Todd Rundgren

  • Todd Rundgren
  • Runt (Bearsville) 1970  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (Bearsville) 1971  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Something/Anything? (Bearsville) 1972  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • A Wizard, a True Star (Bearsville) 1973  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Todd (Bearsville) 1974  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Initiation (Bearsville) 1975  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Faithful (Bearsville) 1976  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Hermit of Mink Hollow (Bearsville) 1977  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Back to the Bars (Bearsville) 1978  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Healing (Bearsville) 1981  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Todd Rundgren Presents the Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (Bearsville) 1982  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • A Cappella (Warner Bros.) 1985  (Rhino) 1989 
  • Singles (Bearsville) 1988 
  • Anthology (1968 – 1985) (Rhino) 1989 
  • Nearly Human (Warner Bros.) 1989 
  • 2nd Wind (Warner Bros.) 1991 
  • The Obvious List, the Less Obvious List (Rhino) 1995 
  • The Individualist (Ion) 1996 
  • The Rundgren Collection (Japan. Pony Canyon) 1996 
  • I Saw the Light and Other Hits (Flashback) 1997 
  • The Very Best of Todd Rundgren (Rhino) 1997 
  • Up Against It (Japan. Pony Canyon) 1997 
  • With a Twist ... (Guardian) 1997 
  • Free Soul Runt (Japan. Victor) 1998 
  • Rock Masterpiece Collection (Japan. Victor) 1998 
  • Somewhere/Anywhere? (Japan. Victor) 1998 
  • TRTV Vol. 1 (Patronet) 1998 
  • The Best of Todd Rundgren "Go Ahead. Ignore Me" (UK Castle Music) 1999 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 1 — Live NYC '78 (Japan. Nippon Crown) 1999 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 2 — Live Tokyo '79 (Japan. Nippon Crown) 1999 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 3 — Live in Chicago '81 (Japan. Nippon Crown) 1999 
  • TRTV Vol. 2 (Patronet) 1999 
  • KBFH – Todd Rundgren Live (KBFH) 2000 
  • One Long Year (Artemis) 2000 
  • Reconstructed (Cleopatra) 2000 
  • Extended Versions (Rhino) 2001 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 4 — Demos & Lost Albums (Japan. Nippon Crown) 2001 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 7 — A Cappella Tour (Japan. Nippon Crown) 2001 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 8 — Another Side of Roxy (Japan. Nippon Crown) 2001 
  • Bootleg Series Vol. 1 – Live at the Forum London '94 (Sanctuary) 2002 
  • Essentials (Rhino) 2002 
  • Todd Rundgren & His Friends (Purple Pyramid) 2002 
  • Bootleg Series Vol. 3 – Nearly Human Japan '90 (Sanctuary) 2003 
  • King Biscuit Flower Hour Archive Series: Greatest Hits Live (KBFH) 2003 
  • With a Little Help From My Friends (Madacy) 2003 
  • Liars (Sanctuary) 2004 
  • Todd Rundgren / TR-1
  • No World Order CD-i (Philips) 1992 
  • No World Order (Waking Dreams/Forward) 1993 
  • No World Order CD-ROM (Electronic Arts) 1994 
  • No World Order Lite (Waking Dreams/Forward) 1994 
  • Utopia
  • Todd Rundgren's Utopia (Bearsville) 1974  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Todd Rundgren's Utopia Another Live (Bearsville) 1975  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Oops! Wrong Planet (Bearsville) 1977  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • RA (Bearsville) 1977  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Adventures in Utopia (Bearsville) 1980  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Deface the Music (Bearsville) 1980  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Swing to the Right (Bearsville) 1982  (Bearsville/Rhino) 1989 
  • Utopia (Network) 1982  (Unidisc) 1997 
  • Oblivion (Utopia/Passport) 1983 
  • POV (Passport) 1985 
  • Trivia (Passport) 1986 
  • The Collection (Bearsville) 1988 
  • Anthology (1974 – 1985) (Rhino) 1989 
  • Redux '92: Live in Japan (Rhino) 1993 
  • POV, Oblivion, and Some Trivia (Rhino) 1996 
  • City in My Head (Essential) 1999 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 5 — Oops! Wrong Planet Tour (Japan. Nippon Crown) 2001 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 6 — Deface the Music Tour (Japan. Nippon Crown) 2001 
  • Todd Archive Vol. 9 — Oblivion Tour (Japan. Nippon Crown) 2001 
  • Todd Rundgren vs. Utopia (Castle) 2001 
  • Bootleg Series Vol. 2 — KSAN 95FM Live '79 (Sanctuary) 2002 
  • Nazz
  • Nazz (SGC) 1968  (Rhino) 1984 
  • Nazz Nazz (SGC) 1969  (Rhino) 1984 
  • Nazz III (SGC) 1971  (Rhino) 1984 
  • The Best of Nazz (Rhino) 1984 
  • From Philadelphia (Phantom) 1997 
  • 13th and Pine (Distortions) 1998 
  • Nazz vs. Toddzilla (The Orchard) 2002 
  • Open Our Eyes – The Anthology (Sanctuary) 2002 
  • Todd Sings (Cool Sound) 2002 
  • Various Artists
  • For the Love of Todd (Third Lock) 1991 
  • An Elpee's Worth of Productions (Rhino) 1992 
  • Still There's More (Third Lock) 1995 
  • Todd/A True Star (Japan. Pony Canyon) 1997 

Todd Rundgren is, apparently by design, a bundle of contradictions. A facile composer of memorable hook-filled pop melodies, he has often chosen to make willfully difficult music. A one-man studio wiz proficient on any number of instruments, he chose, at the height of his popularity, to record and perform as a member of a democratic group (and, at one point, with no instruments at all). Possessor of a highly original sound, he has painstakingly recreated the popular songs of his youth, and created convincing pastiches and parodies of other artists. A tireless innovator at the boundaries of music technology, he has often performed with a lone acoustic guitar and piano. Rundgren’s gifts as a lyricist are impressive, yet he has also recorded a fair number of instrumentals. To some, he’s better known as a producer than an artist, although his commercial achievements in both realms are not inconsiderable. In short, the kid from Upper Darby, PA has fashioned a fascinating life out of following his muse wherever it goes.

As guitarist in the ’60s Anglophile quartet Nazz (not the Nazz), Todd displayed hints of the talents that would serve him well in his solo career. The quartet’s three uneven albums (Nazz, Nazz Nazz and Nazz III) contain blueprints for more than a few of the directions Todd would explore on his own. The first album’s proto-power pop “Open My Eyes” brilliantly displays his Who fixation without aping that group; the original version of “Hello It’s Me” (arguably bettered by Rundgren on Something/Anything? four years later) is balladry with beautiful harmonies. Nazz Nazz has a swing-and-a-miss hit attempt, “Forget All About It,” which was (in 1969) probably too complicated for its own good. The eleven-minute-plus “A Beautiful Song” is an extended suite in which Todd covers all the musical bases. Nazz III (originally intended to be paired with the Nazz Nazz material as the double album Fungo Bat) was damaged in post-production; after he left the group, Todd’s vocals were recorded over by vocalist Robert “Stewkey” Antoni (later the singer in the band that became Cheap Trick). Still, “Only One Winner” nearly holds up alongside earlier Nazz pop gems, and “You Are My Window” is a template for the plaintive ballads Todd would soon unveil.

Beginning in the late 1990s, scattered Nazz archival recordings, outtakes and alternate versions found release on Nazz From Philadelphia, 13th and Pine and Nazz vs. Toddzilla. Hardcore fans will want these; for everyone else, The Best of Nazz is a tidy and tuneful summation.

Freed from the constraints of a band, Todd began a solo career. Well, sort of. Credited to the group of the same name, which included the rhythm section of Hunt and Tony Sales, Runt is musically diverse to such a degree that it is difficult to imagine such an album being released today. The gospel blues of “Broke Down and Busted” contrasts wildly with “We Gotta Get You a Woman,” an early example of Rundgren’s Laura Nyro fixation that became Todd’s first solo hit. The album rocks hard (“Who’s That Man?”) yet offers sweet ballads (“Believe in Me”), giving it a split-personality sensation.

The second “solo” album (credited to Runt, but pointedly titled The Ballad of Todd Rundgren) goes one better. The songcraft is more refined, and the album contains worthwhile musical ideas. “Long Flowing Robe” gets the disc off to a hooky start. “The Range War” is a sentimental urban piano variation on country and western. “Chain Letter” breaks from standard song structure and benefits from it. Heavy on piano ballads (like the lovely and plaintive “Be Nice to Me”), the album is, for stretches, a bit staid and plain by Todd’s subsequent standards. Still, each song offers its own charms.

A year later, the 23-year-old unleashed his magnum opus. Something/Anything?, a sprawling and diverse double album, feels like a career retrospective. Three-fourths of the album is Todd alone: writing, playing all the instruments, singing all the vocal parts and producing the session. He plunged headlong into every musical style that appealed to him. Ballads? Got ’em (“Sweeter Memories,” “The Night the Carousel Burned Down,” “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”). Power pop? “I Saw the Light,” “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (perhaps the most essential mix tape message song ever recorded). Studio trickery, psychedelic experimentation, Hendrix-style riff-rock, candy floss pop…in a word, everything. But the final half-hour heads in an entirely different direction, with a full band performing live in the studio, highlighted by the transcendent remake of “Hello It’s Me.” With two dozen swings and nary a miss, Something/Anything? is arguably better than any best-of Todd collection.

It also became something of an albatross for Rundgren. Still in his early 20s, he had done it all: a string of pop hit singles, critical respect and name recognition, a burgeoning sideline as a producer. Facing the challenge of following a brilliant double album, Todd’s answer was the mostly solo A Wizard, a True Star. Rundgren threw all of Something/Anything?‘s concepts into a blender and set it on high. Deliberately confounding expectations, Todd created an album that is, in turns, hard to listen to and impossible to ignore. Bookended by a pair of uplifting new agey anthems (“International Feel” and “Just One Victory”), it also contains song fragments (six in a row running less than seven minutes), yet the whole thing holds together. The brilliant soul covers medley (including “I’m So Proud,” “La La Means I Love You” and “Cool Jerk”) vanquishes Hall and Oates (a group Rundgren would go on to produce) at their own game. At over 55 minutes, A Wizard, a True Star is among the lengthiest single albums ever released on vinyl. It divided Todd’s fans into camps: those who found it overstuffed with noodling and stylistic detours, and those who felt its brilliance rivaled Something/Anything?. Both assessments are credible.

Todd then formed a progressive group he dubbed Utopia. Allowing him to play the role of guitar god, the group (originally including no less than three synthesizer players) engaged in heavy yet intricate extended works. Todd Rundgren’s Utopia traded on his name recognition, yet was still a group effort. Four tracks stretched over nearly an hour, the disc has as its centerpiece a collaborative composition, “The Ikon,” a 30-plus-minute work with several “movements.” But even with the extended synth soloing and screaming guitar leads, Rundgren’s pop melodies shine through. “Utopia Theme” adds another anthem to the Rundgren canon. Recommended to fans of Rundgren and progressive music in general.

In what would be a pattern for several years, the tireless auteur alternated Utopia and solo albums. Todd piles it on four sides of vinyl, but for the first time the musical quality falters. In all likelihood it was a case of “too much too soon” (the title of the New York Dolls’ album Rundgren didn’t produce). Todd sags under the weight of such indulgences as “In and Out the Chakras We Go (formerly ‘Shaft in Outer Space’),” yet still contains “A Dream Goes on Forever,” one of the most beautiful piano ballads ever recorded. “The Last Ride” melds Todd’s pop sensibility with his Philly soul enthusiasm; “Izzat Love?” could have been the album’s pop single, and the album ends with two triumphs. “Don’t You Ever Learn?” runs over six minutes but wastes not a second with its washes of electric piano and strong melody, while the anthemic “Sons of 1984” comes complete with backing vocals by concert-goers on two coasts. (Rundgren was one of the first rockers to truly understand and make creative use of the connections between artist and fans). Like many double albums, Todd is a very good, if flawed undertaking that would have benefited enormously from editing.

For 1975’s Initiation, Todd threw together the best (and worst) characteristics of all his pet projects. He used lots of musicians, but it’s not a Utopia album. Two of the seven tracks are real standouts: the clever “Real Man” and the philosophical “Eastern Intrigue.” The treated vocals of the a cappella “Born to Synthesize” presage an experiment Todd would pursue a few years down the road, and “Fair Warning” has elements of both ballad and guitar wank-fest in its eight minutes. The long “A Treatise on Cosmic Fire” bogs the album down, and pushes the total time near 70 minutes. Like many artists of the day, Rundgren noted the mastering challenge presented by such a lot of music and suggested that listeners turn up the volume.

Utopia’s first concert release, Another Live (a pun on “Another Life,” the album’s leadoff track), mainly introduces new material. With prog-rock solidarity of a sort, “The Wheel” suggests Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, and the show tune “Something’s Coming” (from West Side Story) actually works in this context. A ripping cover of the Move’s “Do Ya?” beat out ELO’s version by nearly a year. In typical Todd/Utopia fashion, the album closes with an anthem, in this case a scintillating version of “Just One Victory.”

Rundgren recorded half of Faithful solo and the rest with a stripped-down (four-piece) Utopia. The solo half offers painstakingly accurate recreations of classic songs of Todd’s youth (by the Yardbirds, Hendrix, Beatles, Beach Boys, Dylan). Not merely “covers,” the songs are note-for-note, sound-for-sound copies of the originals. Except for the vocals, which bear his unmistakable imprint, these tracks could have been recorded in 1966. Never one for the easy road when a more difficult one is available, Rundgren tackled two of the era’s greatest studio creations: “Good Vibrations” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” The remainder of Faithful, a half-stack of new originals, covers all the usual stylistic bases in short order with an emphasis of songs over sonics. “Love of the Common Man” is hook-filled and contains a brief, transcendent guitar solo. “Black and White” is a classic heavy rocker, and “The Verb ‘To Love'” is yet another beautiful ballad.

The solo Hermit of Mink Hollow was an attempt to split the difference, with an “Easy Side” and a “Difficult Side.” In truth the album, is easier on the ears than much of Todd’s adjacent work, with melody to the fore on tracks like “All the Children Sing” and the hit “Can We Still Be Friends.” Echoes of Something/Anything? abound, including the “Wolfman Jack” retread “You Cried Wolf.” The album is lyrically introspective, especially on the three-handkerchief “Bag Lady.” And since no Rundgren album would be complete without a power pop-style anthem, “Determination” is ready to serve. If Hermit of Mink Hollow was a bid for commercial resurgence, it was strictly on Rundgren’s terms.

The year 1977 was especially busy for Todd. In addition to Hermit of Mink Hollow, Utopia released two albums. RA introduced keyboardist Roger Powell to the lineup, joining Rundgren, Kasim Sulton and John (Willie) Wilcox for the remainder of Utopia’s existence. RA is something of a bridge between the art/prog pretensions of the old larger group and the future; Powell easily kept up with the others’ pyrotechnics and became the fourth songwriting singer in the group. Still, it’s a transitional record, with no major tracks (certainly no hits) and longer numbers like “Sunburst Finish” and “Singring and the Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairytale)” that overstay their welcome.

From the packaging on down, Oops! Wrong Planet is quite different. Where RA pictures the band in goofy poses and ersatz Pharaoh garb, Oops! Wrong Planet has black and white mug shots of four musicians who, from the looks of it, had been holed up in the studio way too long. The leadoff “Trapped” introduces the tight, compact, harder-rocking Utopia, with harmonies perfectly blended and mixed to the fore. The ballad/anthem “Love Is the Answer” would become a concert favorite for the group and Rundgren, but it was a cover by England Dan and John Ford Coley that became a hit single. “Love In Action” is a catchy mid-tempo rocker and something of a template for the next Utopia studio album, three years later. Todd Archive Vol. 5 – Oops! Wrong Planet Tour is a good concert artifact.

By 1978, Todd was 30 and ready to look over his shoulder for a change. He assembled a passel of associates (The Hello People, Hall & Oates, Rick Derringer, Stevie Nicks, past and present Utopia personnel) and did a club tour. Soundboard tapes of those shows were culled for Back to the Bars, a live album that runs the gamut. Solo Rundgren, most notably a piano rendition of “A Dream Goes on Forever,” joins c’mon-everybody-out-on-stage numbers like “Hello It’s Me.” Todd reaches far back in his own history to perform “Range War,” and succeeds in providing a suitable overview of his work to date. Todd Archive Vol. 1 – Live NYC ’78 offers more from that era.

Busy constructing a state-of-the-art audio/video studio, Rundgren did not release anything in 1979, although that year’s live work is documented on Todd Archive Vol. 2 – Live Tokyo ’79.

Utopia returned to action with Adventures in Utopia, the group’s most consistent clutch of songs yet. The minor hit “Set Me Free” relegates Rundgren to a backup role; bassist Kasim Sulton ably takes the lead vocal. A few pieces push the five- and six-minute marks (the mini-epic “Caravan” and the discofied “Rock Love”) but, for the most part, Adventures follows the radio-ready rules of the day. The video-themed packaging matched a failed plan to sell a TV pilot about a group not unlike Utopia.

The next Utopia release, just months later, chased away much of the band’s newfound audience. Deface the Music isn’t a bad album, but it was an uncommercial blind alley. A droll piss-take of the Beatles (right down to its cover art), Deface the Music proves that Utopia (as the Rutles had) could entertainingly parody the Beatles. Within that framework, the songs are pretty good, spot-the-influence treats like the rocking “Take It Home” (“Day Tripper” rewritten), “Everybody Else Is Wrong” (“I Am the Walrus,” 1980s style), the chiming “Feel Too Good” (Kasim Sulton does “Getting Better”) and so on. The highlight is “I Just Want to Touch You,” which apes the sound of Meet the Beatles down to the handclaps, harmonica and bobble-headed “oohs.” The brief tour to promote the album is enshrined on Todd Archive Vol. 6 – Deface the Music Tour.

Healing took Rundgren back to the one-man-band approach of Hermit of Mink Hollow. The multi-part title track, which fills half the album, is an emotionally evocative triumph that feels shorter than it is. “Compassion” ranks among the finest ballads Rundgren has composed, and the track is beautifully played and sung. Oddly, two of the sessions’ finest results, “Time Heals” and “Tiny Demons,” were only included as an afterthought, on a 7-inch disc. (The CD reissue corrected that.) “Time Heals,” finely wrapped ear candy with a catchy beat and melody, became the subject of an innovative music video, remembered now as the second video ever shown on MTV.

The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (known to fans as TEPTAE) was Rundgren’s final album for Bearsville, and it in a sense summarizes the lyrical and musical themes of his career. “Hideaway” leads off, a single-that-never was that marries his best instincts with the sound of 1982. “Influenza” continues the march of quality songs. While a cover of the Small Faces’ “Tin Soldier” adds little to the original (and would have been used to better effect on Faithful), “Drive” turns a droning guitar figure into a wonderful, memorable song. “Emperor of the Highway” evokes Todd‘s “The Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song.” The album’s surprise hit, the throwaway “Bang the Drum All Day” would become both an albatross for Todd and a major revenue stream for both him and Bearsville. Perversely, this unrepresentative track became the best-known song Todd Rundgren ever wrote.

Burying the memory of Deface the Music, Utopia released the politically and morally themed Swing to the Right in 1982. Not nearly as serious or pious as that might imply, the album has tuneful, catchy songs with lyrics that are clever, thoughtful and wry, tackling Reaganism (“Swing to the Right,”), war (“Lysistrata,”), greed (“Last Dollar on Earth” and a cover of the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money”). The album wraps up with the anthemic “One World,” with buzzing, barely-in-tune fretwork and a shout-along chorus. A self-fulfilling statement of divergence with the prevailing mood of America, the album headed straight for the cutout bin, effectively ending Utopia’s welcome at major record labels.

A few months later, Utopia returned with the far superior Utopia (no relation to the similarly titled 1974 Bearsville album), which righted many of the perceived wrongs of its immediate predecessor. Arguably the group’s most democratic undertaking, Utopia boasts strong compositions by all four members, as if all of their likely hit single material had been saved for one clear-the-vaults extravaganza. Midtempo rockers (“Libertine,” “Call It What You Will,” “Infrared and Ultraviolet”) coexist with the requisite plaintive ballad/anthems (“I’m Looking at You but I’m Talking to Myself,” “Chapter and Verse”). The pounding “Hammer in My Heart” keeps things moving with an insistent bass/synth bottom end; “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” became a clever music video. This fine effort should have put Utopia back on track, but the label that issued it quickly went under, blunting whatever momentum the album had generated.

The lure of a unified thematic approach (if not an actual concept) again reared its head on Utopia’s Oblivion. Released on yet another doomed label, the title was sadly prophetic. Longer on hard-rocking songs than its predecessor, the album resorts to a few “Hammer in My Heart” rewrites (“Itch in My Brain,” “Too Much Water”). Taking advantage of George Orwell mania, Utopia serves up titles like “Winston Smith Takes It on the Jaw” and “Welcome to My Revolution.” Despite the strong ballad work of “Maybe I Could Change” and “I Will Wait,” Oblivion never really takes off. However, Bootleg Series Vol. 2 – KSAN 95FM Live ’79 shows that live, the band played with muscle and enthusiasm in the face of increasing commercial indifference.

Utopia’s last studio album of original material, POV, was doomed by too-trendy-by-half production that left it sterile and computerized. (The artwork is all styled with early Apple graphics.) The drums sound artificial, and the whole album has the feel of sequencer programming. A few songs survived the production botch: the power pop “Play This Game” and “Mated,” which would work better for Todd years later in another context. POV is of a sonic piece with Love Bomb, a Tubes LP Rundgren produced (and played on); it didn’t work for them, either.

A Cappella spent a few years in the can before Rundgren was able to get it released; perhaps the world was not ready to apprehend his visionary experimentation. Doing away with instrumentation, Todd didn’t go the traditional harmony vocal route. Instead, he used his voice (processed and realized by the Emulator, a sampling device/keyboard) to supply ersatz drums, bass lines, percussion, melody “instruments” — every single sound on the album came from his mouth. For all the technology, A Cappella sounds remarkably organic; the simulation is so good the process rarely overtakes the results. “Something to Fall Back On” is a pop gem of the highest order; “Pretending to Care” is a soulful ballad. Sonic experiments like “Miracle in the Bazaar” can be rough going, and “Lockjaw” is just plain silly (in an unintended way). A cover of the Spinners’ “Mighty Love” works well, and the in-concert versions of all the songs (featuring a “vocal orchestra”) were a thing to behold, as documented on Todd Archive Vol. 7 – A Cappella Tour.

Three Utopia compilations appeared in the late ’80s. Trivia compiles the best of Utopia, Oblivion and POV, but Utopia remains an album that should not be merely sampled. The Collection surveys the Bearsville years (that is, the period before what’s covered on Trivia). Anthology (1974 – 1985) attempts to have it both ways, and in fact tracks very well, but leaves off some excellent material in favor of tracks of questionable merit. Ultimately, since Utopia was never a singles act, any compilation comes down to the few hits plus a selection of album tracks. With that in mind, 1999’s City in My Head is, finally, as close to a perfect Utopia compilation as has been issued.

The approach on Nearly Human was straightforward: all real musicians (including Vince Welnick and Prairie Prince of the Tubes, Bourgeois/Tagg and Bobby Womack) playing live in the studio, with few overdubs. Some of the songs are from Up Against It, the musical Todd created and produced from a Joe Orton screenplay. Meanwhile, “The Want of a Nail” and “I Love My Life” recall the rousing feel of “Just One Victory” from many year earlier, and a new improved “Feel It” shames the Tubes’ Love Bomb rendition. Rundgren toured big halls for the first time in a few years, bringing along a large group to perform the album’s songs. This excellent lineup can be heard on Bootleg Series Vol. 3 – Nearly Human Japan ’90.

2nd Wind, which also includes pieces created for Up Against It, is more of the same, with an even stronger theatrical feel that devolves rockers (“Public Servant”) into show tunes. Shrill female vocals separate 2nd Wind from the abiding sound of a Todd Rundgren record; even so, “Change Myself” and “If I Have to Be Alone” are decent ballads. Since they were conceived to be performed live, many of the songs on these two albums improved onstage; check out Todd Archive Vol. 3 – Live in Chicago ’81, a complete concert document.

All of which made No World Order (released three times, over three years, in three variations) totally unexpected. Dubbing himself TR-I, Todd stage-dove headlong into electronica and rap, the latter evidently influenced sonically by the Bomb Squad productions of Public Enemy. This much-maligned album, which does warrant criticism of the would-be MC’s self-righteous posturing, actually continues ideas dating as far back as A Wizard, A True Star. Todd played all the instruments, cutting and pasting hundreds of song snippets into a (semi-)cohesive whole. Many of the results are first-rate, especially “Worldwide Epiphany,” “Word Made Flesh” and the single-styled “Property.” While the track sequencing is a bit jarring (try shuffle play for comparison), the album maintains an odd sort of flow. Recurring motifs and an underlying musical cohesion help the songs stand alone or together. “Day Job” uses found sounds (including what sounds like a circle saw) to heighten its sense of dread. “Fascist Christ” takes sharp aim at hypocritical religious conservatives, one of Rundgren’s favorite targets. Both the ethereal “Time Stood Still” and “Fever Broke” slow the breakneck pace, and offer a respite from Todd-rap, but Rundgren’s ear for a strong melody never allows technology or doggerel to overwhelm songcraft. The archival release Bootleg Series Vol. 1 – Live at the Forum, London ’94 is a compilation of two excellent live shows from the innovative solo tour.

One of the formats for No World Order was the short-lived CD-I. Using an expensive player, this interactive disc allowed one to “remix” the album into endless variations. Rundgren did in-store demonstrations to promote the CD-I, tantalizing fans with talk of reissuing his back catalog in this new interactive format. The high price of the hardware, coupled with a dearth of available material in the format, doomed CD-I to a swift, quiet death. Although the title suggests an easy listening experience that it most assuredly is not, Lite is a resequenced remix of 10 songs from the original album.

Redux ’92: Live in Japan documents a Utopia reunion show. Packed to the brim (exceeding the then-standard 74-minute CD format), it offers tight performances of songs from throughout the Utopia era (including a condensed “The Ikon”) and is a reasonable live sampler of the group’s work.

Rundgren reclaimed his place as a wailing guitar hero on The Individualist. If the thought of Rundgren rapping between blistering Stratocaster solos suggests Rage Against the Machine, the reality was still pure Todd. Working samples of Dan Quayle into the clever “Family Values,” Todd manages to bring a funky, danceable vibe to the proceedings. The scathing “Cast the First Stone” is something of a “Fascist Christ” Part Two, but with some of the most ominous sounds ever to find their way onto a Rundgren disc.

With space age bachelor pad music and cocktail culture of the late 1950s and early ’60s enjoying a return to vogue in the ’90s, Guardian Records offered to subsidize a “greatest hits in lounge style,” and Todd took the bait. He also took the project more seriously than most would have, restructuring some of his favorites (and not just the hits) into “authentic” bossa nova arrangements. More often than not, With a Twist actually works. The song selection is both obvious (“I Saw the Light,” “Hello, It’s Me”) and arcane (“Influenza,” “A Dream Goes on Forever”), all done tiki lounge style. In subsequent live shows, Rundgren extended the treatment to even more of his back catalogue, most notably with Utopia’s “Caravan.”

Whether by circumstance, design or both, Todd found himself in the late ’90s without a recording contract for the first time in his professional life. The launch of his online PatroNet service was an early, groundbreaking attempt to eliminate the middleman and deliver music directly to fans. Subscribers were granted exclusive access to new works, works-in-progress and more. The grand concept fell short in execution, largely because (once again) Rundgren found himself out front and on a limb in terms of technology. After a bumpy start, some mini-CDs were distributed, including TRTV Vol. 1 and TRTV Vol. 2, which were largely superseded by Todd’s next “real” album.

One Long Year is a hodgepodge of songs recorded at different times. Some are obviously new, reflecting current obsessions, like the clever and rocking “I Hate My Frickin I.S.P.” “Love of the Common Man” is obviously an outtake from With a Twist sessions; “Bang on the Ukulele Daily” is a live goof familiar to concert audiences. And “Where Does the Time Go?” sounds like a demo that could date back as far as Hermit of Mink Hollow.

In what may have been an attempt to make good, in a way, on the promise to release his back catalog in interactive CD-I format, Rundgren constructed Reconstructed by handing over master tapes of old songs to supposedly up-and-coming producers and remixers. The concept has worked for others, but the results here are unlistenable, obliterating Todd’s melodic gifts in favor of the usual sonic trickery.

Liars, released after a lengthy gap, is his most musically and thematically unified album since The Individualist. “Sweet” has a soulful vibe, but “Soul Brother” mines familiar territory with a well-worn chord structure. And “Stood Up” too easily evokes memories of “Temporary Sanity” from The Individualist. Filled with hypnotic, repeating musical and lyrical phrases, Liars is pleasant background music, drifting by with a disquieting sameness to the songs. The lyrics are typically thought-provoking, but many of the vocals are buried in the mix to such a degree that they become just another instrument. The run-on sequencing of the album only reinforces the feeling of stasis.

Most of the compilations that have attempted to distill Todd’s work down to one or two discs are unsatisfactory, because the oeuvre is too expansive, too eclectic to be simply summarized, even in two dozen tracks. (The same is true of other prolific artists with their own vision: Dylan, Zappa, Neil Young, etc.) So while all the best-ofs are filled with fine music, newcomers are still advised to start with an original album like Something/Anything?, Hermit of Mink Hollow or TEPTAE and proceed in any direction from there.

Todd has done unmistakable (detractors would say heavy-handed) production work to many diverse artists over the years: Badfinger (Straight Up), the New York Dolls’ self-titled debut, Meat Loaf (Bat out of Hell), the Patti Smith Group (Wave), the Psychedelic Furs (Forever Now), Cheap Trick (Next Position Please, which contains the otherwise unrecorded Rundgren composition “Heaven’s Falling”) and XTC’s Skylarking.

[Bill Kopp]

See also: Cars