Remaster Class: Supertramp: Crime of the Century

The third time was truly the charm for Supertramp. After two middling misfires, the British quintet's third LP, September 1974's Crime of the Century, vaulted them into the big leagues where progressive-leaning tendencies met not-so-subversive pop sensibilities head-on. Over the course of eight songs, Supertramp took full advantage of the dynamic range of tracks like "School" (punctuated by multiple piano bursts and yelping schoolchildren), "Bloody Well Right" (its razor-sharp guitar line wafting from back- ground to foreground and back like a talkbox in a tsunami), and the ascendant, power-packed rage of the title track (with a final lyrical twist worthy of the last episode of The Prisoner).

The band's uncluttered arrangements let each Crime song truly breathe—and that was no accident. No one knows it better than Supertramp vocalist/guitarist/pianist Roger Hodgson. "The art of space in our recordings can't be over- looked," he tells me. "What you don't play is just as important as what you do play."

I wore out my original 1974 A&M LP before the '70s wound down—and then I discovered better Crime wax existed in Europe. "The best pressing of anything I'd ever worked on was the initial pressing of Crime of the Century," Crime's original producer Ken Scott confirms. "That was done through the CBS classical division [who distributed A&M in Europe at the time], so it was the best vinyl you could get—and it was absolutely phenomenal. The Mobile Fidelity version was indeed good, but still not as good as the original CBS version."

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Scott's right about that. Mobile Fidelity's 1978 Original Master Recording LP was indeed something to behold—but I've also come to appreciate the nuances of the remastering job done for vinyl and cut by Ray Staff at Air Studios in London that was used with A&M's multi-format reissues that honored the album's 40th anniversary in 2014. For his part, Scott mixed the 13 bonus live tracks from the original tapes of the band's gig at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on March 9, 1975. While the 2CD Deluxe Edition is certainly worth having, the 3LP set is the better bet, as Scott really brings out the breadth of live performances of Crime tracks like "Rudy" (a 7-minute showcase for the storytelling vocalist/keyboardist Richard Davies) and "Hide in Your Shell" (Hodgson's whisper to scream treatise on summoning the wherewithal to overcome personal fears).

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On the CD front, I barely spun the 1994 A&M Redbook CD more than a few times since I already had Mobile Fidelity's 1993 Ultradisc in hand. I also picked up the Bill Levenson-supervised The Supertramp Remasters CD issued in 2002, but I've kept all those discs on the shelves ever since I obtained the High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray that emerged out of the aforementioned 2014 Crime reissue campaign. The multiple volume swells during Davies' frenetic "Asylum" and Hodgson's wistful "Dreamer" are even more pronounced in 24-bit/192kHz 2.0 on BD—as they should be. Hodgson wholeheartedly approves of going as hi-res as possible with this key entry in the Supertramp catalog. "The highs and the depth of our recordings are taken out or just missing from MP3s," he observes. "Lossless formats give you the best quality."

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As good as Crime sounds in stereo, here's hoping plans are afoot to bring the album into the 5.1 and/or Dolby Atmos arena when the 50th anniversary rolls around in 2024. "I would love to do that surround mix myself!" exclaims Ken Scott. "Crime just lends itself to being in that format."

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Bottom line: It would be an absolute, well, Crime if we never got the opportunity to hear this benchmark Supertramp album mixed in surround sound. If everyone was listening, you know, there'd be a chance to bask in all its 5.1 glory before the curtain falls.

COMMENTS
John_Werner's picture

Even my rote FM progressive station in the early seventies really didn't spin much, if any, Supertramp. Enter the independent Hi-Fi retailers. They were the first to really catch on to "Crime", at least in my Central Alabama region which included the most populus city of Birmingham. Even before Mo-Fi vaulted it into another level these shops were doing electronic/speaker demoes with "Crime". This was a "deep" album that was cerebral as well as accessible. It's true the Mo-Fi edition vaulted it to one of the most played rock albums for Hi-Fi retailers. But it was the complexity with assessibility that really clicked with the public at large. Supertramp was 10CC and Pink Floyd made perfectly palatable. It would reach full fruitiion years later when Breakfast In America topped the charts. There is lots here to digest however. It has the smarts and intracacies of Prog Rock and hooks that the Beach Boys could appreciate. A masterpiece platter.

jeffhenning's picture

My first and only copy of this recording is the stereo Blu-ray disc and it is a stunner. Who knew that a rock album from the mid-70's could sound so fantastic? I'm so used to how bad vinyl sounded then and how bad most CD's sounded because they used the cutting masters rather than the studio masters or they just sucked to begin with.

I haven't listened to the disc in a year, but my remembrance of it was that not only did it sound great, but there was very little to no noise. I expected a little tape hiss or amp hum, but there was none. I suspect they did a little bit of digital voodoo to exorcise some audio gremlins and that's fine by me. I've done that to great effect in the studio myself.

Guess I'll have to break this disc out and put it on the "too play" list.

iCrop's picture

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a Windows software package called SpecWeb, by SurroundByUs, that does an excellent job of upmixing stereo music files to 5.1 FLAC files. Crime Of The Century is one of the albums I've converted so far, as well as Breakfast In America, and the results are astounding. SpecWeb is donationware, so you can try it for free. It works very well with well produced tracks by default, and the output can be adjusted through the use of an initialization file. You can find out more about it on SurroundByUs.com and on QuadraphonicQuad.

jeffhenning's picture

...If you have a surround pre/pro this is rather unnecessary. I haven't dug into SpecWeb so I can't comment, but my thought is that anything that makes people more excited about listening to music that doesn't royally F&%k it up is fine by me.

I've found DTS or Dolby to work well on doing this for the most part, but they kinda suck with mono. The Hughes AK-100 and SRS stuff, especially the digital plug-in, were pretty fantastic at turning mono into something like stereo.

Listening to up-mixed stereo, I've found DTS to sound better on music than Dolby, but, there are no hard and fast rules. I'm sure that some music may sound better up-mixed by Dolby.

I have yet to take "Crime of the Century" and listen to it up-mixed, but that will be happening soon!

iCrop's picture

"...If you have a surround pre/pro this is rather unnecessary.", unless the pre/pro does a less than stellar job. SpecWeb takes your lossless (FLAC or wav) stereo file and creates a file with 6 discrete channels, as you get when you rip a DVD-A.

It's kinda cool to hear "Bloody well right!" come out of the left rear as you'd expect it to.

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