"There are times that you feel you're part of the scenery"
Breakfast in America is an album that simply shouldn’t have happened. Slightly smug, self satisfied prog-flecked radio-friendly rock by earnest men with beards should have been felled with the double blow of disco and punk, yet there Supertramp were in 1979, knee deep in gold records, releasing a string of hit singles that had conquered their newly adopted home’s radio format of choice. The album did eye-wateringly huge business for them and its success fully justifying the choice they had made several years ago to relocate their base of operations out of the UK and across the Atlantic.
Of course, Breakfast in America is best known for its two monster hit singles, the exercise in forced rhyme that was “The Logical Song” and the naive title track. There were other hit singles too, such as “The Long Way Home”, but it is “Breakfast in America” and “The Logical Song” which continue to receive airplay to this day.
The previous few years had been interesting for Supertramp. After years of trying, they had finally scored a hit album with the pop-prog of Crime of the Century in 1974, however 1975’s Crisis What Crisis? had failed to meet expectations. Realising that fashions had turned against them in the UK for 1977’s Even In The Quietest Moments, they had relocated to America, where they had a fair sized hit with “Give a Little Bit” before deciding to dial down the complexity and aim directly for the US FM rock market with Breakfast in America.
Considerably less ambitious in its arrangements, Breakfast in America was slick, produced to within an inch of passing over into excess and specifically tooled to sound brilliant coming out of even the worst car stereo that America had to offer. It was a masterclass in radio-friendly rock, that demonstrated that while Supertramp had turned their back on carefully constructed epics, they still retained much of their charm.
Although Roger Hodgson had penned the big hits, Rick Davies bluesier material was still present, acting as a counterweight to Hodgson’s lighter and airier tunes. It’s notable that throughout their career, that Hodgson had been the primary vocalist on the vast majority of the band’s hit singles, which doubtless caused some level of resentment, however Supertramp albums of the 70s would have been relatively flimsy and lightweight affairs were it not for the inclusion of Davies songs as ballast, and Breakfast in America is no different.
The targeting of the American radio market may have subtly altered the band’s sound, and though the majority of the band still got to play to their strengths, drummer Bob Seibenburg no longer had the scope to impress with his thrilling tom fills like he had previously, instead being relatively constrained in the studio. This was a minor niggle though, as on the whole the entire album sounded polished to the point you could see your face in it.
Breakfast in America may have cemented Supertramp’s success in America, but they couldn’t hold back the tides of fashion forever. Next album, Famous Last Words, would result in one last hit single in “It’s Raining Again”, however it would be their last album with Hodgson, leaving Breakfast in America as the peak of their commercial success and the album that most fans still most readily associate with the Supertramp name.