Adventures of a University Finalist

Friday, June 24, 2005

This Peacock Has Flown


Todd Rundgren - Todd (Bearsville, 1974)

Todd Rundgren - Heavy Metal Kids
Todd Rundgren - Everybody's Going to Heaven/King Kong Reggae
Todd Rundgren - Izzat Love?
Todd Rundgren - Sons of 1984

How did this post come to be? Well, it all stemmed from a conversation between my lovely lady and I where she asked of me if I could have one tattoo where would it be and what would it represent. After much thought and contemplation, I resolved that I would permanently scar the skin of my forearm for no aesthetic reason with the words "Todd is God" is celtic script. How cool would that be? My adoaration of things Rundgren encompassed by a single futile gesture of self-harm mirroring the man's refusal to live the easy, clean life. He is a man who has, in the eyes of many, frequently thrown away the chance of superstardom in pursuing a higher art musical art form. The peacock-esque costume whilst performing 'Hello It's Me' on Midnight Special, the accapella and bossa nova albums, the Gilbert and Sullivan covers, the flare-ups with Andy Partridge whilst Skylarking, Bebe Beull, Utopia... the man has done it all. That's probably why I have so much admiration for his work and take such pleasure in his recent comeback with the strange electro-pop album that was 'Liars'.
Why did I choose his 1974 double album that, if possible, is even more impregnable and plain difficult than his lollipop psychedelic classic 'A Wizard, A True Star'? Errrr, all my other Todd CDs are at home. Sorry, it's not very scientific but I have a deep affection for this album. Personally, I must have only listened to it once within the first year I bought it but then one day forced myself to walk round town with it on my CD walkman. The thing grows on you like a particularly brand of fungal infection. Initially irritating, it becomes a strange yet constant companion. I'll be the first to admit that it should really be listened to in one big swallow but it does have some hidden gems that can be listened independent of its Hieronymous Bosch vision. Warped evil shapes forming an eerie whole - it's almost gestalt in its construction.
But away from the horrible long words that attempt to make me seem much smarter than I actually am. Onwards to the bastions of the double album; the possible singles and the prog-metal guitar noodling! 'Izzat Love?' and 'Sons of 1984' represent the singles market, and 'Heavy Metal Kids' and 'Everybody's Going to Heaven/King Kong Reggae' the prog corner.
'Sons of 1984' was the originator of the idea of a live performance where the audience has been taught to sing the song's chorus. Ha! And you all thought that Elbow's 'Grace Under Pressure' was innovative. Also, Elbow didn't create a song filled with stomping horns and a great little piano riff. Admittedly, even Todd has admitted that the idea of crowd participation didn't quite work and probably prevented the song from being his new 'Just One Victory' but at least it doesn't descend to seeking permanence to its message by "clever" use of the word fuck. Central Park 1, Glastonbury 0. Apparently, Rundgren thought of possibly doing an entire album like this; in doing so creating a truely proletarian album. Sung by the masses for the masses. Orwell would have been proud of such a vision especially after hearing Bowie's 'Diamond Dogs' and its stultified, retro-chic 1984isms.
'Izzat Love' is comparison to 'Sons...' is relatively simple steering away from gospel textures to the blissful pop of 'Something/Anything?' and in doing so almost resembles a re-write of the King/Goffin pastiche ' I Saw the Light'. How the man manages this with just synths, drums and his own sweet as honey multi-tracked vocals is beyond me. The lyric is simple yet effective with its opening platitudes of "Izzat love, what I feel when you're in my arms?/Make me die before I do you harm". The trick seems to be a sleight of hand where the man actually means exactly what he's saying - a rarity in pop - and due to his sheer musicianship, he not only creates his feelings through his words but also his music with the featherlight chug of organ, snapping snares and brief handclaps.
Sailing on from perfect pop, we move toward scuzzy hard rock. I mean 'Heavy Metal Kids' ain't jus' bein' a smart-ass name. Punchy power chords. Check. Plodding bass. Check. Tumbling toms. Check. Electrifying blues soloing that would make Clapton and Beck both cream their collective jeans. Check. Lyrics regarding the world conservation and societal entropy with allusions to pipe bombs, Sherman Tanks and teenage rebellion. Check. Yeah, it's definitely a favourite with its shrouding of macabre content with a conventional wrapping. The guitar work is just scintillating.
Yet, 'Everybody's Going to Heaven...' manages to eclipse it in every single way with its face melting opening salvo of heavy riffing and clashing cymbals leading toward a quagmire of a slow boogie. Then Todd opens his mouth and out comes probably his best ever lyric that doesn't centre itself on the perils of the lovestruck heart. It instead shapes up as an introspective examination of a man on the precipice of depression with his ultimate conclusion that "Everybody's goin' to Heaven/'Cause already we've all been through Hell". It manages to create a song that speaks of death without ever meeting the bloated opulence of whimsy, nostalgia or nihilism - a tradition started by men such as Johnny Cash and carried on by such troubadours as Nick Cave. So here we have it. A fantastic slice of prog rock with a decent lyric to boot so what does our man Todd do. Halfway through the songs crasehes into a squelchy stab at nonsense reggae talking about "A big monkey doin; the King Kong Reggae". He ruins the song! And you know something, I absolutely love it. It's such a thrill to find an artist not afraid to not only straddle genres but to stick in the spurs and ride that buckin' bronco as best they can. Sometimes you fail and sometimes you succeed but at least everyone had a good time whilst you were at it.
Next time, I might have an interview with David Dewese, member of the Nash-Pop outfits the Foxymorons and The Luxury Liners. I've sent him the questions. All he has to add are monosyllabic answers and we'll be set! Also, I;m thinking of changing my name from The Finalist. I was thinking, in honour of another of the greatest multi-instrumentalist/enigmas of all time, my monicker could be The Blogger Formerly Known As... Any opinions on this?

Buy - Todd Rundgren - Todd
Visit - Todd's Website (try and sit through the entire flash sequence... it's an education)