Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Can We Still Be Friends?

There is a new Todd Rundgren record out this week. It is called "Global." I don't like it. But rather than immediately launch into all that is wrong with it, let me explain where he and I stand in our relationship.

For the better part of 40 years, I have supported the artist in all his endeavors. From his pop leanings to his proggy acid trips, from his guitar-hero arena rock to his impressive list of productions, I have soaked in it all. But unlike many of Todd's disciples, I am unafraid of pointing out the missteps. And there have been many.

"Global" is one of those missteps.

This would not be cause for alarm if it was the only misstep in recent years. But Todd Rundgren has had more consecutive missteps since 2008 than he has had consecutive hits in all his career and to pull a lyric from the man himself, "Time ticking away. Time's just ticking away." The odds of ever hearing a Rundgren record with live musicians playing the infectious pop, rock and soul we've all come to love since our needles first dropped on "We Gotta Get You A Woman" all those years ago, are against us.

I expect the usual backlash from the aforementioned disciples. The hyperbole. The adoration. The defense. But from a strictly musical standpoint, I refuse to believe any of these followers are truly and deeply happy with their idol, now about to turn 67 years old, releasing electronica with lazy lyrics and even lazier melodies. That's not to say there isn't a place for these rah-rah, autotuned anthems and pulsing beats. I just think it's a bit cringeworthy hearing Todd Rundgren desperately trying to stay current. He is better than this and should start acting his age. Thinking that "Global" will suddenly gain a city's worth of new Todd listeners is no different than thinking Paul Anka's version of  Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" will turn all of Seattle onto the wonders of "Diana."

In Todd's defense, he is still a master at most of what he does and younger artists know this, which is why Rundgren has recently been cited as an influence, specifically his 1973 sound collage, "A Wizard/A True Star," by many of today's hot players including Skrillex and Tame Impala. But his own personal forays into dance and electronica seem transparent, tossed off without an ounce of true inspiration.

"Global" has a big sound and of course, Rundgren's voice is as soulful as ever.  It's a shame though that half the songs sound like retreads of songs from the last collection of electronica, 2013' "State."  This is interesting in light of recent comments Rundgren made in Uncut Magazine.

"I guess I've developed a pretty flexible audience. There's a certain amount of churn, like a revolving door. If they don't like what I'm doing now, they know that I'm never going to record another album like that again."

Except that three of his last four records have been exactly the same. "Reproduction," "State" and now "Global" are all the same. Too bad the man wasn't fixated on piano ballads. Now that would have been some trilogy.

Rundgren also made a comment in passing that he his recording an album with The Roots, "like Elvis Costello did." I have more faith in ?uestlove than I do Todd Rundgren, and maybe one Philly boy can teach the other that it's okay to embrace your past without a fear of becoming a retro act.

Time ticking away.

Wake me when Todd Rundgren and The Roots is released. Until then, I will be listening to anything but "Global."


Jeff Matthews said...

I was OK, sorta, with 2004's Liars, but really I've had nothing but disappointment with Todd for so long now. For over 25 years (going back to Nazz) he could do no wrong in my book but since then there hasn't been a single thing that's rekindled my engagement with his music. In contrast to Dylan, Springsteen, and all the others who emerged after decades of drift to do really compelling work. Sad, but still holding out hope.

EW said...

Yeah, I think "Nearly Human" was the last great Todd album. He got so lost after that. Sad.

ken49 said...

Sal, been liking the London Souls you mentioned a ways back. There was another group you mentioned say a year ago or more ago that I am desperately trying to remember. Something along the name Wyld Hearts or similar. Does that ring a bell?

ken49 said...

I just listened to Todd's first solo album about a week ago. Way better than I even remembered and it was pretty high to begin with. I listen to his appearance on Daryl's Place often. It's easy to take for granted what a fine singer he was (is).

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to make trouble (or maybe I do) but I think his last great album is "A Wizard, A True Star".

Capt. Al

William Repsher said...

I wouldn't get too worried about disciples for any recording artist - and that's a good word as it implies spiritual/messianic overtones. I don't get this ... about any artist, regardless of how great he is or has been. It gets no worse than with The Beatles, Beach Boys/Brian Wilson and Dylan. I'll see fans having philosophic discussions over material that I know is absolute shit, in some cases, or the artist clocking in with another average-to-mediocre effort.

Which, as I've noted before, is no crime. You have a decades-long recording career, there's going to be some serious down time along the way. I expect that. We're conditioned to believe everything they do is beyond reproach and functioning on some higher level. And that's just not reality, for anyone.

I'm surprised you're not teeing off on the new Brian Wilson! What little I tried to listen to ... made me really miss 15 Big Ones.

Usually at the least I get a sense of middle-aged men still wearing pajamas with feet -- that's how their unshakeable belief in these artists seems to me, like a bunch of Peter Pans who still think it's any time between 1964 and 1978. I can at least understand that sense of longing for the past. It's when you get into the other end that you find the people who are really a little too nuts over said artist that I get a little spooked. The Dylan Basement Tapes brought out a lot of that aspect of his uber-fans, never mind that awful Sinatra covers album.

I'll say this for Todd Rundgren -- he at least has a sense of humor, as opposed to a lot of these artists in similar circumstances. I can't think of any artist that I haven't abandoned in some sense -- having a few burning years of devotion, sometimes decades, but sooner or later, passing time, growing up, real life intruding on this pop-rock, almost-fantasy world of following music ... I put it in perspective. If I ever ran into Ray Davies on the street? I'd thank him for making all that great music over the years and say hello. Period. If anything, his music, and the music of all these great artists, has taught me to respect and acknowledge humanity. So why not act like a human f'n being?

buzzbabyjesus said...

I'm new to Todd. I was never a fan, but influenced by Sal's enthusiasm, I recently come over.
The Runts really knock me out. They are my new favorite albums.
He should've hired a real drummer for Something/Anything?, and what's with that Stereo Demonstration record thing?
As for "A Wizard, A True Star", it sounds like the drugs were beginning to take over. A bizarre mash-up of Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa and "Absoluely Free" era Mothers of Invention that is undeniably brilliant, but a little cluttered and disjointed for my taste.
My impression is ever diminishing returns from then on.
I tried real hard to find anything worth hearing on "State"(less).
I feel Sal's pain. Todd probably won't be able to push ?uestlove around.

Anything Should Happen said...

Agree with all of this Sal. Liars was the last moment I enjoyed and now after gradually losing patience, don't feel that the muse is ever coming back.

shausler said...
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Signtopia said...

Wait another year.....Utopia is here.......and there's always more.

shausler said...
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Sal Nunziato said...

@shausler--I know you know this but, enjoying something others don't like, does not mean you have bad taste.

What I struggle with is this--how is it possible that devoted fans...of any artist...never find a single bad piece of music from their favorite players?

Does it not bother long time devotees that their fave artist no longer challenges himself?

Take Joe Jackson. The guy went from new wave, to reggae to a Louis Jordan tribute, to Cuban salsa, to classical and back again. And even though I didn't love it all, I truly believed Joe himself was behind it. The records felt realized and inspired. Todd is such a cynic and so sick of his past, he fails to embrace any of it or even recognize why he has a fan base.

These electronica records sound forced.

Plus there are the comments in the chatbox about the new Van Duets not being terrible.

I can't take it. "Not terrible" is the new "amazing."

People often say "I'm just happy (so and so) is still making music. You know what? I'm not. I want all my favorite artists to live long, happy lives. But I can do without the mediocrity. It ruins the legacy.

shausler said...
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Sal Nunziato said...

"...upon hearing Sam Smith’s Grammy-winning “Stay with Me” on the radio, (Todd Rundgren) thought, “I can do that with my eyes closed and my hands tied behind my back. If that’s what people want to hear, I already got you covered here.’

He's referring to "Soothe" on the new record, a minor tune that is a Peter Gabriel rip.

How about challenging yourself, Todd? Why not write a song as powerful as "It Wouldn't Have Any Difference" or "A Dream Goes On Forever" instead of some throwaway just to prove something to someone with a bigger hit than you?