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Utopia - Todd Rundgren's Utopia CD (album) cover

TODD RUNDGREN'S UTOPIA

Utopia

 

Eclectic Prog

4.14 | 258 ratings

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Easy Livin
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars A wizard, a true star

Whatever else you got from Todd Rundgren in the 1970's, you got value for money. This album has just four tracks yet runs for almost an hour, even on a single LP. Given that LPs normally had a maximum capacity of around 20 minutes a side, the quality of the recording inevitably suffers by the time it reaches the turntable due to the level of compression required.

This is Todd at his progressive best. The album was actually credited to "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" rather than simply Utopia. At the time, Utopia were every much a backing band for Rundgren, this being well before long serving members Powell, Sulton and Wilcox arrived to complete a stable quartet.

The opening "Utopia Theme" is a 14 minute, largely improvised piece which showcases Rundgren's guitar prowess (a talent he has never received adequate recognition for). Unlike the rest of the album, this is a live recording from a gig in Atlanta, USA. Each of the three keyboards players also appears to get a shot at centre stage as the piece weaves its way through the type of prog territory occupied by early 70's YES and EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER, and more recently by bands like the FLOWER KINGS.

The move to the studio is apparent from the opening bars of "Freak Parade", a further 10 minutes of complex interplay and time signature changes. The vocal sections here are muddled and superfluous, but thankfully brief. Already we're well past the 24 minute mark on the first side of the LP, yet space is still found for a four minute coda. "Freedom fighters" is the most commercial piece, indeed the only commercial piece on the album. The song would have fitted in well on one of Todd's early solo albums such as "A Wizard, a true star", but even here it sits well alongside its lengthy peers.

And finally we have "The Ikon". Occupying one complete side of the album, and running to 30 minutes, this track is one of the criminally under-known masterpieces of prog. Yes it is derivative, drawing influences from many of the major prog bands of the time, but it melds them together in a stunning amalgam of everything which makes prog great. There are strong hooks, wonderful melodies, extended instrumentals, harmonic vocal passages, you name it, it's here. Despite the length, there simply is not one second of padding, the piece is tight and always focused. The track is not broken down into sections, this is a complete piece which flows from start to finish occasionally repeating themes, frequently changing mood, but with a fluidity which bands such as the Flower Kings can only dream of. This piece should be in every prog lover's collection.

Utopia went on to make several more excellent albums, notably the following "Ra". After that, they moved into uninspired pop rock territory, ditching all the things which make this, the first Utopia album, so inspired.

Here Todd Rundgren shows that he is indeed A Wizard, a True star.

Easy Livin | 4/5 |

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