Album review: TODD RUNDGREN – White Knight

The full version of this interview is broadcast as part of the 500th ‘Assume The Position’ presented by David Randall on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio. Repeated Monday 29 May, 22:00 GMT and Friday 2 June, 22:00 GMT (5:22) Now available at Mixcloud

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TODD RUNDGREN - White Knight

Cleopatra Records [Release date 19.05.17]

Just when you thought it was safe to rest on your Todd Rundgren collection with ‘Global’ carefully filed next to ‘State’, the Runt returns.  This time with some A-list collaborations.  Whilst this might immediately bring to mind his 2002 album of re-recordings (when he enlisted the help of Edgar Winter, Steve Lukather and other luminaries)  ‘White Knight’ is an album of all new material.

As with Todd in the live context, we’re never quite sure what to expect .  His last two album outings were typically bombastic, synth driven, and bizarrely dated-sounding whilst the earlier ‘Arena’ is one of the more straight ahead rock albums he has produced.  And of course ‘Liars’ remains a modern classic.

The opening ‘Come’ sets the scene here and gives us everything that is good about Rundgren’s music:  including great vocals and a sumptuous, enveloping, chorus. This is one of three Todd-only tracks including ‘Fiction’ (which harks back to ‘Wondering’ on Liars) and the Prince-infected ‘Buy My  T’.

‘I Got You Back’ is Rundgren with rapper KK Watson  but retains the characteristic rich harmonies and synth textures.  ‘Look At Me’ with Michael Holman is a tad more more throwaway.

Rundgren grew up in Philadelphia and has always been influenced by Philly Soul.  ‘Chance For Us’ pairs him with Philly crooner Daryl Hall on a song that could have been released in that genre’s golden era of the 1970s.  A super sax solo from Bobby Strickland tops things off.

There’s still a chance for contemporary political or social comment with Donald Fagen lending an almost inevitable Steely Dan-groove to ‘Tin Foil Hat’ whilst ‘Deaf Ears’ is darker and features Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails).  ‘Buy My T’ is the perfect antidote for the internet age from one of those artists who has remained at the cutting edge in a career spanning five decades.

Swedish singer Robyn guests on ‘That Could Have Been Me’ and along with ‘Let’s Do This’ with Moe Berg and ‘Sleep’ with Joe Walsh all are highly accessible and radio friendly.  Soul chanteuse Betty LaVette sings on ‘Naked & Afraid’ and adds a brilliant female counterpoint to Rundgren’s resonant tenor.

And, appropriately, the album is rounded off with Rundgren’s current rhythm section of Prairie Prince and Kasim Sulton, spearheaded by Joe Satriani on the track ‘This Is Not A Drill’.

On this album Rundgren has chosen to work with those artists he admires and in doing so will bring their music to his own audience.  And vice versa.  It’s like the collaborators have reined in any excesses.  To be honest, on “White Knight” there is little buggering about.  It may be the most focused, and certainly the most tuneful, Todd album for a decade.  ****

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.

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