by this track compliment the band’s ability to synthesise nostalgia from thin air. It is deeply personal, whilst being tauntingly vague, and I will always savour swigging beers and remembering the golden years of student years with this beautiful track as my shadow.


4. Just Another Nervous Wreck from Breakfast in America [1979]

Supertramp’s most iconic record plays as more of a greatest hits compilation than a studio album, and probably stands as the most accurately representative of the scope and scale of the band’s range, from the pop-saturated ‘Breakfast in America’ to the longingly meek ‘Lord Is It Mine’ and the indifferently bitter ‘Casual Conversations’. A true standout of their end-of-the-decade album however is ‘Just Another Nervous Wreck’, which is like no other Tramp song in their canon. If the band ever had a fighting song, it’s this one.
The electric energy of ‘Nervous Wreck’ is where its power comes from. There is a sugar-rich ferocity to the delivery of the lyrics and it’s impossible to sit still whilst listening to it. The truly angry tale of a life that’s been broken apart by misfortune and lost love is one that doesn’t force itself upon you with profanity or open rage, it’s provided through the signature building of sound and ensemble throughout its duration, and lashes out with barely constrained frustration and regret. The verses are so visually strong, and the raw humanity, oozing from a band that never appears to lose its cool is alarmingly powerful, and the courageous war cry of,

‘Don’t, give a damn,
Fight, while you can,’

Never ceases to be inspire and intimidate. Any old fool could’ve written those lyrics, their content is almost irrelevant, the lashing tongue and thundering piano riff is so urgent and genuine that it becomes musical Shakespeare. It stands as an anthem for both young and old, and captures the self-hatred and outward resentment of being an angry young man in a way that so many bands, (who make a career from these kinds of songs) will never manage to achieve.


5. Crime of the Century from Crime of the Century [1974]

Oppression and tyranny is a theme that runs with seething consistency through the band’s break-away album, and all comes to a shattering conclusion with the song’s title track. The band cleverly employs a sententious phrase, used often by newspapers to describe some new scandal or abuse of justice (probably about a hundred times a century). The phrase, its meaning now lost on a generation of desensitised media consumers, becomes used to describe all of the misdeeds of men, summed up in a few choice lines that are delivered with venom and omniscience by Tramp’s cosmic master of ceremonies. As the album comes to a close, we are invited into that dark expanse of space and eternity shown on the cover art, where all the crimes of history are put on trial. The lasting impact of this track comes from its hypnotic, daunting piano riff, which drives home the minimalist observations with seismic force. The effect produced here by this song’s sense of scale is sublime, and acts as a soundtrack to the dark deeds of mankind. It signals our doom, with its sharp and concise repeating of that simple yet powerful riff. It feels as if the entire album were leading to this one pinnacle, where all the evil institutions, sinners, fools and madmen in the world finally collapse under their own weight and ‘Crime of the Century’ acts as accompaniment to their judgement and damnation. It is one the most powerful finishers to an album ever made, and never fails in leaving a lasting effect on the listener. Its drive is so unrelenting, and its ambiguity so revealing of the beholder’s own nature, that it simply refuses to be ignored. This is Supertramp at their most morally conscious level, and their most worldly wise.


6. Bonnie from "...Famous Last Words..." [1982]

The 80s signified the beginning of the end for the definitive Supertramp, and "...Famous Last Words..." has never been embraced as a part of the band’s golden era, which spanned from Crime to Breakfast, but in this fan’s humble opinion, this record provides an appropriately melancholy, and deeply mature swan song to a band that seemed to explode with creative brilliance through the 70s. The songs on Last Words are of a less youthful nature, and signify a band that is coming to terms with its fall from peak glory. This reaction actually produces a more fluid, and less individualistic tone to the songs, and ‘Bonnie’ is one of the band’s most gentle, humble and touchingly tragic songs. There is a bashful pining and a synth-driven loving to this song, and provides the listener with a view of a very exposed and vulnerable Supertramp, who always triumphed over ill-fortune with humour and optimism, but here embrace a far more pragmatic, aged approach. ‘Bonnie’ is a half-smile of a song, and approaches the subject of impossible love and loneliness in a way that rings true for a world dominated by celebrity and the constant reminder of those few unattainable pleasures. Last Words represents Tramp at their darkest, and although ‘Bonnie’’s sinister narrative is masked by a vocal sincerity, we are given an example of how the band’s power to contradict dark lyrics with innocent, upbeat vocals can be used to beguile and even upset us. It takes closer inspection to learn that ‘Bonnie’ is about an obsessed fan, who may even be a stalker, but Davies’ ever-versatile voice fools us temporarily into sympathising with the figures in society we would naturally despise. It remains an underrated piece, from a fantastic album.


7. Even in the Quietest Moments from Even in the Quietest Moments... [1977]

Moments, as its title suggests is an album made of moments. It lacks the consistency of Breakfast and the overall atmosphere of Crisis? but it is blessed with a few fantastic pieces of music, that stand head and shoulders above the rest. The band embark on a spiritual journey in ‘Moments’ and the pervading sounds of singing birds, leading into an acoustic and clarinet intro manages to conjure the fresh, spring feeling in an almost Eden-like setting, with the simple tools of Beatles-esque vocals and hypnotising drum-beats. It is a song that calms the entire record down amongst the heavily-produced, more aggressive pieces like ‘Babaji’ and ‘Lover Boy’ and has a real enlightenment to it, allowing the hippie sympathies of the band to chant their way through in the song’s repeated chorus. Standing in contrast to the snowed-under, wintery artwork of the album, it’s impossible not to feel refreshed after hearing this track, and one can only wish that they could’ve crafted an entire album based around this casually brilliant, nearly religious sounding vibe. There’s a feel that the peace-loving, West Coast values of bands like Jefferson Airplane have been filtered through the understated British charm of Supertramp to create something disarming and inspiring. Supertramp are seldom earnest (they just trick you into thinking they are), and their cheeriness is usually almost accompanied by bitterness, but ‘Moments’ is the band breaking that tradition, and demonstrating that they don’t always need to rely on sharp wit and neurotic narratives in order to form a great song. Moments may be a flawed album, but ‘Moments’ is a moment that makes up for it twofold. If you don’t find yourself unwound by its message then you may be missing a soul.
Attached Thumbnails
In the Belly of the Blackdragon-best.jpg   In the Belly of the Blackdragon-cent.jpg   In the Belly of the Blackdragon-crisis.jpg   In the Belly of the Blackdragon-even.jpg  
__________________
'Well, I'm a common working man,
With a half of bitter, bread and jam,
And if it pleases me, I'll put one on ya man,
When the copper fades away!'
- Jethro Tull

Last edited by blackdragon123; 01-22-2015 at 02:10 PM.
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Old 01-05-2015, 05:59 AM   #10 (permalink)
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8. It's Raining Again from "...Famous Last Words..." [1982]

I previously stated that Last Words was the band preparing itself for a break-up, as tensions rose and the creative spark that flared so brightly between Davies and Hodgson began to dampen. That said, Last Words also features the band at their most casually brilliant, in a way that's been mistaken by critics for laziness. ‘It’s Raining Again’ is the most blatant example of the band tackling a negative issue with a sense of buoyancy and wit. It is by no means the most intelligent or innovative of Tramp’s songs, but ‘Raining Again’ scores so highly because of its sheer sense of jovial energy. The song lets loose a flood of movement and excitability as soon as the saxophone breaks the silence from the previous song. This is Supertramp flexing their pop-music muscle, and the impeccable vocals, crisp piano and irresistible melody place the band as contenders for such accolade studded melody merchants as Lennon & McCartney. The song deals loosely with the loss of a friend or a loved one, but attacks it with an almost comical sense of happiness that makes it impossible not to enjoy. Only once does the song dip to melancholy, before continuing its skipping-rope tempo, leading to its chirpy synth outro. ‘Raining Again’ floats on a weightless high, and its concluding saxophone solo never fails to put a smile on this fan’s face. There is something hilarious about the way it discusses tragedy, and it’s something I can’t quite put my finger on, and perhaps I’d be better off not knowing. It was the first Tramp song I fell in love with, and I think I always will love it.


9. Remember from Indelibly Stamped [1971]

Indelibly Stamped is totally unique in the Supertramp catalogue, as it shows the transition from the band’s prog-rock besotted debut, and lays the foundations for the band’s signature, rich sound that was born fully on Crime of the Century. But unfortunately, transition albums like Stamped are often forgotten about, and only the pop single ‘Your Poppa Don’t Mind’ makes its way onto ‘best-of’ records. But the folky influences, and low-key, little England style song-writing on the album allow the listener to hear the band branch into different genres, that give them more in common with bands like Jethro Tull thanks to songs like ‘Potter’ and ‘Aries’. Supertramp may not have the effortless quirkiness of Ian Anderson, but in ’71 they made an album studded with gems, and ‘Remember’ provides what could be Davies’ best vocal performance. Heavy with the sax and rough with production, it’s a song with blatant influence from The Rolling Stones, and yet the sleazy, rough n’ ready musicianship mixes very successfully with the belted, unrefined singing, and binds to create a Supertramp classic. There’s a real passion on this track that’s not overdone or cheapened by time. You’ll never hear the band play like this on any other album, and how anyone ever considered this to be a weakness I’ll never know. The live feel of the song carries an infectious energy, and Davies’ delivery might not be as whisky-soaked and slick as Jagger’s, or as gruff as Anderson’s, but there is real power here, let loose without the reined in meticulousness of the band’s following releases. What’s great about the period from which these classic bands come from is that their consistent releases allow their fans to see their growth and progression through time, and Indelibly Stamped is an album showing a band growing up, who are light on their feet, lean and not yet indelibly stamped as a pop, rock or prog band. ‘Remember’ is a defiant piece, and its lion’s roar vocals ensure that it is delivered with pride.

10. Goodbye Stranger from Breakfast in America [1979]

‘You can laugh at my behaviour, that’ll never bother me,
Say the Devil is my saviour, but I won’t pay no heed,
And I will go on shining; shining like brand new,
I’ll never look behind me; my troubles will be few.’

Has there ever been a more perfectly worded statement of defiance in a song? I’m going to go out on a limb and say ‘probably not’. ‘Goodbye Stranger’ is one of the band’s most well-loved songs, and its reputation is not unfairly gained. Written as the manifesto for the youthful libertine that strives within us all, it is a track that flaunts a charming kind of arrogance. There’s a real cheek to the lyrics, and the punchy delivery of the lines conjures the idea of true and unchallenged freedom. It builds in signature Supertramp style, always governed by that spritely dance of the piano keys, which lead us to a fantastic duet-style between Davies and Hodgson; complimenting the completely different voices possessed by the two singers. This is Supertramp moving as the perfectly well-oiled machine, a machine that manages to grab melody and too-clever catchiness from nowhere to delight and enlighten. The guitar is always considered to be the champion instrument of rock ‘n’ roll, but Supertramp’s trust in piano playing pays off, as they manage to make that instrument sweat sleaze, sadness, joy and romance all in the same song. ‘Stranger’’s outro may be a slight niggle, as the guitar work lacks direction and finesse, but I think we’ll always be willing to forgive it, in the wake of those oh-so fantastic choruses. If it were up to me, I’d have those above lyrics carved on my gravestone, as no other collection of words manages to dismiss criticism, hostility and judgement by our peers with such ease and casualness. It’s inclusion in its entirety in the aptly quirky Magnolia will remain the film’s best scene in this writer’s humble, and is a tribute to the band’s cinematic competence and skill for narrative music.


11. Poor Boy from Crisis? What Crisis? [1975]

Crisis? is an album that is sometimes naively criticised as lacking the spark and creative brilliance of Crime of the Century, and this observation (incorrect as it may be) reveals the two sides of Supertramp, who either make albums comprised of moments, or albums comprised of moods. The latter, such as Stamped, Last Words and Crisis? are (IMO) the more timeless and rewarding in the long-run, as they produce a flow of music that rarely dips, and doesn’t rely on a magnum opus or a handful of popular champions to carry their weight.
Crisis? has few standout tracks, but ‘Poor Boy’ is definitely one of them. Written as a love song to serenade the simple life, the vocals have a shaky vulnerability, which makes its message all the more powerful. The calm jazzy undertones that become clear towards the song’s conclusion produce a sense of contentedness, and as with so many of Tramp’s songs, there is a feeling that Davies and co. are living their words, and the sincerity is always comforting. From an album with so many contrasting tempos and moods, ‘Poor Boy’ arrives as a steadily perfect, sharply produced pick-me-up, which harks back to their early 70s naivety and sense of fun. The song is not dissimilar to the themes expressed in ‘From Now On’, but also feels entirely different, as the heavy-hearted gravity of its more melancholy brother is replaced by a lovable foolishness and self-confidence. It also seems quite apt, as the band never managed to reach the heights of super-stardom in the same way that similar bands like Pink Floyd did, and their nonchalant dismissal of their modest place in life is an contagious and refreshing attitude, expressed in a stunning track.

12. C'est le Bon from "...Famous Last Words..." [1982]

Much like ‘School’ did at the beginning of Crime of the Century, ‘C’est le Bon’ acts as a smart-Alec protest song against the oppressive influence of adulthood on the minds and hearts of the young and free. The champion of this track is its lyric, and the flow and ebb of the rhymes wash together so perfectly that it almost feels like magic. It’s hard not to smile, or even laugh when Hodgson regales us with his little story, about the time when;

‘I took a tip from the man from the ministry,
He said, “My son, better work in the factory”,
Well, there were days I can tell you quite honestly,
I saw myself winding up in the military,’

In an age of financial worry and political apathy; where our parents, who grew up in the age of rock ‘n’ roll’s golden age begin to grow into the same conservative attitudes that so oppressed their youth and young adulthood, this song takes on a new and alarming relevance. It seems to many of my generation that those who have lost the memory of what it was like to be young, throw the blame and rhetoric upon the shoulders of those they were trying to make a more free future for. It’s a song about being forced to choose between the advice of your elders and the belief in yourself, and casts the casual joking aside for a more bluntly honest confession of rebellion against mundane reason. The vocals are sung with almost a whisper, as if disclosing a forbidden secret, and an invite into a world of chance, where you can embrace the unknown if you’re brave enough to try. This song is so poignant and inspiring because it comes at the end of the band’s golden era, where if their mark has not been made by now, then it will never be made, and blurs the lines of age, as the clever verses are answered by the simple, almost child-like choruses. The distant instrumental segments of the song capture that sense of loss and insecurity that governs so much of our youth, and for that, I salute it.


13. Another Man's Woman [Live] from It Was the Best of Times [1997]

Does this one count? It probably shouldn’t, as I would not include the studio version of this track, which originally featured on Crisis? but this song was made to be played live, and it’s just too god-damn good to ignore. What the live version manages to express in a far superior way is a sense of anger, which is defined by the erratic changes of tempo, all the while led by the older sounding, less delicate delivery of the lyrics, which tear through the whole mad nine minutes of the song with an unforgiving speed. It, combined with the commanding fluidity of the piano playing, and the sound of the cheering crowd make this song of lost love and resentment one written for all the betrayed lovers in the world. Supertramp play to the crowd, and show their ability for improvisation and variety in a way that’s not audible on any other kind of record. There are segments of patience (and even silence), that are then crushed by walls of sparking guitar, jazz-drumming and then majestic piano playing before the singing makes its return. The power of the band to introduce a vague story about betrayal and heartbreak, and then let the music carry that story through the imagination of its listeners is something to truly be admired, and once again Supertramp demonstrate that they manage to stand at the very forefront of a song that has become the defining genre for so many other lesser deserving bands. The grizzled voice of Davies perfectly defines the nature of turbulent love affairs in this song, and lines like,

‘Round and round we always go,
First it’s yes and then it’s no,’

only feel to be ringing true when heard live.


14. Rudy from Crime of the Century [1974]

‘Rudy’ is one of the darkest and most deeply cutting songs in rock and pop history…there, I said it. Its insight into the male psyche and the foolish illogic that so many of us cling to in life is nothing short of astounding. It acts as almost a psychological study as much as a song, and the tragic character of Rudy is one that every one of us can relate to in some way or another. His personality is completely exposed, isolated and dissected by the band in such an unflinching way that it’s hard not to feel true sympathy for this poor character, who is unable to overcome the narcissism and arrogance of youth in order to discover true happiness in life. Cinematic Supertramp is put to good use here, as the spoken word interlude on the train to Bristol Temple Meads gives a sense of reality, of travelling loneliness and a clash of emotions over Rudy’s desire to be free and to find love.
The song opens with the line;

‘Rudy’s on a train to nowhere,
Halfway down the line,’

And from then on a ceaseless bout of confessions and reveals about this poor sad character take us on a journey through our own foolish hearts as well as his. Maybe not all of us project ourselves with the same degree of sincerity on to poor old doomed Rudy, but of all the characters in music history, he stands as one of the most tragic and beautifully crafted. The band’s piano work here is sympathetic, but also oppressive, and eventually the song erupts with a climax of chanting choruses, before it soon slinks back into melancholy, and Rudy vanishes from our lives once more. There is a cold resonance as the song fades out and we are left alone to contemplate it. On an album so pre-occupied with imprisonment and the desire for freedom, Supertramp show us our worst oppressor is often ourselves.
Attached Thumbnails
In the Belly of the Blackdragon-stamp.jpg   In the Belly of the Blackdragon-tramp.jpg   In the Belly of the Blackdragon-words.jpg   In the Belly of the Blackdragon-america.jpg  
__________________
'Well, I'm a common working man,
With a half of bitter, bread and jam,
And if it pleases me, I'll put one on ya man,
When the copper fades away!'
- Jethro Tull

Last edited by blackdragon123; 01-12-2015 at 09:15 AM.
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