Rundgren's Utopia, Todd - Todd Rundgren's Utopia

Year of Release: 1987
Label: Rhino
Catalog Number: R2 70865
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:55:00

Sometimes I think that there's no justice in progressive rock. I say this because, when I read through prog reviews and discussions, I can't help noticing that one name is consistently not mentioned: Todd Rundgren. Todd emerged in the late 60's as the leader of The Nazz (Anyone remember "We Gotta Get You A Woman?") and was labeled as a quirky artist who specialized in funny, romantic pop fluff. However, throughout the 70's, Todd's music became increasingly experimental and each new release delved further into prog territory. Today, despite an enduring legion of fans and still being heavily involved in the music business, he seemingly continues to be overlooked by many progressive listeners. And that's the injustice, because the music Todd produced in the halcyon days of progressive/fusion was the equal of any released during that time.

In 1974, Todd unleashed Todd Rundgren's Utopia (Bearsville, cat. no. 6954) - the band and the album. Their debut heralded several radical changes in direction for Todd. For one, Utopia was a large group that consisted of guitar, bass, drums, and three keyboard players. Secondly, their music was a unique combination of progressive rock, fusion, and Todd's trademark pop. Finally, long spacey songs, ranging between four to thirty minutes in length replaced the short pop rockers found on previous Todd albums.

"Utopia Theme" (recorded live) gets things going with a punchy ensemble intro and 50's sci-fi sounding synthesizer accents. Bassist John Siegler leads Utopia into a syncopated groove that evolves into a jaunty arrangement which sounds like a funky ELP with guitars. Synthesizer effects (and there are a LOT, by the way) introduce the vocal segment, which becomes a slow march featuring solos from Todd (guitars) and M. Frog Labat (synthesizer). The synth effects return, heralding a rousing straight-ahead rock section that gets the audience clapping and cheering. The syncopated groove returns to carry the song back to the ensemble riff that closes the song.

The audience's applause segues into "Freak Parade", which kicks off Kansas-style, jumps into a Return To Forever-style fusion break, then returns to Kansas for a keyboard-dominated workout a la "Journey to Mariabronn." Proceedings charge to an abrupt halt, and syncopated bass (again?) and tattoo overlaid with guitar and synthesizers take over for the vocal segment. As Todd sings about "taking your place in the freak parade," the loopy arrangement shudders merrily along, inspiring images of waddling ducks and clowns marching down the street! Voices implore standers-by to "get on the sidewalk," leading into a spacey ambient segment (similar to Floyd's "Meddle") colored by laugh tracks and Siegler's "laughing" bass. The Kansas melody returns for one last coda and ultimately surrenders to bassist Siegler, who closes the tune with some nifty riffing.

"Freedom Fighters" is the album's shortest song and represents what might be called conventional Todd fare. The message that success comes from persistence of vision is delightfully delivered as a straight-ahead rocker interspersed with manic off-time codas.

Finally ... before there was "All Of The Above", there was "The Ikon." Clocking in at 30 minutes (which in 1974 outlasted everything, except for Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music!), "The Ikon" is a sprawling, circular work built around the theme of humanity's ultimate transcendence. Comprised of many segments, the piece showcases the talents of Utopia, individually and as a band. Influences pop up regularly - Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Pink Floyd, Genesis - but never distract from the Utopian personality (okay, "sound"). Highlights include a UK-style salvo of round-robin solos from every member of the band, a wild bit of 13/8 rock punctuated by Todd's piercing guitar solos, and an insane 9/8 country swing that would make prog-country units like Killbilly and Bad Livers proud! The only problem - believe it or not - is that "The Ikon" is just too long. The musicianship is top-notch, but the arrangement gets repetitive in spots, revisiting themes when it would be better to move on to others. Still, "The Ikon" is a rewarding listen for those with the patience to get through it.

When it was released, Todd Rundgren's Utopia was dismissed as Todd Rundgren indulging his ego. Given repeated listenings, it becomes clear that this isn't the case. An excellent first foray into prog, Todd Rundgren's Utopia is a unique piece of rock history that should not be overlooked.

Utopia Theme (14:18) / Freak Parade (10:14) / Freedom Fighters (4:01) / The Ikon (30:22)

Todd Rundgren - guitars, lead vocals
Kevin Ellman - percussion
Moogy Klingman - keyboards
M. Frog Labat - synthesizers
Ralph Schuckett - keyboards
John Siegler - bass and cello

Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974)
Another Live (1975)
Ra (1977)
Oops! Wrong Planet (1978)
Adventures in Utopia (1980)
Deface the Music (1980)
Swing To The Right (1982)
Utopia (1982)
Oblivion (1984)
POV (1985)
Trivia (1989)
Redux 92: Live in Japan (1992)
City In My Head (1999)
Official Bootleg, Vol. 9: Oblivion Tour (2001)
Bootleg Series, Vol. 2: KSAN 95FM, Live '79 (2002)
Disco Jets (2002)
Official Bootleg, Vol. 2: Live In Tokyo 79 (2002)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: March 27th 2001
Reviewer: David Cisco

Artist website:
Hits: 904
Language: english


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