[Review] Utopia: Adventures in Utopia (1980)

Utopia finds themselves at the vanguard of the power pop movement as the adventure continues.

Kronomyth 5.0: The last of the new age riders will be the first of the new wave masters.

After a couple of years out of the studio and on the road, Todd Rundgren and Utopia returned to the studio for their best album yet, Adventures in Utopia. It’s the sort of album you play through from beginning to end, enjoying it all even as the group switches lead vocalists along the way. The influence of “new wave” bands like The Cars and Cheap Trick are keenly felt in the tight arrangements and catchy choruses. Utopia defies easy categorization, however, equally at ease on power ballads (Second Nature), silly love songs (You Drive Me Crazy, Shot in the Dark) and proggy terrain (Caravan). If variety is the spice of life, Adventures in Utopia is their spiciest adventure yet.

One thing that’s always impressed me about this album is how the band manages to stitch together a great album using four different lead vocalists. Whether Willie Wilcox and Roger Powell could actually carry a tune, I couldn’t tell you, but technology and harmony give them all the support they need to pull off “You Drive Me Crazy” and “Caravan.” Sulton, like Benjamin Orr, is a legitimate second vocalist, splitting the lead vocals with Rundgren along the journey. So successful was Sulton on this album that he tested the solo waters soon after on the eponymous Kasim.

You’d be right in stating that Adventures in Utopia picks up where Oops! Wrong Planet left off. The difference is Utopia’s interest in the burgeoning new wave scene, which meant more synthesizers and power pop sensibilities that wore their affection for The Beatles on their sleeve (an affection that would find its fruition on Deface the Music). In my opinion, which admittedly isn’t worth the bytes it eats up, this and Swing to the Right best represent the Utopian ideal. I’ve probably listened to these two albums more than all the other Utopia albums combined.

Original elpee version

A1. The Road to Utopia (4:53)
A2. You Make Me Crazy (3:38)
A3. Second Nature (2:34)
A4. Set Me Free (3:07)
A5. Caravan (6:59)
B1. Last of the New Wave Riders (4:19)
B2. Shot in the Dark (3:42)
B3. The Very Last Time (3:49)
B4. Love Alone (3:52)
B5. Rock Love (5:31)

All songs written by Utopia.

The Players

Roger Powell (synthesizers, vocals), Todd Rundgren (guitars, vocals), Kasim Sulton (bass, vocals), John Willie Wilcox (drums, vocals). Produced by Todd Rundgren and Utopia; engineered by Todd Rundgren with additional engineering by Chris Andersen, Mike Young, John Holbrook and George Carnell.

The Pictures

Album package concept by Utopia and Danny O’Connor. Photography by Bob Lampnel, Jamison Goodman, Danny O’Connor and Todd Rundgren. Package design and production by The Creative Directors Inc. Utopia logo design by John Wagman.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in January 1980 in the US, Canada and Singapore/Malaysia/Hong Kong (Bearsville, BRK/M5-6991), the UK (Island, ILPS 9602), Germany (Bearsville, 201 254) and Japan (Bearsville, 25AP 1755) with gatefold cover and picture innersleeve. Also released on red vinyl elpee in 1980 in Australia (Bearsville, L37154) with gatefold cover. Reached #32 on the US charts and #57 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-packaged with Oops! Wrong Planet on 2-for-1 2LP in the UK (That’s Original) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1993 (Rhino, RNCD 70872).
  3. Re-mastered on compact disc in Japan (Bearsville, VICP-60275).
  4. Re-mastered on compact disc on June 20, 2000 in the UK (Essential, ESM CD 761).
  5. Re-issued on 180g silver vinyl in 2020 in Europe (Music on Vinyl, MOVLP2518).

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