Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Todd Rundgren 10: Ra
Utopia was down to a solid four-piece, dedicated to exploring Todd’s spiritual interests. With Ra, these appeared to have taken a strictly Egyptian bent, from the costumes glimpsed on the back cover to the insert with the cut-out-and-assemble pyramid. Despite Todd’s name prominent in the packaging, and the use of the font from the Initiation album, Utopia was still presented as democratic, with all four members contributing to the writing and vocalizing.
After an overture borrowed from Bernard Herrmann, “Communion With The Sun” delivers a heavy amalgam of guitar and synth. “Magic Dragon Theatre” evokes something of a big Broadway production number, with hallucinating lyrics and wacky breaks obscuring a fantastically pounding piano. “Jealousy” returns to straight rock sung by drummer Willie, and Todd delivers a great solo. The newest Utopian, teenage heartthrob Kasim Sulton, sings lead on another Broadway-style number, “Eternal Love”, and has some trouble with the high notes on the choruses. “Sunburst Finish” isn’t about a guitar, but rotates vocals and near-classical flourishes for another demonstration of the Utopian philosophy.
“Hiroshima” attempts to elicit sympathy for the survivors of the atom bomb, but some of the lyrical choices come off as mild ridiculing instead of indignant. Mildly Oriental melodies recall Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, and unfortunately, the inevitable explosion indeed ends the track. That’s an odd setup for “Singring And The Glass Guitar”, an otherwise side-long fairy tale that had gone out of vogue years before. A sped-up narrator with a mild Scottish brogue tells the story of how a muse in a land called Harmony was imprisoned, and could only be rescued by four intrepid souls battling the elements, represented musically by instrumental solos. (Really. No points for guessing whether they succeed.)
As with the rest of the album, there are snatches of melody that could have easily made pleasant songs on their own, but that just didn’t interest Todd, who preferred to display his latest album with a big elaborate stage show designed to bedazzle. Maybe you’ve gotta a prog fan, or at least a Toddhead, to dig this. (Also, thanks to the groove cramming over 25 minutes on each side, the LP sounds a little thin. Hopefully the CD version provides more fidelity to those who care.)
Utopia Ra (1977)—2