Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, A True Bore

Todd Rundgren - ArenaTodd RundgrenArena (Hi Fi Recordings)

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?

Todd Rundgren: Web, MySpace.

17 thoughts on “Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, A True Bore”

  1. ya gotta smoke a lot of hemp to really

    appreciate the toddster-which may explain his lack of focus for the last 30 years..still love Song of the Viking, tho

  2. 7 paragraphs talking about Todd and 2 1/2 talking about the album which you didn’t like or “get”. Sounds like a stretch just to justify saying you hated it.

  3. Hey Todd Fan, I didn’t see the leading paragraphs as a “stretch”. I read it more as “We know that Todd is better than this crap”. Which is true; Hermit Of Mink Hollow is a classic fuckin’ album; the second (originals) side of the aforementioned Faithful? Brilliant. “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” is a stone-classic, a glistening template for power pop done right. I even love The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect. For me (as a fellow Todd Fan), it makes it that much more heartbreaking when he releases dire shit (like No World Order or, apparently, this steaming pile). And it could’ve (should’ve) been better.

  4. Todd has had his moments of really good music – just none lately (or in quite a long while).

    You forgot to include (in his jack of all trade thing … ) that he is a very good computer programmer as well. I believe he has released programs for the Mac.


  5. I’m going against my better nature here and asking a serious question: Not knowing much about the man or his career, is he an “in demand” producer, and if so, what type of artist/band is demanding him? Do ‘the kids’ want the Sound O’ Todd, or is it established acts (or is it all over the place, like his career)?

  6. Not sure (due to his mercurial nature) if he’s even choosing to produce anymore. Most of us know about the wonderful peaceful working relationship he had with XTC, but it did produce Skylarking. Then again, Todd is responsible for birthing Bat Out Of Hell. Win some, lose some, eh?

  7. Dudes! Lest we not forget Utopia! Roger Powell on keyboards, Kasim Sulton on bass, and John Wilcox on drums. The roar, the thunder, the progressiveness of it all!

  8. Todd is his own worst enemy. He’s a stunning musical talent with an equally stunning ability to make the most asinine career choices.

    His misguided determination to play the rock and roll iconoclast simply gave him a way to justify a hilarious chain of boneheaded decisions.

    Surprisingly (or maybe not), Todd has often been way in front of coming technology and many times his ideas were years ahead of their time yet he didn’t have the smarts and/or discipline to follow through and profit from his ideas.

    The best and latest example of this is the total cock-up known as Patronet. A brilliant idea totally crippled by lousy execution. The only reason this lunkhead didn’t wind-up in court for undelivered promises is the patience and dedication of his legion of hardcore fans. By now they know the guy is as likely as not to screw the pooch and I suppose there is a perverse pride in getting the shaft from Todd. (Ask anyone who has paid to watch him ham fist his way through a solo concert. Christ Todd, take off the mittens before you sit down at the piano and, by the way, shouldn’t you know the words and chord changes to “Hello, It’s Me” by now?)

    But he’s Todd Rundgren and, for better or worse, there’s only one of him.

    P.S. Except for the sterile “recorded in the box” sounds, I think there is plenty to like on “Arena”. Certainly not his best but it’s not “With a Twist” bad by any means. Hell, take one part “Liars”, one part “Arena” and record it properly with a real band and you’d have a serious piece of work.

  9. Don’t you guys have enough going on that you can talk about yourselves and not knock other musicians. Geez, Grow Up!

  10. Poor Maria lives in a world where opinions contrary to her’s are icky bad.

    Perhaps Maria should grow up so that constructive criticism doesn’t confuse her so much.

    Back to Trconnection with you Maria to continue lapping at the alter of the Todd/Godd.


  11. Silly Maria. Don’t you know that at one point or another, some of the posters of comments here would’ve drunk the dude’s bathwater?? Years of heartbreak can cause us to be a bit more circumspect with our praise, that’s all. It’s not like we’re giving it a blanket “Todd sucks”, because the dude doesn’t suck. We’re just quantifying that heartbreak I mentioned.

    And I saw Todd solo here for NYEve, 1996, in Chicago. It was a cool show! Then again, I was stoned, so I might have been in a generous mood, too.

    Black Maria, you scare me so…

  12. Hey Maria: I would grow up, but then I’d have to..uh… Grow up… and uhm… oh, and when I look at you I throw up! So yeah, I’m not. Because you suck!

    [totally high-fiving everyone but Maria]

  13. Great points, DED.

    His misguided determination to play the rock and roll iconoclast simply gave him a way to justify a hilarious chain of boneheaded decisions.

    He coulda been king of the world in the ’70s. A more interesting, talented, adventurous Elton John, perhaps. Nope, he took a left turn at Alburquerque. That’s how you end up playing Ric Ocasek in The New Cars. (It’s not that I’m against his branching out; it’s just that it wasn’t very satisfying for the most part.)

    I think the sterile sound of this new record is part of Todd’s ‘Hey, I’m Todd Rundgren, dammit. They’re lucky they’re getting a record from me at all‘ attitude towards his fanbase.


  14. Make no mistake, I’m still a fan but, unlike Maria, I’m not going to play “The Emperor Has No Clothes” routine.

    Funny how TR is yearning to play bigger places when in the past he’s done everything in his power to make that an absolute impossibility.

    That’s the price he pays for his mercurial personality and now he’s even tapping his fan’s resources to pay his bills. You can rent his house or donate a sum for his new mortgage!

    I will say that his present circumstances seemed to have made him a bit more humble and much more approachable. He seems to finally understand how important those Toddheads are and, if he would have had that realization twenty or so years ago, he might be playing those arenas he yearning for.

    Still, anyone capable of producing “A Wizard,A True Star” or “Ballad of Todd Rundgren” has earned a permanent place in my personal “Hall of Fame” even if he is a raving nitwit at times.

  15. As with virtually every artist there are going to be peaks and valleys. I agree with the “in demand producer” comments. Who is actually demanding him? If he produced my album and it sounded like this I would not only fire him, I would also sue him for several thousands of dollars in damages for wasting my time. Not to diverge from the topic but the same applies to Rick Rubin and this Metalligarbage he has put out. Show me a producer for once that understands what dynamic range means. A lot of people are paying for the name and not getting the results from the hyped product.

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