Supertramp: Crime of the century
Featuring the cream of Rick Davies’ and Roger Hodgson’s songwriting, Crime Of The Century was the first of the many peaks in Supertramp’s illustrious career; an album that had everything to prove, full of tunes that effortlessly straddled the world of pure pop and progressive rock. The LP eventually peaked at Number 4 on the UK charts and saw the band for the first time on the US Top 40. It was the music and the album’s cinematic sonic qualities that accounted for its impact.
Crime Of The Century is not only one of Supertramp’s greatest works, but one of the most highly regarded recordings of 70s rock music. Released in 1974, it put the band on the map after three years of struggle. With the unmistakable blend of the two songwriters – Davies and Hodgson’s – work, it married the sweetness of Hodgson’s ‘Dreamer’ – the band's first big hit single – with the grit of Davies’ similarly beloved ‘Bloody Well Right.’ In ‘School,’ ‘Rudy’ and the title track, the band – Davies, Hodgson, John Helliwell, Bob Siebenberg, and Dougie Thomson – helped define what would soon be known as ‘Adult Oriented Rock.’ This was – and is – not just an album that showed Supertramp's increased maturity, but a timeless gem, crammed with incredible melodies and thoughtful lyrics.
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Review by Rick Kosmick - January 19, 2015
The opening track of "School" that starts with a wailing harmonica....joined by the ominous sound of a bass drone effect....entrance of a lilting guitar....followed quickly by the plaintive vocals of Roger Hodgson....then faintly in the background children at play....and suddenly the shriek of a child! What a great opening for a song and this masterpiece album of "Crime of the Century" from Supertramp.
I was profoundly impacted by this album from the very first moment I heard it. I can still vividly recall the time assisting a friend to purchase his first stereo equipment. It was in the Spring of 1975 and the demonstration LP was "Crime of the Century". The listening room was a cavernous apartment and at the drop of a needle, I began a 40 year relationship. Although this record had been released in September, 1974, this first experience left an indelible mark that remains till this day. It is my favourite album above all others and has steadfastly remained so since this awestruck moment.
Immediately after this first encounter, I borrowed a LP copy from another friend and taped it on reel to reel. I had started my journey for better audio quality. In 1978 I purchased the A&M Audiophile Series LP and considered the sound as superb. With the dawn of the CD era, I could move away from vinyl that I found as an average medium for listening to music. I would proceed to purchase the A&M Series+ CD (1990) and the Remaster (2002) . Then there was the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab (MFSL) Gold CD from 1987 that many audiophiles referred to as the best for audio quality or in some cases the 'holy grail'. Well, I did not purchase the out of print MFSL until around 2005-06 (of course at a premium price). Needless to say, I had very high expectations for the MFSL version.
Unfortunately, my first listening experience with the MFSL Gold CD turned into a major disappointment. The sound was dull and lifeless. I would continue to listen at least 25-30 times over the next several years with the very same result. Early on, I identified (at least for me) the main problem: although the soundstage was reasonably good, the sound did not carry very well and lacked depth (I will address this matter a little later in this review). Finally, it was time to move on so I sold the MFSL in 2012 (for a premium price). Anyway, I still had the A&M Series+ CD that was my clear preference over the MFSL. And I still had the A&M Audiophile Series LP that was my best version.
It was great to hear a Blu-ray version of "Crime of the Century" would be released on High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) in the Fall of 2013 but it was delayed until the Remastered rendition in December, 2014. You can imagine my anticipation, and more importantly, what I can term as an extreme level of high expectations for this release.
I listened to the Blu-ray in the format DTS HD MA 24Bit 192k. Also, I decided to use my best version, the A&M Audiophile Series LP as a reference point (I want to be clear that I did not make this Blu-ray vs vinyl - it is a comparison of the audio only). The first thing that struck me was how remarkably similar both versions are in sound particularly the bass. Overall, the Blu-ray's sonics are notably better in clarity, detail and especially the soundstage. The Blu-ray has amazing depth where the sound's exemplary ambience literally submerses you in warm tones and textures.
I also have some comments on the instruments regarding a Blu-ray and LP comparison. As I mentioned, the bass is very similar with a deep, tight bass but the Blu-ray has more definition. The piano playing of Rick Davies on the Blu-ray is both sharper with a more clear resonance. Then we come to the exceptional drumming by Bob C. Benburg (AKA Bob Siebenberg) that explodes with power on the Blu-ray (seems softer in tone on the LP). I also cannot overlook the fine saxophone work of John Helliwell that takes on a razor-edged quality on the Blu-ray. The only preference I have for the LP is the more natural timbre of the cymbals whereas the Blu-Ray has a brighter edge.
I thought the dynamics of the Blu-ray are superlative. The higher frequencies are commendable but it is the bottom end that is special. You hear in all detail how Dougie Thompson on bass and Bob C. Benburg work so well together and they deserve more recognition for the excellent sound..... simply outstanding interplay.
I do not want to neglect one other matter and it concerns the cymbals. One thing you can say about "Crime of the Century", you have shimmering and splashing cymbals all over the place. Actually it is one of my pleasures when I listen to this album. I point out on "Hide in Your Shell" near the end of this song a very, almost inaudible, sibilance on the cymbals. I also heard this faint sibilance on the LP (but less so) using headphones (Sennheiser HD 650). In other words, my opinion is it exists on the master tapes. At the same time I want to be clear and consider it to be 'insignificant'. Further, I feel comfortable by stating that I did not hear any distortion on vocals or instruments.
Earlier in the review, I mentioned my disappoint with the MFSL Gold CD and it's lifeless sound. From my perspective, it failed to create sufficient depth in the soundfield. Several songs on the album consist of frequent extended quiet and loud passages with changing tempos. It was the transition between these quiet and loud passages that , in my opinion, proved problematic for the MFSL. I will cite as an example the song "Asylum" where at 2:42 a very quiet passage with a slow tempo commences and a noticeable drop off in sound occurs and continues until 4:04 where it abruptly starts a loud passage with an uptempo change. The Blu-ray makes this transition with ease and you sense a full sound with depth. The sound on the MFSL, on the other hand, would fall flat.
I also have the Deluxe Edition that contains the 2014 Remastered CD (RBCD) and a second disc, Live at the Hammersmith, a concert from 1975. I also compared this RBCD to the Blu-ray. I can state the audio of the RBCD is very impressive and it should be if it is the same remaster. I usually look for 3 points in this type of evaluation: 1. clarity 2. detail 3. soundstage. The Blu-ray was better in all 3 but notably exceeds in the soundstage that was a more 'open' sound with 'richer' depth.
In addition, I have some comments about the audio quality on Live at the Hammersmith. Ken Scott, original engineer and producer for "Crime of the Century", mixed this concert from the original multitrack master tapes. After listening to these live recordings, my reaction was twofold: what a great concert and secondly, the audio quality is 'astonishing'. It is difficult to understand how this concert remained unreleased for 40 years. I also have to mention my personal highlight was the live performance of the drummer, Bob C. Benburg. The drums are a powerhouse that just pound and explode with energy (the drums had to be well miked during recording). And lastly, special kudos to Ken Scott for such a fabulous job on the mix of the master tapes and resulting high quality audio.
Finally, it is time to acknowledge Ray Staff for the 2014 Remasters and the Blu-ray version. A magnificent piece work by this mastering engineer.
I suppose by now it should be apparent the HFPA Blu-ray met my very high expectations. The question: is it a demonstration type of disc? Of course it is and it now sits in that prestigious part of my collection. The next question: has my journey with "Crime of the Century" ended after 40 years in search of the best audio quality possible? Probably, but like most audiophiles there may be something like a multi-channel version in the future. So I leave the door open.
In the meantime, this Blu-ray version has my unequivocal Highest Recommendation.
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