Album of the Week: “Breakfast in America”
An iconic staple in the vinyl collection of any classic rock fan, Supertamp’s “Breakfast In America” is an album that helped pave the way for future generations of rock musicians to experiment with different genres. Released in 1979 as the band’s sixth album, Supertramp used “Breakfast In America” to put forth their portfolio of previously scraped “fun” songs. The songs prove that the meshing of genres (in this case, soft rock and jazz) is not just experimental fun, but experimental art. While the album has commonly been misconstrued as a satire of the United States, Supertramp cleared this up. “Breakfast In America” was never intended to make a statement; rather, it was always meant to be a silly album for all to relish.
The album’s namesake also happens to be the name of one of its singles. The song “Breakfast In America,” while iconic on its own, regained popularity in 2006 when the chorus was interpolated into Gym Class Heroes’ “Cupid’s Chokehold/Breakfast In America.” A staple son of the 1970s, “Breakfast In America” takes a satirical approach to the ways in which non-Americans regard the United States and its Hollywood culture. Despite not being intentionally satirical in theme, the album contains two other songs that satirize the United States: “Gone Hollywood” and “Child Of Vision.” These two songs also serve as the opening and closing tracks, which could be part of why the album has been mistaken for a concept album.
Album artwork is as important to an artist or band’s music as they choose to make it. In this case, an attempt at a carefree and silly album cover became a popular conspiracy theory in the wake of the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The album art of “Breakfast In America” features smiling comedian Kate Murtagh clad in a yellow waitress uniform with a name tag reading ‘Libby.’ Behind Murtagh, who serves as a stand-in for the Statue of Liberty, is the Manhattan skyline, complete with the two World Trade Centers. The skyline is made up of cereal boxes, breakfast foods, and cutlery. Where the conspiracy comes into play is that the illusion of the album cover is that whoever looks at it is doing so through the window of a plane. Further examinations of the album cover by conspiracy theorists have concluded that the tray of orange juice held by Murtagh indicates the explosion of the World Trade Centers, as the glass of juice is positioned just in front of the buildings. The eeriest part is that the U and P in Supertramp are positioned behind the World Trade Centers so that the bottom of the U is not seen; this makes the U look like two number ones. If one were to flip the U and P, then, it would read ‘9 11.’ While it is almost impossible for this album cover to have predicted a terrorist attack 22 years after its release, the conspiracy theory is still a compelling and chilling one.
Supertramp is a British band, and shockingly enough, “Breakfast In America” performed better on the US Billboard charts than it did in their native country. “The Logical Song” and “Goodbye Stranger” were two of the album’s songs that saw Billboard success, and have lived on as two of Supertramp’s most well-known songs. Even in 2021, it is amazing to see how well “Breakfast In America” did in the charts, since it is so unique in comparison to other popular music in the 1970s. Supertramp, while traditionally a soft rock band, ventured into art rock territories a bit with this album, proving that combining genres could still yield success in the world of rock and roll.
Supertramp members, Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson, the two primary songwriters, were reported to have written all of their songs for “Breakfast In America” separately. Each writer provided vocals for his own songs. They did so to create the feeling of each song being a response to the words of the prior one; in Hodgson’s eyes, he wanted the album to feel like a conversation between two friends. Even if listeners do not pick up on this specificity, the conversational quality of the lyrics is a beautiful touch that makes the songs relatable in every aspect. Each of the ten tracks on “Breakfast In America” touches on everyday subjects and troubles, which creates an incredibly vulnerable and authentic piece of work. Since so many songs reflect this sense of vulnerability, there are a good number of slower ballads on the album.
My absolute favorite song on the album is “Just Another Nervous Wreck.” There are very few songs in the world that touch on anxiety as the root of anger. But in this song, Rick Davies tackles anger and anxiety in a controlled manner. There is a very clear emotional rollercoaster that the speaker of the lyrics is on throughout the song, and Davies plays with this in the volume and tone of his voice. One second, he is on the brink of tears, the other, he lets loose and screams of his grievances and worries. Behind Davies’ grounded lyrics and moving vocal delivery, is that bouncy instrumental. While not particularly slow or up-tempo, the instrumental juxtaposes the mood of the lyrics; it is similar to the way in which we portray ourselves deceitfully when we are hurting. This song is gorgeously composed and is among the most relatable tracks on “Breakfast In America.”
“Breakfast In America” is easily a four star album. It is a near perfect piece of music, but I denied it that final star merely because of the uniformity of a number of Hodgson’s songs. Davies is easily the standout of the duo on this particular album, since his songs are never too similar. Hodgson, on the other hand, has a tendency to remain similar in both tone and mood in the majority of his songs (save, maybe, “Lord Is It Mine”). Regardless, there is not a single bad song on this album; this is probably why it has gone down in history as such an excellent album!