Album Reviews

Roger Hodgson Special

Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Sony Music
Catalogue #:4977392000
Year of Release:2000

Tracklist: Along Came Mary (6.25), The More I Look (4.56), Showdown (5.20), Hungry (4.27), The Garden (2.15), Death And A Zoo (7.32), Love Is A Thousand Time (3.30), Say Goodbye (3.57), Open The Door (8.54), For Every Man (4.44)

Shortly after leaving Supertramp, Roger Hodgson recorded his first solo album, In The Eye Of The Storm, in 1984, a few years later followed by Hai Hai. It took a long time after that, but two years ago Hodgson came back with Rites Of Passage, a live album with new songs, but also songs that he wrote with Supertramp. On the tour that followed Rites Of Passage, it became clear that Hodgson not only didn't mind looking back at his musical past and playing his old songs (in Amsterdam I think he even played something off Indellibly Stamped), but he also still likes them very much, and his writing has not changed a lot.

During those years away from the public, Hodgson did write a lot of songs. And finally, here's a new studio album for us to enjoy. What I mean by saying that his writing hasn't changed a lot, is that the love and enthusiasm with which he writes and plays his songs are still the same, and that the feeling, the atmosphere of the songs reminds me of his other, older works. Of course, after so many years, a man cannot but have changed, but his songs are still made of sadness about people's wrongdoings on the one hand, and a lot of undying love and hope on the other hand.

His Rites Of Passage tour was a solo tour, and the tour following this album will be so as well. On the album, Hodgson has a lot of contributors. By their names I'd say a lot of French musicians, but also the Symphony Orchestra Of Prague.
The first times I heard the album, I recognized some of the songs from his performance in Amsterdam and the show that can be heard from Live Concerts. I was trying to find references to his other solo albums, but the more I heard the album, the more I began to see it as an individual collection of songs. And I began to hear the songs were all of this high quality on their own as well.

Along Came Mary

Jerry: In the opening track, we hear there's still a hippie inside the man. But it's more than just a happy song about love. After the intro, with part of a speech from 1940 by Queen Elizabeth, and after a few lines of bagpipes (how I love that sound...), the song slowly increases in power. More instruments join in, like bass and drums, but there's also sax, uillean pipes, and accordeon. It's still a happy song, but it has power, played with enthusiasm and emotion. Great opening song.

Ed: A morse code opens the album, followed by dark keyboards and the Queen Elizabeth speech. Lots of insteresting instruments make their appearance in this wonderful tune; bagpipe, saxophone, uilleann pipe, accordion, hammond organ, Scottish drums and let's not forget the Symphonic Orchestra of Prague that returns in many songs on the album.
This song, which would not have been out of place on the In The Eye of the Storm album, builds up with many layers of vocal overdubs. Imagine Steve Hogarth singing Brave or Man of a Thousand Faces. Lyrically it's quite repetitive but there's enough happening on the musical side to make this one of the highlights of the album.

The More I Look

Jerry: The More I Look is more melancholic. It starts off kind of sad, but there's always hope, there's always something to learn out of it. Noteworthy performance by Trevor Rabin here on guitar, keyboards, and very distinctive vocals.

Ed: A nice accessible tune with Trevor Rabin (ex-Yes) on vocals and guitar. This song would not have been out of place on the Yes album Talk, since it reminds me a lot of I Am Waiting on that album (by the way, Roger co-wrote Walls on the same album). The lovely strings of the Orchestra of Prague add to the warm feel of the song.


Jerry: Showdown is different. A bit heavier this time, and very angry. Great harmonica in Supertramp style. And the best thing I like about this song is that catchy vocal lines during the chorus on the odd beats. Powerful and still swinging.

Ed: Now here's a real toetapper ! A swinging Supertramp-like tune (e.g. Take The Long Way Home) with great energy and many interesting instruments like violin, harmonica, banjo and dobro slide guitar. Rev. Jesse Jackson and Ronald Reagan ('The government is not the solution to our problem. The government IS the problem') make a 'guest appearance' in a sample.


Jerry: It didn't surprise me a lot when I learned that Hungry is going to be the first single off the album. It's the most simple and poppy song. I mean simple as in the fact that there's not a lot of changes. A sweet and happy song with a Supertramp saxophone. But it lacks power, and the vocal lines are a bit too predictable.

Ed: Who said that people would have had enough of silly love songs ? Here's another one for you. And I absolutely love it ! Yes, this first single of the album is very commercial and has high hit potential. Yes, it features high and sweet vocals ! Yes, it reminds me a lot of old Supertramp hits like It's Raining Again or The Logical Song or Roger's own In Jeopardy ! Anybody's got a problem with that ? A good song is a good song, even if it's a pop song. Play it again !

The Garden

Jerry: The Garden is a short, sad song. And is that the same harmonium I hear on Breakfast In America?! What a lovely sound...

Ed: Well ... this one doesn't do a lot for me. A short, sad, minimalistic song that Roger wrote when he was 18 years old. Neither the melody or the lyrics that link religious themes and the state of the world appeal to me much.

Death And A Zoo

Jerry: The Garden sets the atmosphere for the following song: Death And A Zoo, a soft and delicate song, at least for a while. How scary only piano and vocals can sound! In the middle of the song, it builds towards a powerful second half, where a lot if happening. First, the chorus melodies are strong, with Hodgson singing "nanana"-s. It's just right, very powerful and full of emotion. Then there's a part of haunting and driving drums, with sounds from a zoo in chaos. And with a bang it's all over, but not before Hodgson has sung the last lines in the vein of the first part of the song. A great and grand song has ended.

Ed: Breathtaking ! Amazing ! Definitely among the best songs I've heard this year. This is so beautiful ! After a mysterious and atmospheric opening with uillean pipe it starts as a beautiful piano ballad that would have fitted well on In The Eye of the Storm. At the end of the first vocal section Roger's trademark of vocal overdubs builds up until all hell breaks lose in a frenzy of percussion and great tribal instruments while Roger's berserk screaming can be heard in the background. Then suddenly all instruments stop while the tribal percussion continues and elephants trumpet while running from one speaker to the other. At the end of the song there's a reprise of the piano ballad. A very powerful and emotional track.
I played this on the CD player I found in my hotel room when I was on a business visit to Barcelona. Roger's repeated 'Don't you feel lonely' and combination of the impressions from the nightly walk through city this musical rollercoaster ride of emotions from sadness to a surge of adrenaline to anger back to sorrow brought tears to my eyes.

Love is a Thousand Times

Jerry: In the same vein as the opening track is Love Is A Thousand Time. An easygoing song, only guitar and vocals in the first verse, with drums and bass joining in in the second. But from the third verse, the volume is turned up a bit more, and there's a very nice Hammond organ as well.
These two songs remind the most of the songs on In The Eye Of The Storm.

Ed: A lighthearted sweet semi-ballad. Lot's of la-di-da's and such. Again it reminds me of some of Supertramp's hit singles. Lot's of steel guitar add an almost Hawaiian feel, while the acoustic guitars add more power. Very enjoyable.

Say Goodbye

Jerry: A bit more sad than The More I Look is Say Goodbye. Harpsichord and violin add to a sad sound. A beautiful song, sung very emotionally. And still there's something that is not as sad as it sounds at first. Although dark and moody, you can feel there's hope.

Ed: A nice sad ballad, almost an elegy. As Jerry said, harpsichord, pipe organ and violin create a very emotional mood. This is one of the slightly society critical that alternate the love songs on the album, without becoming to specific about what subject it is actually about. The Bulgarian choir Philippopolis makes an appearance in this song that only has some dark pounding drums in the far background and no futher percussion at all.

Open The Door

Jerry: Starting with harmonica not unlike The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, you know something great is going to happen. Open The Door slowly progresses from piano and keyboards and high vocals, still delicately, to a chorus with drums and bass and slightly aggressive vocals. And the next verse shows you who actually wrote Fool's Overture... At the middle of the song, the style suddenly changes, but it's got the power and drive of what the first part was heading for. Reminded me a little bit of Didier Marouani, by the way. It's not a wall of sound, and still a lot is happening. It's great to hear a limited number of musicians at limited volume create music where you feel a lot of power.

Ed: Now here's another track that could have come straight from In The Eye Of The Storm. After a School-like harmonica the song starts as another piano ballad. When the chorus (Open the Door !) arrives the song gets a lot more energetic with keyboards, many vocal overdubs and the gasping way of singing that can also be heard on Roger's first solo album. Part of the song reminds me a lot of Gimme Life of that album. It even features some Phil Spector-like castanets ! And of course another appearance by the Bulgarian singers and Orchestra of Prague. Another highlight !

For Every Man

Jerry: For Every Man has something quite simple about it. But it doesn't sound just happy, on the contrary - it sounds like a sad song. But halfway through the song, things are different. A saxophone solo over background vocals, and the music swells and volume increases. This can only be the last song on the album.

Ed: The only song on the album that Roger wrote with someone else; Alan Simon, who co-produced the album and also plays various instruments on it and who worked with Roger on the Excalibur project. The song is a nice ballad with more accordion, hammond, sax and the obligatory children's choir. Not one of the best tracks on the album, but a nice album closer.


Jerry: You might not like Hodgson's music - that's simply a matter of taste. But Hodgson is true to his music, he plays for the soul, not the mind. After so many so many years, the man has kept playing the same recognizeable, unique style of music, while also he has progressed within that style instead of repeating himself. He plays emotional music, ranging from sad to melancholic to happy. Not too complex, at times even commercial, but always recognizeable. It's the way he expresses himself, the way he puts his emotions to music, that I like so much. Hodgson himself says "it's not the singer, it's the song". I love the songs, but let's not forget it's the singer who makes them.

Ed: A wonderful album that shows Roger from his two best sides. On one hand you'll get the lovely, enjoyable songs that made Supertramp world famous. On the other hand you'll get the well thought-out longer compositions that can also be heard on the Suptertramp albums from the Seventies and the (in my opinion) unrecognized solo masterpiece In The Eye Of The Storm that stole my heart in the early Eighties.
Another thing that makes the album so special is the use of many special instruments and a full symphonic orchestra. Regarding the orchestra, I wouldn't have minded a more heavy orchestration with more strings !
This album is a must-have for everybody who likes Supertramp and Roger Hodgson solo !

Rating by Jerry van Kooten: 8.5 out of 10.
Rating by Ed Sander: 8.5 out of 10.

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