Thursday, 19 November 2009

Classic Albums - Crime of The Century

Warning: If you don't like whimsical whimsicalness...don't read this.

I haven't done one of these for a while but I spent a pleasurable few hours yesterday re-visiting some old Supertramp albums. The reason? Well, I heard 'School', the opening track to Supertramp's classic 1974 album on the radio and it instantly transported me back in time to Droof Days. I'm pretty certain I first heard this album at Paul Eustice's place, above his parent's pub in St. Day. It was always winter and dark outside in those days, probably November. Electric bar heater set to one bar. Fags would have been smoked. Almost certainly a pint or two of Devenish bitter would have been consumed. Piles of records stacked against the wall were flicked through...and chosen...

Even before you put the record on the turntable, the striking cover artwork sets the mood. The eerie blackness and infinite vastness of space sets the tone for the similarly immense and dark music about to envelop you as the needle hits the deck.

The first few soulful notes of Rick Davies' lonely harmonica drift upwards from a cavernous space and slowly pull you down into it. Faint rumbling kettle drums echo in the distance and Roger Hodgson's textured guitar begins the hypnotic chord sequence to 'School'. Already, I'm lost, drawn in...floating in the vast arena of Supertramp's space opera soundscape.

The sound on this album is just so rich and textured...and so dark and moody. So perfect for the time. No, make that just 'perfect'. I spend almost the entire length of the album with goosebumps running up and down my arms. It's one of those albums which totally and absolutely envelops you. How did they do that?

Well, aside from the outstanding musicianship...

I don't know.

What I do know is that it was recorded at Trident Studios in London and was produced by the young and very talented Ken Scott. Yes, that's right, the same Ken Scott who just a couple of years earlier had co-produced Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars, Aladdin Sane and Pin-Ups. The first two albums back there were also recorded at Trident Studios.

T.Rex, The Beatles, Queen, Rod Stewart were just a few of the other artists who recorded at Trident back in the day. Is there time to mention that the grand piano at Trident can be heard on Elton John's 'Your Song', The Beatles' 'Hey Jude'? (sure, go ahead - Ed). Presumably this is the same piano used on Crime of the Century throughout. (and presumably Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust?- Ed)

Trident Studios

This struck me at the time because I could then, and still can, hear a very specific sound on both Crime of the Century and Ziggy Stardust. This interested me many years ago and I did some research which frustratingly I cannot repeat even with the internet and the power of Google.

What I remember discovering was that Trident had a unique echo chamber. I saw a diagram of the main studio on one of the upper floors and the echo chamber which was actually a few stories down in what must have been the basement I guess. Instrument sounds were fed into this chamber and 'echoed' before returning to the mixing console (Trident had unique custom built consoles like the one below). This must be a 'true', natural echo which is more often than not usually created using echo plates and reverb springs etc. Anyway, to my ears at least I think that the awesome echo and spaciness on both Ziggy Stardust and Crime of the Century have a very similar quality to them. Listen to Mick Ronson's guitar solo on Moonage Daydream...that's what I'm talking about.

Anyway, don't get me started on Mick...

Put Supertramp's Crime of The Century on now. I dare you.

Suddenly it's 1974 and you are a Droof Boy. You have to be at Redruth Grammar School in the morning. You'll freeze outside the main doors with your mates, waiting for some prefect to let you in. Probably have a double Classics lesson to not look forward to. Who cares. Lose yourself in Crime of The Century for an hour or two...

Posted by Steve

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