Esoteric Antenna [Release date 08.04.13]
Todd Rundgren’s chameleon nature is at once the perpetual conundrum. A musician who will not be pigeon-holed and as such adored by his loyal fanbase for his constant stretching of the envelope. For the faithful he can do no wrong, others may simply cherry pick. On 2008′s ‘Arena’ Rundgren paid his own tribute to arena rock and in doing so came up with a more band-orientated offering which translated well live.
‘State’ continues the home-spun theme but if anything is more bombastic than recent offerings: it has echoes of his recent works but perhaps more especially ‘Liars’ (2004) the album that marked this performer’s more recent renaissance.
The opener ‘Imagination’ starts with a sequenced synth motif and a doomy heavy riff. The guitar is way down in the mix and the synths and synth drums way up. This very much sets the tone for the rest of the album.
‘Serious’ has a funky undertow that could be a Prince outtake, perhaps bolstering the jibe that Rundgren has always been a great copyist, from the Beatles to Philadelphia soul. If this sometimes overlooks that Rundgren is actually paying his respects to musical styles that interest him it remains an enduring criticism. It also means that he doesn’t pay any attention to contemporary taste; it always sounds like Rundgren but often quite retro too.
‘In My Mouth’ is similar to ‘Future’ on ‘Liars’ with a semi-bossa nova beat (which reminds me what a great album was ‘With A Twist’) whilst ‘Ping Me’ is another vehicle for Rundgren’s vocal although it sounds like a demo for a David Arnold Bond-fest. (Strangely the lyrics are omitted from the album booklet).
‘Angry Bird’ seems to have taken some stick in reviews and with its heavily synthesised rhythm it’s like something out of a 1980′s rave party. This theme is continued on ‘Smoke’ ‘Collide-A-Scope’ and ‘Party Liquor’; the latter two are fairly disposable even for Rundgren. ‘Party Liquor’ in particular takes eighties dance music to extreme oompah levels whilst the pre-chorus starts to sound increasingly familiar.
‘Something From Nothing’ is enhanced by the vocals of Rundgren touring band member Rachel Haden and album closer ‘Sir Reality’ is frankly a relief from the dance rhythms that precede it. The track also provides our only other glimpse of guitar on the album.
The Deluxe Limited Edition includes the bonus live album with orchestra at The Paradiso, Amsterdam in November 2012 which showcases Todd’s vocals in a sumptuous orchestral/big band setting. Listening to the three minute band intro you could be forgiven thinking this is the James Last Orchestra plays Todd. And in truth that thought isn’t far away for the rest of the album.
If ‘State’ lacks a real stand-out track it does repay deeper investigation and, moreover, reinforces Rundgren’s reputation as one of rock’s most enigmatic performers. ***1/2
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
Todd Rundgren UK Dates (June 2013)
GLASGOW O2 ABC 07/6 EDINBURGH Picture House 08/6 MANCHESTER The Ritz 11/6 GATESHEAD The Sage-Gateshead 12/6 BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy 13/6 BRISTOL O2 Academy
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