Category Archives: Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren: Runt (1970)

Kronomyth 1.0: DER TODD UND DAS RUNDGREN. Runt established the template for Todd Rundgren albums to come: eclectic songbooks that mixed rockers, ballads and big ideas, stuck together fearlessly with copious amounts of studio wizardry. From this point on, there was no looking back, only forward. The album produced a minor single, “We Got To Get You A Woman,” a likeable if pre-enlightened bit of pop music, which is easily overlooked in favor of gems like “Believe In Me,” “There Are No Words” and the medley of “Baby, Let’s Swing/The Last Thing You Said/Don’t Tie My Hands.” When Todd seizes on a winning melody, which is most of the time, the results can really get under your skin. I had the same reaction to his next two albums, each of which have a few songs that I’d carry a torch for on any given day. Runt also features some pretty complicated music that points forward to the work of Utopia: “Birthday Carol” covers a wide range of styles over nine minutes, “I’m In The Clique” is edgy stuff. Despite the rhythm section of Hunt and Tony Sales (who seem to have found their niche playing in make-believe bands), Runt isn’t a group effort in any meaningful sense of the word. This is Todd’s show from the get-go, starring as guitarist, pianist, singer, songwriter, arranger and producer. Runt is not, however, a true DIY album like Something/Anything? either. That Todd was able to achieve the same results on his double-album opus remains one of its magical mysteries. It’s tempting to see this first album as a test run for Something/Anything?, but Runt is bigger than that. It’s a self-standing introduction into the unique musical world of Todd Rundgren that has everything you’ve come to love about him: lump-in-the-throat ballads, clever and catchy melodies, jacked-up rock songs, cool production tricks and the kind of track-by-track anticipation normally reserved for albums by people named Paul (Simon and McCartney) or Harry (Nilsson).

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The Tubes: Remote Control (1979)

Kronomyth 5.0: TUBETOPIA. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Remote Control is a concept album that could be seen as the next installment in Utopia, so similar are the two. Rundgren is credited with cowriting two songs (“Love’s A Mystery,” TV Is King”), but his fingerprints are all over Remote Control, from the high-register choruses to the compressed and sped-up arrangements. Of course, sounding like Utopia isn’t a bad thing; in fact, this is probably my favorite Tubes album after their first. The album generated a legitimate hit (okay, in the UK) with “Prime Time,” and should have had a second with “Love’s A Mystery (I Don’t Understand).” If the reports are true that the band entered the studio with a concept but without any songs, then this record is a testament to the band’s creativity because there isn’t a bad song in the batch. The opening “Turn Me On” immediately pulls you into the story, and Remote Control keeps changing the channel without losing its audience: “I Want It All Now,” “No Way Out,” “Only The Strong Survive,” “Be Mine Tonight.” The closing “Telecide” is a breathless rocker that mixes clever, rapid-fire wordplay (could Michael Stipe have been a closet Tubes fan?) and nihilistic rock to bring the curtains crashing down. A&M had no reason to be disappointed with the results; the record charted as well as Adventures In Utopia and restored faith in the band’s ability to harness their talent. Along with Adventures In Utopia, Healing and Swing To The Right, Remote Control represents a sort of Rundgren renaissance for art pop fans between 1979 and 1982. The Tubes never made another album like it, and they never made a better one after it. If you haven’t heard this or the three Utopia/Rundgren records I just mentioned, turn off the tv tonight and turn on to some great music instead.

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The Tubes: Love Bomb (1985)

“It sucked, pretty much, it really sucked.” – Fee Waybill, explaining the appeal of Love Bomb in a 2001 interview with the San Francisco Herald.

Kronomyth 8.0: STOP WORRYING. This is the worst record that The Tubes have released. And it’s still pretty good. That last sentence is something of an emotional breakthrough for me. For years, I held genuine antipathy for Love Bomb. (It’s a piece of plastic. I need to get a life.) The production from Todd Rundgren is polarizing. Todd was in sort of a strange place artistically, having released a string of disappointing Utopia albums and the confounding A Capella, so it’s unfair to expect that Love Bomb would become Remote Control Redux. The album is littered with extraneous sounds, strung together in fragments, plagued by the kind of restless curiosity that presumes a lot of patience on the part of the listener. And the truth is that few people, Tubes fans included, had much use for “Muscle Girls,” “Bora Bora 2000,” “Say Hey” and “Theme From A Wooly Place.” They’re cute ideas, but the sort of thing that should have been left on the editing room floor, not sandwiched in between Rundgrenesque rock ballads. Sift out the strangeness, and Love Bomb is actually a decent record of sophisticated studio rock: “Eyes,” “Piece By Piece,” “Come As You Are.” Bill Spooner has defended this album in interviews, and I would agree with him (now, anyway). It’s not far removed from the band’s last two records in terms of quality. David Foster reigned in the band’s strangeness, however, where Rundgren seems to feed it. It’s too bad that I didn’t warm up to Love Bomb before I wrote a review of it for All Music Guide. Lord knows it wasn’t a lack of listening to Love Bomb that led to my displeasure. Maybe I listened to it too much, looking for the treasures of the past. Commercially, the album was a dud; that much is true. Artistically, it’s not the mess I first imagined, although I still have the sense that Todd wanted to turn The Tubes into Utopia Mark II. Yes, it’s still probably the last Tubes album you need to own, but I’ve learned to stop worrying about what it’s not and enjoy it for what it is.

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