Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Requested Review Revue: Todd Rundgren Three-Pack

Let's cut down to the chase: when it comes to this blog, I have been a lazy, silly bastard in recent weeks. The last time I actually, you know, wrote something for this blog was before Christmas. Now, I could cop out and say that I was kickin' back for the holidays, but hey - we're almost two weeks into the new year, and I've still only been making comics. Now, don't get me wrong, I love making comics for this blog, but let's be honest - you're not here for a bunch of rough comics drawn by somebody with no art skills whatsoever. You're here for some reviews! Some opinions! Some TEXT!!

But hey, school is starting again soon. I am feeling more active. As such, I will take on a review requested by fellow blogostar Adam Spektor (UPDATE YOUR BLOG, you bastard!) in an attempt to revitalize my record reviewing spirit. Adam threw a lot of albums and artists out there, one of them being 70s writer/singer/producer extraordinaire Todd Rundgren. And I have three of his peak-era albums, all released one right after the other - so why not review all of them? Hey, let's do it.

1971: Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren

Don't let the goofy picture of Todd hanging himself at the piano fool you - this album is, compared to Todd's later stuff, pretty mellow. The title is appropriate, since this record is mostly a showcase for Todd's softer, low key side. I have to admit, some of those said ballads sound a little samey, and Rundgren's unusual sense of humor does not crop up often enough to provide a counterbalance to said samey ballads.

But hey! The ballads are lovely! Classy, early 70's singer/songwriter pop. I enjoy them. "Denny & Jean," "Wailing Wall," "A Long Time," "Boat On The Charles," "Be Nice To Me," "Hope I'm Around" - lovely. The kid's got talent. And hey, the songs that AREN'T ballads are awesome! They lend the album some much-appreciated diversity: "Long Flowing Robe" is an uppity pop song; "Bleeding" and "Parole" are groovy rockers; "Range War" is a goofy little ditty; and most notably, "Chain Letter" is an almost Hey Jude-esque piano superballad (not a REGULAR ballad, see) with a very pretty extended coda. Top notch.

If you're used to Todd being a goofball, you might not love this one. If you're a fan of his songwriting, you're right at home here.

1972: Something/Anything?

Ahh, the masterpiece. This double album, in all honesty, is practically all the Todd you need, giving the listener a generous helping of every facet of his personality (noticeably missing: his prog/freakout Utopia side, but whatcha gonna do?).

Like any good double album, Something/Anything?'s four sides each have their own distinct theme. Side One, called "a bouquet of ear-catching melodies" in the liner notes, is Todd Rundgren at his most pop, consisting of six songs that would fit right in on early 70's AM radio (including maybe his biggest hit, the Carole King-esque "I Saw The Light"). Side Two is the "cerebral side," in which more lovely pop songs ("Saving Grace," "Marlene") share space with some more out-of-left-field numbers (the funny "Song of the Viking," the lazy "The Night The Carousel Burnt Down," the spoken-word "multimedia piece" "I Went To The Mirror"). On Side Three, "the kid gets heavy," and we've got more great pop songs ("One More Day," the marvelous power pop of "Couldn't I Just Tell You") plus some neat hard-rock numbers ("Black Maria," "Little Red Lights"). And Side Four, which Todd decided to dub a "pop operetta" ("...that kind of thing being very popular nowadays"), is actually a series of varied pop/soul/rock songs performed by a live band, featuring more great pop songs (his other huge hit "Hello It's Me"), soul ("Dust In The Wind", "Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me"), glammy rock raveups (album closer "Slut") and some wonderful nigh-scatological goof songs ("Piss Aaron" and "You Left Me Sore," the latter being one of the classiest, funniest VD songs I've ever heard). It's one big, fat poptastic trip.

I love this album. Not gonna lie. "Couldn't I Just Tell You" and "Hello It's Me" are two of my all-time favorite pop songs - kind of a mix of Big Star with 70's soul. The funny songs are funny, the rockin' songs mostly rock, and hey, even the liner notes rule - the way Todd transcribes the silly studio chatter of side four and tries to script it as an actual operetta, complete with character names, is funny enough to buy both CDs. Don't be stupid! Get it.

1973: A Wizard, A True Star

WHOA. Whoaaa hoho. I don't know, Todd.

Todd's perverse side - which popped up occassionally in Something/Anything? - is all over the first side of Wizard. Sure, we start off with the space-pop of "International Feel," a cover of Peter Pan's "Never Never Land," and the cool "Tic Tic It Wears Off" - all of which are only about a notch weirder than the weirdest of Something/Anything?. After that, though, YIKES.

Side One basically turns into a parade of apparent attempts to shed his mainstream audience that bought his last few records on the strength on "I Saw The Light," featuring a bunch of interconnected one-minute freakouts. You've got nutzoid cock-rockers ("Rock 'n Roll Pussy"), bizarre sound collages and/or instrumentals ("Dogfight Giggle", "Flamingo"), accordion-driven dirges ("Zen Archer"), creepy pop ditties ("You Don't Have To Camp Around") - all ending with a twisted reprieve of "International Feel" (called "Le Feel Internacionale"). Side Two lets up a bit, offering up some classic Todd piano-soul ("Sometimes I Don't Know What To Feel," "Just One Victory") with some slightly twisted bits ("Does Anybody Love You?", "Hungry For Love") and a NUUUUUUTTY doo-wop/soul medley that you can either love or hate.

I don't listen to this record too much - for me, it's just a little TOO bizarre. Side One of this record goes above and beyond in terms of nasty performance art; it's honestly what I expected Fleetwood Mac's Tusk would sound like before I actually listened to it (not that I'm knocking Tusk - it's a great album, I just don't think it's all that weird). It's a twisted, unsettling piece of work, and I just don't know what to think about it. Side two has some great songs, but also feels pretty disjointed. I don't know. I can take or leave this one. But it's compelling, I'll say that much. There's a lot to hear on this record. But most of it isn't classic Todd-pop. It's kind of like the anti-Ballad. Prepare for it.

That's all the Todd I can muster for tonight, folks. Buy his stuff! Better yet, buy some of his stuff for me. I've had the same three albums by him for the past two years.

1 comment:

Adam said...

Have you heard "Runt" yet? If you're in a Rundgren-y mood, it's got some satisfying, vintage stuff on there. "We Gotta Get You a Woman" is one of his best tunes and "I'm in the Clique" and "Who's That Man" rock pretty hard. Check it out.

"Couldn't I Just Tell You," we can agree, is one of the best pop songs ever written.

I played "Zen Archer" on my radio show the other day and some guy called in all excited that he hadn't heard the song in years and it was taking him back... so yeah. Still enthusiasm for the man out there, I should play his tunes more often.