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Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything? CD (album) cover


Todd Rundgren


Crossover Prog

3.28 | 72 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars A mere eight months after releasing the constipated duck that was "Runt - The Ballad of Todd Rundgren," this double-LP came out and more or less saved this gifted artist's career. While it still isn't the all-out foray into the world of progressive rock that many of his later solo efforts would be, the improvement over the dull, lifeless album that preceded this one was so startling that it initially seemed like it could be from a different musician sharing the same name. Obviously not satisfied with the results that came from building songs on top of hired drummers and bass players' rhythm tracks, this time Todd filled three quarters of the project with no one but Mr. Rundgren himself. That's right, he played and sang EVERYTHING. And regardless of what you might think of the material, that's one amazing feat to pull off.

I've always loved the photo on the inside of the cover. It shows tall, lanky Todd from behind, standing in his crowded living room, greeting the dawn of a new day with arms outstretched and fingers displaying triumphant V's. He is surrounded by instruments and tape machines and I've always admired that picture with envy because it portrays an artist totally immersed in his element, free to create and record whatever his fertile mind conceives. Back then I thought that if I could stand inside his self-contained shoes fulfillment would be mine. The 23 original tunes that appear on this remarkable album honestly and truly reflect the essence of a prolific virtuoso that has finally set himself free to express himself without regard to public opinion or criticism. And the joyous aroma that so characterized his debut is alive and thriving throughout.

On the extensive, informative LP sleeve insert TR gave each of the vinyl discs a descriptive title. Side one is "A bouquet of ear-catching melodies," and it starts out with the near-perfect hit single, "I Saw the Light," his signature song that streaked straight up into the top 20 and gave the album a wealth of exposure. It's a well-written, three-minute ditty that has all the necessary ingredients for chart success and it's hard to fault a guy for making a bold entrance like that. Gotta love those booming tom-toms, too. "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" follows and it's a terrific, flowing ballad that should have been an AM radio smash, as well. And it's not just some soft piece of fluff as the driving bridge section proves. The poignant lyrics that convey his frustration over not being trusted by his lover are timeless. The unbridled enthusiasm that he generates in "Wolfman Jack" puts the listener in the front seat of a Mustang convertible barreling down Route 66 with the radio blastin'. It's pure Philly soul combined with a traditional rock & roll mentality and it literally soars. The TR horn section is tight and the vocal performances are brilliant. Unfortunately, the momentum takes a dive on the next tune, the plodding "Cold Morning Light," despite its alternations between 4/4 and 3/4 time signatures. "It Takes Two to Tango" is an up-tempo pop number but sitting through it's like waiting for a TV commercial to end so you can get back to your show. Things improve on the blues-tinged "Sweeter Memories" as its dramatic arrangement provides a stage for Todd to display his mastery of the guitar and he doesn't fail to impress.

Rundgren calls side two the "cerebral" side and it also happens to be the most prog-related. It starts with a brief but wholly entertaining pause for what Todd tells us is a game of "sounds of the studio," followed by the album's only instrumental, the playful "Breathless." It's a fun, melodic sprint with plenty of synthesizers and inventive changes to delight along the way. It reminds me of some of ELP's more whimsical detours. "The Night the Carousel Burnt Down" is a highlight that features very progressive keyboard sounds and the colorful carnival atmosphere he constructs is fantastic. I particularly like the swirling, almost psychedelic texture of the ending. He tosses in a light-hearted studio trick at the front of "Saving Grace" to keep things loose but, other than the altered piano effect, the tune is just average Laura Nyro-styled pop. The low point of the proceedings comes in the form of the love song "Marlene." It's not horrible but way too syrupy for my tastes. Next TR indulges in a bit of silliness with "Song of the Viking" and it gives weight to the adage that a little levity goes a long way. The odd "I Went to the Mirror" is the most experimental cut of all. It's a somewhat free-form, multi-level excursion into his psyche that suddenly rises up at the end with some kickass slide guitar. Here Todd poses the intriguing question, "If you went crazy, would you know it?"

Side three is entitled "the kid gets heavy" and that's at least true for the opening and closing cuts. "Black Maria" is a high-quality, heavy-handed rocker that garnered a lot of well-deserved FM airplay and proved that Rundgren still had a big pair in his Levis. His vicious guitar slices and dices its way through this bulldozer of a song and the power he generates all by himself in the studio is extraordinary. Most five-member bands would give an arm to be able to record tracks this tightly coiled. "One More Day" is one more nondescript pop balloon that goes nowhere and really has no place here. The barnburner that is "Couldn't I Just Tell You" comes charging to the rescue, though, and it's a killer. Its passion and energy never let up for a nanosecond and the dual guitar lead and the multi-tracked acoustic guitars that leap from the speakers before the final chorus are devastating. It may not be prog but it's great rock, nonetheless. "Torch Song" is next and the title says it all. It's just piano and vocal but the airy keyboard background is as cool as the other side of the pillow. Rundgren unleashes his metal monster on the hard-edged, revved up "Little Red Lights" and the flanged guitars and constant stereo panning give this stomper a surreal aura while it drag races through your brain.

Side four is what he anoints a pop operetta called "Baby Needs a New Pair of Snakeskin Boots" and it's a hit-and-miss affair. Gathering a collage of friends and studio cats together in three separate sessions, Todd evidently felt it prudent to dispense with his normal D.I.Y. protocol, throw a recording party and let the chips and stray noises fall where they may. After treating us to a brief glimpse of his roots via a couple of raw live recordings of his early garage combos, he and his cohorts serve up a winner with the soulful "Dust in the Wind." The combination of the Brecker Brothers on horns, Rick Derringer on guitar and a committed chorale of singers make this a gem. What doesn't work on any level is the song that follows, an ill-advised descent into low-brow, adolescent humor titled "Piss Aaron." Maybe it was funny in the control booth but it falls flat on its face here. And then comes the chart-topping "Hello, It's Me" that everyone in radio land seemed to adore immensely. It's okay, but I vastly prefer the slow, vibe-infused groove that characterizes the version he did with Nazz on their first LP in 1968. I'm just sayin'. "Some Folks is Even Whiter than Me" is one very hyperactive number with some striking guitar and sax solos spinning up through the frantic melee but, alas, it's followed by yet another throw away song, "You Left Me Sore," that fails to thrill. But all is not lost. TR & company leave us with a rabble-rousing rave-up in the form of the irreverent but boisterous "Slut" in which Todd warbles the infamous, crowd-answered refrain of "S-L-U-T/she may be a slut, but she looks good to me!" It may be more of a fraternity house anthem than a work of art but you can't deny the infectious spirit that engulfs the wild session.

"Something/Anything" still doesn't have enough prog elements to warrant more than a solid 3-star rating in my book but that doesn't mean it's not an album that proggers can't enjoy. The amazing fact that the majority of the songs were produced solely by the talents of one individual still blows my mind to this day. That admirable accomplishment is progressive enough by itself. This collection of tunes put Todd Rundgren in the public eye more than any other and it remains his biggest seller to date. He may have had a lot of labels attached to him during his long career but underachiever wasn't one of them.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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