Saturday, April 13, 2013

Todd Rundgren - State - Genius

A State in which the discombobulated voice and guitar of Todd Rundgren again successfully mates with his laptop studio to results as sweet as his best. Melodies have always been what kept us coming back to Todd, and this record is swimming in it.

At long last The Runt sounds like he remembers his best moments producing XTC, Hall and Oates, Cheap Trick, The New York Dolls, and his many own classic rock radio classics. Every electronica drenched moment is married to marvelous melody, and the road from Something/Anything? is made much clearer. Rundgren has always been one of the world's greatest manipulators of the art of recording, and this may be his crowning achievement - he's lassoed HAL 9000 and brought him back to earth. He's made the machines nearly human, and the melodies are straight from the angels. He may not have faith, but he is a god.

My issue with electronic music has historically been that there was little imagination, and too much repetition - and then there is the almost complete absence of interesting harmonic invention. For State, Rundgren has emptied the fridge - he's left no ingredient in storage, and he has put them together with a deftness and beauty that has been missing from the concept of soulful electronic music since Don Was put his flagship Was (Not Was) into dry dock some years ago. From beginning to end, State delivers on the promise.

Imagination caught my ear instantly with it's return to Skylarking bit of sequenced synth beauty that just keeps morphing into something more and more lovely, when Todd makes me miss Robert Fripp more than ever with some huge power chords and a stately beat that rings in the verse. Imagine my surprise to hear an electric piano pad, a beat, and some skronkily melodic keyboard pastiches that fly around a delicate vocal that swims through the sultry mix, and it becomes clear where much of Daryl Hall's success may have conceived.

"What is hell? The same old smell,
The same old situation,
No Imagination."

Heavy Prog - with much imagination. Imagination is the first track from Rundgren that has absolutely blown my mind in a long time, but I'm guessing that is just how it is with genius. On occasion it is even obvious to me - I might not be it, but I know it when I hear it.

The Gap Band makes time with Nile Rodgers's Chic throughout Serious - scratchy rubber band rhythm guitar chops joust with super fat analog sounding synths, and an angry sounding Todd tramples over the tundra with his steely eyed intent. This is way too much fun for a Todd Rundgren record.

Rundgren's computer generated keyboards sound better than many more organic ivories I've heard over the last couple of decades. He understands tone - nothing grates, and nothing sticks around for longer than it's welcome. In My Mouth is a loping mid paced number that is unclearly ambiguous, but in the best sense - what's in the singer's mouth that he is offering? Could be a kiss, could be a word, but I'm guessing it's a song when it's all said and done.

Ping Me is a desperate plea to communicate - to make us at least feel we're communicating. Just a small reminder that you think of me. One of this record's many beauties is its ability to sound so organically electronic - electronica has never sounded so musical, and that's where Todd has his ace hidden. The melodramatic tone of Ping Me haunts equally to Rundgren's impassioned requests.

Todd weighs in on the war on women with the video game drone of Angry Bird. If Bowie and XTC had ever met up to dance in Berlin, it may have sounded like this - this is a great party. I can't imagine someone not digging this - I know it's subjective and all, but this is great stuff. There's a moment here in which ZZ Tops's Sharp Dressed Man passes Steve Miller's Fly Like An Eagle in the hall, and it's a sit-com classic. They stop, look at one another and then move on in silence after a nod of the head. All of these moments work - there's never a sense of copying for any sake other than fun.

You might not like the instrumental track for Smoke without Rundgren's vocal melodies, and the same can be said for the equation in reverse. The track is one of the stiffer on the album in terms of sounding very quantized, but the jazzy and ethereal vocal saves the day.

Collide A Scope should be the album's classic - it kicks off with some Rush via Godzilla hard rock tomfoolery of the highest order before settling into Todd's best song since, well, maybe ever. This might be the Todd track that gets put into the space capsule. Existential dualism weaves its way through a laundry list of yes/no hello/goodbyes and a sci-fi rock chorus that will have many remembering why they love Canada'a most profitable export.

The ghosts of Danny Wilson (the band) gathers around Something From Nothing, and if you're unfamiliar with my reference, do yourself a favor and seek them out, and then you too can say, "Oh yeah!" Things are often not what they seem on this platter, and Rungren's rumination on faith is not one of reverence, but rather a cautioning against. Rachel Haden from Todd's touring band joins in on vocals, and her performance is sublime, the perfect foil to TR's voice. A spiritual sibling of sorts to XTC's Dear God?

Speaking of cautionary tales, Party Liquor might be one of the better examples I've heard. The best dance track on the record is not so much a celebration as a pronouncement of last rites. This track is a treat - you've been there, you've seen the balloons and the parade, and then had to clean it up in so many ways.

Sir Reality closes out the record with a trip into the darkside of the world's attachment to untruths. Every line a lie in the kali yuga times of the endless newscycle of big media propaganda. Here, Fripp meets Philip Dick as Todd plays some of the best guitar on the record - I haven't mentioned the guitars much, but they carry their weight in a way that leaves you wanting more. It begs the question, is anyone speaking their mind, or is it just their agendas? A nice bit of spacey prog to return from one of the most satisfying pieces of art to see birth in 2013. This could bring back the concept of the album as a living entity, if anyone would just stop and listen.

Rundgren's best? I'll leave that up to you to decide, but don't miss the opportunity to sit down and listen to this from beginning to end.   

1 comment:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.