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Todd Rundgren - Hermit of Mink Hollow CD (album) cover

HERMIT OF MINK HOLLOW

Todd Rundgren

 

Crossover Prog

3.08 | 23 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars After making four of his most progressive solo albums in a row (utilizing various lineups of side musicians) as well as undertaking a major detour into jazz rock/fusion territory with his adventurous group Utopia, Todd Rundgren sequestered himself in the studio in the early months of 1978 and did what he hadn't done since sculpting the admirable "Something/Anything." Here he reverted to his one man band persona and relied on no one but he, himself and his muse to produce the very personal "Hermit of Mink Hollow." I get the feeling that he desperately yearned to get back to the place where he didn't have to answer to anybody but his own ego and create whatever emerged from his fertile brain. It's an impressive but slightly inconsistent virtuoso presentation that, more than anything else, demonstrates the leaps and bounds his studio techniques had improved by over the years.

Side one of the LP version is labeled "The Easy Side" and it starts off with the very upbeat vibe of "All the Children Sing," a joyous romp with chiming synthesizers and the full TR chorale raising the roof. Lyrically it describes the miracle of epiphany as the day when "a bell in your head will ring" and your "universe will explode apart." Considering that Todd had just returned from a vacation in the Middle East to investigate Sufism those lofty sentiments aren't surprising at all. Speaking of idealism, the chart-climbing single "Can We Still Be Friends" is next and it's one of Rundgren's most endearing ditties. On the surface it would appear to be a fairly straightforward ballad but the intriguing vocal sections with their deceptively tricky time signatures make this tune anything but formula. The intertwining la-la melodies that seem to float about effortlessly are almost Gentle Giant-like at times. Lyrically, though, our boy is literally dreaming in La-La Land. A word to the wise. Whatever you do, never but NEVER tell the girl you're breaking up with "let's admit we made a mistake/but can we still be friends?" unless you're prepared to have your eyeballs clawed out and possibly find yourself maimed for life. You, like nave Mr. Rundgren, might think it's a noble consolation prize to offer but that's the last thing they want to hear at that moment.

"Hurting for You" is another one of Todd's frequent treks into the world of saccharine torch songs and one can't help but to feel sympathy for the courageous guitar lead that valiantly attempts to fight its way up through the sugary Sea of the Overwrought Chorale that eventually drowns it without mercy. Makes a sad song even sadder. "Too Far Gone" sports a samba-styled feel that's a nice change of pace but it's still pretty mediocre fare. The words are about an artist who's become estranged from his family and friends and has all the earmarks of a personal confession. One of Rundgren's most attractive qualities is his fondness for clever studio tricks and his willingness to be silly at times. "Onomatopoeia" delivers both in a short 1:34 span and is pure frivolity from the odd sound effects to the witty lyrics like "onomatopoeia, in proximity ya..." Gotta love it. "Determination" is a strong candidate for coolest song on the album with its bright, piercing guitars, undeniable energy flow and palpable prog aura. It still amazes me how Todd can single-handedly assemble a track piece by piece and have it come out sounding like a full band.

"Bread" is the first cut on "The Difficult Side" and its walking beat during the verse belies the heavy- handed chorus that follows. Once again TR establishes a tight groove for the tune to ride in as the lyrics delve into the tragedy of needless hunger as he asks "where are the days when life was carefree?/why must I suffer this, what was my crime?/begging or thievery, which shall it be?/is there no other choice for me?/I can't live with nothing." Next is the subdued "Bag Lady," a piano-based dramatic ballad that slowly evolves with the help of synthesized strings, saxophone and lush background vocals. The heartbreaking words relate the sobering reality of the shadowy despair that exists all around us. What's needed at this juncture is a silver lining and Rundgren provides one with the infectious drive of "You Cried Wolf," one of the best rockers he's ever written and recorded, bar none. The guitars have the perfect amount of bite, he throws in a hot sax ride and the solid rhythm track will have you dancing through the dining room in your boxers, strumming your air guitar with wild abandon. It'll entertain your immediate family members and house pets no end. Can't ask for more than that.

"Lucky Guy" is yet another piano ballad but what distinguishes it from his others is the exquisitely stacked guitar harmonies ala Brian May that give it a silky sheen. "Out of Control" is a feisty rock & roll number with churning guitars and spicy licks in abundance throughout but it's also instantly forgettable. There's just nothing to latch onto. "Fade Away" serves as the grand finale and Todd manages to throw everything into this would-be power ballad, including the kitchen sink and the Grand Canyon. From the echo-drenched drums to the dense cumulus clouds of the chorale, this is a prime example of over-the-top pop. Rundgren sings "in a hundred million years when the planet disappears/you and I will stay and watch the world fade away..." That's just fine, bucko, but I hope the soundtrack for that glorious event will be a lot more prog and much less blatantly sappy.

Molded in the spirit of his earlier "I played and sang everything" extravaganzas, dedicated fans of Todd's work will find a lot to enjoy inside this album but I would never refer to it as being progressive, per se. To me it signifies an itch he had to scratch at that point in his career to be a bit more accessible to the public at large and, in that capacity, it succeeds. But those seeking his prog-leaning side should look first at albums like "Wizard, A True Star" and "Initiation" before picking up this one. Good, indeed, but not essential.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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