THE LONG AWAITED SHOWDOWN IS NOW!!! TODD RUNDGREN’S STATE HAS A LOT RIDING ON IT…

DJ Odd dons his ski mask to navigate the slopes of technopia.  Will he make the mark or be shanghaied by his own fans?

DJ Odd dons his ski mask to navigate the slopes of technopia. Will he make the mark or be shanghaied by his own fans?

Ok, here’s the back story.  I was pissed as hell when, after the brilliant Todd Rundgren release of 2004’s Liars, and then the ‘ok’ release of Arena, I was ok with his concept of bringing albums like A Wizard A True Star, Todd, and Healing to the live stage.  What pissed me off was his insistence on releasing two discs (one E.P. and one L.P.) of Robert Johnson material (hey, cheap, no royalty payments, that crap is so old it’s out of public domain by now) then, further pissing me off was having ‘fans’ (read: well-to-do sycophants with $5,000 to burn) pay him to appear on his re[Productions] album where he would secure the rights to record songs from acts he had produced in the past (horrific versions of Bourgeois Tagg’s “Out Of My Mind” and XTC’s “Dear God”) but then what bitchfest about Todd Rundgren from this reviewer would be complete without my reflecting back to the “event” at the Keswick Theater.  You want the deets on that, you can search for the review on this page.  I’ve spent enough column space and bandwidth on that issue.

So I sorta feel like the gunslinger in the center of town in the Wild West ready to draw pistols.   Me, the nearly lifelong Todd fan (let’s face it, I have been into him since 1974, I was 11/12, I am 50 now, been listening/buying/attending all these years and for you ‘Todd was better without Utopia’ types, piss off!  I LOVED UTOPIA!!!) and Rundgren, the now 65 year old ‘aging rocker’ with a voice in a lower register so he has to effect, process and lower his keys for older songs (I’ve seen live clips on YouTube for this current tour where he suspends the microphone over his head like at a prize fight, that’s not a clever visual gimmick for his techno ‘D.J. Odd’ (Techno Todd?) persona, that is to assist his aging vocal chords have projection and hit some of the notes he couldn’t with his head down).  Although, it is not unusual for Rundgren to assign himself monikers to reflect the new style of music he is brandishing.  Reference the No World Order and Individualist era, when he billed himself as TR-i (Todd Rundgren interactive).

So in my Wild West daydream, Rundgren dressed in white as he will no doubt be the people’s favorite, and I, opposite Rundgren, dressed in black as I have already proven to be the people’s favorite… to HATE (ask any King Crimson fan).  He has his Mac and Foamy (his favorite sea foam green P-Project Stratocaster copy guitar) ready to draw, I have my pencils, pad and angry disposition ready to pull.

Three, two, one, DRAW!

I was advised by the venerable, and no stranger to BouleBlog, Mr. Marc Blanc to give this disc a couple of cursory listens.  He claimed it had taken a minimum of three listens before he fully appreciated it.  Now, don’t get me wrong from that intro, yeah, I have had my issues with Todd, but I will always love his music, his ethic, his productivity, the guy taught me all about music from a very early age.  I WANT to like this disc.  I would have gone to see Rundgren’s three man show with Prairie Prince and Jesse Gress had I not taken a hiatus from concert attendance due to my ailing health and condition.  You oblivious concert-goers do not give a shit about a guy with a cane.  Liberal lawmakers prevent me from braining you with it every time some lunkhead kicks it out from underneath me (reference the Red Haired Boobie from the Keswick review).  But I will not see the live show as I have so many irons in my own personal fire, concerts are out of the picture for a while at least.

Let’s just stick to the product in my hand…

Right from the get go, my packaging is fucked up as there are no lyrics for the songs “Ping Me” and “Sir Reality”.  Strike one, Todd, that bullet missed me.  Then I noticed that there is a female vocal listed in the credits, it is The Rental’s Rachel Haden (who toured with Rundgren for the Arena tour as bassist when regular Rundgren bassist, Kasim Sulton, was moved to keyboard duties) who adds a verse on one track.  Strike two Todd, you have a tremendous vocalist in your wife, Michelle Gray.

You ain’t exactly winning me over here, pardner…  Best you let the music do the talking!

The disc kicks off with “Imagination” and familiar, relieving arpegiated note sequences fade up and recall territory that, from Rundgren, feels like an old friend from the AWATS and Todd era, early 70’s.

But those sequenced notes give way to a heavy, down tempo intro.  This is an unusual move for a first tune, but Rundgren was never one for convention.  However, when it drops to the quiet, lower dynamic for the verse, it starts to get confusing.  It is said opposites attract, and there is nothing more prog than changing up parts in the middle of the song, but some things just don’t go together.

Mustard and icing, chocolate and mayonnaise, democrats and republicans in the House and Senate…

Things heavy up for the chorus, but the lyrics are totally trite.  “What is hell, same old smell…”  You’re not even trying now, Todd.  Here’s a guy who used to change up chorus lyrics for each chorus in the song.  Now, simply repetitive.

Another repetitive line puts me in the mind of Popeye; ‘I am what I am, and that’s all that I am…’.  The music depletes to electronic drums with a keyboard pad.  Random sound blurbs trigger until a flatulent bass accompanies Rundgren’s backing vocal of ‘over and over and over and over…’.

The sequencers usher in the dirge for the chorus.  Maybe the lack luster lyrics are supposed to represent the chorus subject.  You know, ‘no imagination’ as in ‘no imagination in the thought behind these lyrics…’.

As the second bridge builds, we arrive at a solo break.  That trademark TR guitar sound.  Then the trite chorus comes in.

Trite for a reason?

For a return chorus at the end, a solo plays under the new lyric for the chorus (I knew he had it in him) ‘what is death, the train has left’.  It ain’t exactly ‘bustle in your hedge row’ material!  But when the line comes around again, we are back to ‘what is hell, same old smell’.  Played.

Even his neck burning lead notes at the end can’t spice up this imagination-less tune.

What may wind up to be a single off this album, “Serious” kicks off with triplets which yield to a Linn-sounding drum line and a guitar sample.  A heavy synth bass fills the speakers until the bridge and then, more triplets which announce the chorus.

‘Now it’s daddy time”… really?

Here’s an example of one of those tunes where the bridge has alternate lyrics.  See Todd, you can do it!

After chorus two, when Rundgren proclaims his cardio sincerity, an envelope treated synth break leads up to a wah guitar solo (could be a talk box, who let Peter Frampton/Joe Walsh into Todd’s house?).  The sampled guitar and speedy frequency oscillation build until Rundgren calls to ‘clear’.

Rundgren performed this during a commercial bump on the Late Show With David Letterman when Rundgren sat in with the CBS Orchestra.  Follow the link below and pay attention to the portion at about 16:30 in…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdZSqn5Uahw

“In My Mouth” is my least favorite track.  I have some I don’t like, but this one tops them all.  Stupid title, stupid topic, stupid lyrics, but the music is, OK…

It is for the most part, half club song and half ‘one-of-many-tracks-almost-off-of-Liars’.  The daft subject matter is about being tongue tied.  Yet again Rundgren chooses to employ the old rock ‘n’ roll cliché ‘went to see the doctor’.  Unless the doctor is a shrink…

Again, in the DJ Odd persona, a thick, heavy (almost Yamaha DX7 worthy) bass line darts through the song with modified digital piano taking most of the chordal structure.

Mind you, the backgrounds are typical Rundgren wall-o-voices.  I just have to wonder are they effected, are they harmonized by machine as well?

Another arpeggiated line kicks up during chorus two.

Overall, Rundgren is respecting the loss of some of his vocal range.

The track ends with the repetition of the dumbest double entendre ever created: ‘I’ve got something in my mouth, something in my mouth for you’.  After some synth cymbal hits, he repeates the phrase a cappella with processing.

Yup, he wrote this album for his son and his friends.

The song opens back up and starts again with bridges and a revisit from the sequence from before.

Plaintiff synths start off “Ping Me” with building pads that develop into a pretty complex arrangement until Rundgren’s vocals come in for the first half of the verse.  The whole system (notice I didn’t say band or musicians or instruments) fires up for the second half of the verse.

The lyrics apply modern technological nomenclature to romantic/friendly situations.

The quiet verse build with a keyboard pad wash to the techno-clever lyrics, ‘Ping me, you don’t have to ring me, there’s no gift you need to bring me, no song you have to sing me, just ping me’.

Then zero transition at all from BIG chorus to quiet verse, it just happened.  Then after that big chorus, we repeat the structure.

The next verse with more instrumentation comes in.  After which an underlying system melody from the choruses is given its turn in the sun.  Then a repeat on the chorus with even greater dynamic.

It ends abruptly on the words ‘ping me’ with the underlying undulating synth cut off in the middle.

I just don’t like “Angry Bird” as well.  Yeah, yeah, Angry Birds is a hot game right now, and yes, the Anglophile in me gets the use of the Queen’s English (bird = girl).  While the music track is catchy, Rundgren relies on repetition too much in the song.

A compu-bass and bass drum stomp starts us out until the compu-bass freaks out with a 64th note high hat on top of a ride cymbal.

The eight-armed-drummer syndrome.

Repetitive phrase #1: ‘She’s An Angry Bird’ repeated five times after verse one.

After verse two, an ascending note is accompanied by the rhythm section and an Atari video game sounds a descending sequence (much akin to an Atari game over sound) and a manic high hat joins back in.

The problem is the end is pure repetition on the vocals.  ‘She’s an angry bird’ repeated fourteen times, then the phrase (repetitive phrase #2) “Are you angry now” repeated four times then the track ends.

Yeah, now that you mention it, I am getting a little angry…

Spiraling synth sounds start “Smoke” with some flange thrown in.  Another Liars try-to-be track.  The spirals yield to speeding pulses and fade up and away.  After a bass drum beat brings in what sounds like PVC pipe played by the Blue Man Group, then a glassy electric piano patch tapping out the melody joins in.

The change into the chorus is almost unnoticeable.  Until the chord pattern changes and modulates up a key or so.  This is another of those Liars-try-to-be tracks.  Half “Wondering” and maybe a faster “God Said”.  With more lackluster lyrics: ‘Life was cherries flambé, but that was yesterday, then it all went up in smoke”.

Where are the lines like (from the Todd album and the song “Number One Lowest Common Denominator”):  ‘Time stops, the light goes on, a thundering head and no body, washed up and woke up on the beach, seaside breakfast, a tender egg on white sand, legs long and tan without a break, even to the neck, suddenly, simultaneously, an eclipse and a snowfall, flakes melt instantly on the shoulders like wet silver, burning little holes all the way to the marrow, puckered flesh like avocado sags into a green pool, all the birds leave turquoise ruts across the Velveeta sky, it’s time to scream…’

More sequencers join in for the last verse.  Still can’t save this song worth a damn.  Sure it could play in the clubs, but if that’s its only saving grace (go ahead Something/Anything fanatics, get your jollies out of the veiled reference)…

At the end the instruments rest to reveal Rundgren’s line ‘It all went up in smoke’.  Then the chorus synth plays before all join back in for the end choruses.  Even with the three augmented notes on the word ‘smoke’until the last line and a wispy synth end fade.

“Collide-A-Scope” heralds with triumphant triplets sounding the new track until the busy drums bring the rhythm section together until the vocals come in.  The vocals on this are a series of call and response opposites…  ‘I take, I lend, I make, I spend’.

These may have been the lyrics that took the most time.  The vocals are only backed with manic drums and a keyboard pad.

This is the song’s pattern but the dynamic builds by the end.  The chorus is simply the phrase Collide-A-Scope.  Dealing more with daily collisions of experience as opposed to anything with color.

After four verses, Rundgren funks out on the phrase Collide-A-Scope, but the first phrase in verse five is lost to that.  During verse six in the line ‘I’m new’, the compu-drums falter.  Almost as if that were a statement…

Hmmmm.

We funk out again after verse six.

A triplet break down like the intro with some synth burbles transition into a key change for verse seven and eight.  But the lyrics change from ‘I’ to ‘we’.  Way to double a track.

An unostentatious ending.

This next track, “Something From Nothing”, I have a problem with as I asserted earlier.  Rachel Hayden, former Rundgren touring bassist was brought in to sing a portion of the song and frankly, nothing against Ms. Hayden, but the timbre, key and melody would have been right in Rundgren’s wife, Michelle’s wheelhouse.

Perhaps she was busy with Rundgren’s newest venture, Kauai’s ‘Tiki Iniki’ restaurant and lounge.  Opened May 2013.

I have an additional personal problem with the repeated line ‘I have faith’.  So much for that Secular Humanism, huh Todd?  Like the vegetarianism, the clean and sober lifestyle…

Slow chimes and synth bass start off and are joined by chimes and whistling synths.  A slow clock beat brings up the tempo as does some counter beat synths before verse two.

This arrangement repeats twice and harmony vocals join in on the last chorus before the Hayden lead vocal.  I still insist Michelle could have done this…

Rundgren joins Hayden for the last repeat of the line ‘The answer is nothing at all’.  Then after a solo chorus by Rundgren, many voices parrot the chorus outro.

Cheer samples (like you would hear on a Nine Inch Nails or Devo disc) and techno bass open up “Party Liquor”, another stupid song.  About the evils of drinking at a party.  Knowing Rundgren likes to tie one on, practice what your preach there, pardner.

The chord synth does remind me of Laurie Anderson’s “Only An Expert” from Homeland.  Many of the bass sounds are also reminiscent of a lot of bass lines Anderson laid down on Homeland.

It’s a hoppin’ and boppin’ rhythm track but the lyrics are, as is consistent with most of this disc, sub-par.

From the bridge to the chorus, there is a tap of aftertouch, the bridge vocals and many others being effected.  But this track is a prime example of Rundgren switching up lyrics to make new bridges and choruses.  He even emoted snide commentary about snickering in a female’s face as she would be a sub standard sexual selection for a sober Rundgren.

This track does treat us to some classic Rundgren vocal ad-libs at the end.

The disc closes with “Sir Reality” and it fuses the previous track to this one.  A watery, slurpy sound and whirring synth bass yield to perhaps the most intelligent chord pattern on the album.  Oscillation synth dances over top of it as pads swell and grow.

As the track grows, Rundgren’s guitar leads us in until an ascending keyboard and the liquidy sound accompanying Rundgren’s vocals.

All instruments with an accented tambourine carries the chorus.

The track quiets back to ascending and squishy synths with Rundgren’s reverbed voice.

Sorry I can’t track verses, choruses, lyrics, remember, this was another track where the packaging was devoid of the lyrics for it.

After chorus two, guitar lead is introduced in tandem with the vocals.  For an end of disc song, ending it on swelling quarter notes, a whirring bass and squishy sounds, maybe it is time for him to retire to Tiki Iniki.

I get where Rundgren wanted to go.  He was trying to match up what he accomplished on his 2004 release, Liars.  Musically he came really close, if not anteing right up there.  Lyrically, there just wasn’t as much thought to it.  For the recently introduced to Todd Rundgren, I say yes, buy it, but do not judge him by the music/lyrics on this disc.  I know personally that he is quite capable of doing better.  Look for the album titles mentioned in this review for better examples of Rundgren’s prowess, then you can see where I am coming from with this statement.

EDITORIAL: (It seems that only reviews about Todd Rundgren wind up with editorials appended on them…) I was due to put this revue up much earlier.  In the interim, from when I announced it on my Facebook group BouleBlog, (https://www.facebook.com/groups/bouleblog/) that I would be reviewing this disc, I was yet again, persecuted by a rabid Rundgren sycophant fan in a conversational string on Marc Blanc’s Facebook post.  One of those people who, if Rundgren farted non-melodically on a CD, they would lap it up and swear it was the bodily nectar of god.  While this person is a few years older than I, there also exists the possibilities that A) I was aware of Rundgren long before he, and B) his maturity level may be inverting with age.

This blowhard bragged that he had a job, inferring that I did not.  Let’s see, getting subsidies to do this is not a job.  Let’s look at the Doug Vincent/Sam Llanas reviews I did last summer…  I had to pay for two nights at the Lexington Hotel in NYC.  One was comped, one was not.  Did this person pay for it out of HIS salary?  I think not!  Everyone knows if you are going short distances inside NYC, you take public transit.  Did this person pay for my MetroCard and cab fares out of HIS pocket?  NO!  I will not lower myself and give this self-important twerd any publicity by publishing his name.  However, he is contactable through Facebook and if any of you reading this are as disgusted, incensed and put off as I am, I WILL divulge his Facebook identity to any who inquire either via comment here or at BouleBlog on Facebook so you can ridicule him for being the out-of-control, drunken lout I know him to be.

He’s making the rest of you Rudngren fans look like rubbish.  But I bet if he knew one of my subsidies came from a local brewery, he would change his tune as his family is reputed for “getting what they can out of any given person”.  This imbecile would think he could ply me for free beer.

Between this person, his family of exclusionary, self-aggrandizing snobs, and the red haired boobie who assaulted my best thing to ever happen to me at Rundgren’s Keswick show, these delusional, brainwashed followers make it really difficult to enjoy Rundgren’s work in his declining years.  Perhaps that is it.  In the final years of Rundgren’s career, these desperate, nothing-else-going-on-in-their-lives-artistic-void-oids are so eager to get their final fill of anything Rundgren related, they will step on, abuse, belittle and degrade those of us who got into Rundgren during his early years.  Yeah, I got on the boat in 1974.  Thanks to some drunken loser fans, this may be where I get out.

So who won the gunfight?  Rundgren must have because because I sure as shit don’t feel like I won after this disc.

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