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Todd Rundgren - Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren CD (album) cover


Todd Rundgren


Crossover Prog

2.38 | 54 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
1 stars There are hundreds of good reasons for Todd Rundgren to be considered a progressive artist.

This is not one of them.

Just a year after his adventurous and brave solo debut first graced the record shelves in 1970 Todd released this, his sophomore effort. Being completely enamored with "Runt," I eagerly snatched up this album without hearing a single note (despite the ominous cover photo that told me more than I ever would have believed about the contents). I fully expected Rundgren to deliver another heaping bowlful of the eclectic and sometimes experimental tracks that he had thrilled me with dating back to his embryonic days with Nazz. Alas, it was not to be. I couldn't have been more disappointed.

I swear, I don't know what got into the boy. Perhaps he wanted to present himself as a "serious" composer along the lines of Laura Nyro, Carole King or Paul Simon. Or maybe he got so caught up in perfecting his studio techniques that he forgot to leave in passion and excitement. I don't believe it was pressure from the label to be more commercial because he was still the sole producer, arranger, and writer and he supplied all the vocals and instrumentation (other than bass and drums) so any intent to be more accessible had to be self-imposed. In other words, Todd has no one but himself to blame for "Runt - The Ballad of Todd Rundgren" being so unremarkable.

The opener, "Long Flowing Robe," is pure, sell-out pop in its predictable, Top 40-formula structure and serves as a harbinger of bland things to follow. This love-at-first-sight piece of fluff is nothing short of embarrassing. "The Ballad (Denny and Jean)" is a tragic heartbreak song that goes nowhere. The brief ride that utilizes an early form of the talk-box (which he identifies as "Waldo the Singing Guitar" in the notes) provides the only interesting moment. "Bleeding" is a weak rocker without much rock to it as it lumbers along listlessly. The macabre thing about this LP is that it was a favorite of the despicable coward Mark David Chapman and the lyrics on this tune ("Be a big man/go on and take the gun/if you lose your hand/you got another one") give me the creeps. It's not Rundgren's fault that such a deranged psychopath latched on to his innocent creations and turned them into something sinister but I can't hear this cut without thinking about that lunatic and what he robbed the world of. Let's move on.

"Wailing Wall" is just piano and vocal with Beach Boys-styled harmonies. It's very simple but quite beautiful all the same. The nadir of the proceedings comes next, the dreadful "Range War" where Todd goes where no rocker has any business going. Country and Western. Maybe he was trying to be like John Denver or something but it is pitiful and requires a quick stab on the skip button to avoid indigestion. At least he follows it with the best track on the album, "Chain Letter." After a sparse beginning where he sings over hard-strummed acoustic guitars his rhythm section of Tony Sales on bass and N.D. Smart on drums jumps in and drive this song to its climactic but abrupt ending. Lyrically it's a conversation with himself that chronicles the writing process he went through to pen this one but perhaps he should've heeded his own advice when he scribbled down the lines "Don't take yourself so seriously/there are precious few things worth hating nowadays/and none of them are me." I say that because the playful, anything goes spirit that infused "Runt" is sorely missing from this album.

"A Long Time, A Long Way to Go" is yet another yawner that's better suited to curing insomnia than for listening pleasure. One almost gets the feeling that he was trying to emulate James Taylor here. "Boat on the Charles" has a lazy groove that comes closest to light jazz than anything else on the record but it's still a letdown. "Be Nice to Me" is a sweet little ditty, for sure, but it's just more of the same mediocrity. I've always wondered if Todd was singing this to his critics when he warbles "so tired, so sad/so sick of being had/by everyone who comes along/would it be so wrong/if you played along?" The next tune is one that I've always had a thing for but that's only because it completely summed up my feelings about a breakup I was going through that year. "Hope I'm Around" is nothing more than a sappy ballad, yet at the time I couldn't get enough of lines like "some happy day/after I'm long gone away/someone will make you see/you were in love with me." (I've always had a soft spot for payback songs.) "Parole" is a decent rock and roll number but at this juncture it's really a case of too little too late. Rundgren spits out a few hot guitar licks here and there but nothing really grabs hold and shakes you like great rock should. "Remember Me" is a 51-second piano and vocal deal that sounds like an afterthought. Its title says volumes because if TR hadn't distinguished himself with superior work after putting together this snoozer, no one would have.

I hate to give the Toddster the dreaded one-star rating but it is what it is. I would be more lenient if the tunes included were of high quality despite the lack of anything even remotely resembling prog, but this is a drag to get through no matter what one's musical preferences are. The upside is that Rundgren would go on to make much better product on his subsequent albums. He needs to disown this stinker.

Chicapah | 1/5 |


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