The phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” describes someone who does lots of different things, all of them adequately, none of them extraordinarily. With few exceptions, those who are good—really good—at one thing, don’t do as well when it comes to others. Think back some years ago when renowned basketball player Michael Jordan decided that he really should be playing baseball. Does anyone even remember what team he played for? Does he?
The jack of all trades is the handyman, sui generis. If you need a new light fixture or a bit of carpentry, you call him in. If you want to have your place rewired or a room remodeled, chances are the jack of all trades is not the person you opt for. If you go to the doctor for an ailment, if it is a run-of-the-mill problem, then she can undoubtedly deal with it, no problem. If it turns out that you have some dread tropical disease, do you really think the general practitioner is the one who is going to provide a cure?
This brings me to Todd Rundgren. Singer. Songwriter. Producer. Multi-instrumentalist. The man can do it all, it seems. And throughout his career, he has created works that are various and varying. Whether it is Philly Soul or Martian Utopianism, Rundgren has done it. He’s performed a capella. He’s performed with a retread version of the Cars.
He’s here. He’s there. He’s everywhere. Well, sort of. Time may heal, but it also tends to lead people elsewhere in terms of their interests, musical and otherwise.
Arguably, Rundgren is more masterful than your typical jack of all trades. He can write a hook with the best of them. His guitar playing is often overlooked because he’s busy doing so many other things that one tends not to pay a whole lot of attention to it.
To give the man his due, he’s been doing something better than average. He’s had a career now lasting 40 years. And it will probably keep going. But I’m not so sure that this new recording is going to be all that memorable.
In 1976 he released Faithful, an album that included covers on one side (yes, I’m talking vinyl here). Beatles. Beach Boys. Yardbirds. Hendrix. Dylan. And he was faithful in his own way.
Arena is a twist on this. And not the With A Twist (1997) of turning his old tunes into something else. Rather, he takes genres and crafts songs within them. As in “Metal” sounding like something Ozzy might have put out, “Gun” channeling ZZ Top, “Strike” AC/DC, and “Courage,” well, finally, there’s Todd.
What I wonder about is the supposed audience for this disc. Those who are interested in Rundgren qua Rundgren are probably not going to listen to it more than a couple of times as it is so uncharacteristic.
“Oh, but Rundgren has always been so iconoclastic and idiosyncratic. He’s always done different things and done them differently,” you may protest.
Yes. But he’s done that. Isn’t it time to move on?