Before I knew what Prog Rock was, Supertramp was just a band on classic rock radio that I didn’t exactly love. Once I figured out what Prog Rock was, they became this caricature for me – my friends who hated prog hated it because they hated Supertramp but, to me, Supertramp wasn’t prog at all, they were “pop prog”; a band that stole some of the safest ideas from prog rock to mix with soft rock in order to sell records.
I have toned down my hatred of this band considerably in the interim, in part because I have now listened to two albums (their two most famous, I believe) and I have found more to their sound than just the singles. (Shocking, I know.) But I still find their characterization as “progressive” to be a bit of a misnomer; rather, I find their characterization as a “rock” band to be a bit of a misnomer.
Sure, they have loud guitars on occasion, but it is rather infrequently compared to most rock bands of the era. And their idea of of using influences from non-rock sources often merely involves having a string section or orchestra, or having some cool jazz winds in the background. Yes, their songs are more ambitious than the average mainstream pop rock/soft rock band of the era, but they rarely compare with the ambition of the bands initially labeled “progressive rock”.
And I guess that gets to the bottom of the confusion with this band: they are, more often than not, a “progressive pop” band rather than a “progressive rock” band, though they do stray into the latter genre at times, and especially on this album more than on the other album of theirs I’ve heard. If I think about them as a “progressive pop” band instead, I find I am a lot more receptive to their music, which feels arty and quirky for pop/soft rock. When I think about them as “prog”, they sound lame and commercial and unsophisticated.
So I’m trying to accept this as a “progressive pop” album with an edge – certainly far more of an edge than ELO. And in that frame of reference it’s not bad. There are a bunch of catchy songs (and at least one annoyingly catchy one) and a few times where they actually do something strange that I thoroughly enjoy.
I will never love or even really like this band. They are too sappy, too ballad-heavy, too musically uninteresting, and too “easy” for me. But I no longer detest them with every inch of my being. And I (think I) no longer blame them for the popular conceptions of prog.