Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Todd Rundgren's "State": UPDATED (Now with 28% fewer typos)

I hated this record three months before I heard it. How unfair is that? Well, about as unfair as Todd Rundgren releasing it. Okay, that's not fair. Let's back up.

As you all know by now, I love Todd Rundgren. I've foisted enough Todd music on you in the last five years for you to get that picture and you've all been very patient, almost as patient as the loyal Todd Rundgren fans who, as Todd said himself, "...represent my livelihood, in one very practical sense, but they have also stuck with me for so long that I have to reciprocate." In all fairness, he was referring to Toddstock, the 3 day event where fans can get up close and personal with the man. But that statement hit me in another way. Rundgren has once again, impractically released music that is so far removed from what any of these longtime fans listen to or care to listen to, it feels like his real loyalty is to his five-decades-long self-sabotage.

So what does "State" deliver? In a little less than an hour, Rundgren's new record serves up ten tunes of electronica, danceable (says who?) songs with pulsing rhythms and quite honestly, some very thin melodies...you know, for Todd.

The record opens with an ominous slowburn of heavy metal power chords until it finally settles into a sweet melody on the verse which resembles the melody from "Past," the gorgeous ballad from the brilliant 2005 release "Liars."  It's busy at 8:10 and an opener that I must admit, I quite enjoyed, self-rip notwithstanding.

Speaking of "self-rips," "Serious," which follows, is a funky little tune and basically just a rewrite of 1991's "Love Science." Oh well.

By the time I reached the end, I was angry. Another opportunity squandered, or as Mojo mag said in their not so favorable 2-star review, and I'm paraphrasing, "another itch scratched."

Each song has something to remind us of just how capable this tortured artist is. There is the beautiful complex melody of the verses in "Ping Me," only to be overshadowed by the chintzy production and lame chorus of "Ping me, you don't have to ring me." The same can be said for "In My Mouth" and "Something From Nothing," two songs that might have been new Rundgren classics. It's just a shame he's become so adverse to live instruments in the studio. This record, like his last three, sounds cheap. Like glorified demos begging for some live bass and acoustic drums.

The majority of the tunes I have not mentioned feel like nothing more than novelties. "Angry Birds,"  "Collide-O-Scope" and "Party Liquor" are unpleasant and abrasive, with "Liquor" sounding like halftime activities at a college hoops tourney.

I'm not sure who this record speaks to. It doesn't speak to me. I won't speak for other fans, though I imagine, there will be those, like those touched upon in last week's post about the Rolling Stones, who will find something positive here. But as someone who has listened closely to and loved and shared and defended this man for 40 years, I find "State" to be lazy,  like yet another distraction.

Rundgren said this in a recent interview:

"It is impossible to control the circumstance under which someone listens to your music.  It has never been more impossible than it is now.  You’ve got half the people using ten dollar Earbuds that came with their player.  You’ve got others who have 5000 watts of bottom end in their car so you can hear them coming from a mile off.  The whole idea that there is one way that sound should be has lost its potency and it is not even an argument that I care to get into."

This coming from one of music's premiere producers...



Anonymous said...

sorry, Sal, I know you feel these tossed-off attempts keenly. Like the recent Prince tune, I found parts to like about it, but I won't seek it out to listen to when there is better stuff waiting.

I'm not sure what we expect of artists - even if they have run dry, I still hope they will record and release stuff because I just keep hoping that lightning will strike. Otoh, if Todd is truly at that point, maybe it would be better to emulate Laura Nyro at the end of her career when she turned to performing the songs that inspired her with a selection of her own hits. One thing I don't want is for them to retire - it always kills me when a favorite artist drops off the face of the earth.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I'm sorry. As stated weeks ago in the c-box, I was hoping for a career defining return to form that made me want to check out the yard sale copies of "Something/Anything" and "Todd" I still haven't listened to.

jeff k said...

well, on the other hand, margaret thatcher is dead.

Noam Sane said...

Great. I have tickets to the Philly show in May. I bought them because I missed the Liars tour, but feel that record is close to a masterpiece, and didn't want that to happen again.

A walk in the woods said...

I really don't hate it... in fact, I kind of like it. Like Noam Sane said above, I now think Liars is a masterpiece (and I know you do too Sal), but I didn't at the time; I avoided it when it came out. I also avoided Arena (part of the issue for both was shallow, I admit - awful, awful cover art) - and now I rate Arena pretty highly.

So I'm goin' out on a limb and just going ahead and liking State before I change my mind and come back to it later.

cmealha said...

It's like waiting for Godot. He's not coming and neither is a good Todd album. I don;t think he gives a rat's ass anymore. Given the tools available today he should be able to at least aim for decent production. After many years of hoping, I'm done.

Sal Nunziato said...


Anonymous said...

I do agree that Todd is extremely contrary and self-sabotaging. The last album I loved every track on was Acapella and I agree Liars was a lovely surprise but cursed with an ugly ugly cover. (As an artist I feel that cover is a crime against art.) Really since 1985 though, I went straight from liking EVERYTHING on an album to "some things" or "a couple of songs" because I could not relate.

State may also suffer from lack of privacy or time to put it together. Maybe sometimes he loses track that he's an artist, not something else. For the entire State CD I kept wondering what this would sound like if it wasn't electronica because the guitar was so good. Musically it is reminiscent of other things, even Flamingo got a scratch in there. I also didn't expect so much gloom and doom from Todd. It's not as gloomy as Pink Floyd but it's close.

But he wanted to do an electronica album and so he did.

And I also agree that when you do hear those amazing flashes it is very frustrating. I don't think artists do "dry up" but if his original style had naturally evolved it would be interesting to hear what kind of music he'd be making today.

Anonymous said...

so to sum up, it sounds like you're saying Todd doesn't need to re-invent himself, he needs to be himself and not someone else.

Sal Nunziato said...

Anonymous said...

so to sum up, it sounds like you're saying Todd doesn't need to re-invent himself, he needs to be himself and not someone else.

Really? I said that?

Anonymous said...


I agree with you. If you listen to the bit about "his research" for the album included going to youtube to hear what was popular. I just dont think he likes music that much anymore. The album sounds like someone who is not really interested in music as an artform anymore. The bullshit he's been slinging has finally run out of steam for me. Wont buy any more until I hear it first.
I cant take this seriously. Dont know how you could if you listen to any modern music. Im sure the cult is happy to champion it. Not me, no way this time. I loved Todd but this sucks like the last few have.

Donny Andrews, Land o' Cleves, Ohio

Anonymous said...

I could tell after one spin of "Arena" back a few years he was finished, capute, washed up - out of creativity. the loyal Todd arse kissers will argue that "he is challenging us"...lmfao! Thre is nothing challenging about a CD created on a lap top in a bedroom while not caring about how cheesey lyrics can get. todd is nodd(ing)

Anonymous said...

I agree the lyrics could have been worked on some more--I had previously always heard Rundgren worked very hard on his lyrics; but maybe no time.

Having seen the show now I can say Rundgren seems happier than he has in years being up there practically by himself and in control, and his voice sounded great. There is no DJing though--what you really get is Todd mixing stuff so it's like watching him play the recording studio...there were a lot of tech problems that had to do with the heat I think but they were annoying, such as his guitar entirely dropping out except for the beginning and end of the set at one show. Both Jesse and Prairie had a lot on their plates with their own setups which they had studied but were unfamiliar with. Musically I think the State album is a hybrid kind of music that isn't here quite yet. That's not to say I like all of it, two songs I really didn't like were of course lynchpins of the live show, which I expected, and as far as the dancing -- well, Rundgren gets happy feet like most people who love music do, and maybe he thought we'd enjoy the opportunity to party instead of sitting there.
Not having to be in charge of a big band helped him reconnect with the audience in a way I haven't seen in a very long time. There's no point in being an entertainer if you cannot connect with people.

Beth said...

Two words in my humble opinion: magnum opus.