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Utopia - Ra CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

3.67 | 100 ratings

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Honorary Collaborator
3 stars By the time Utopia's third album was cut, the band had settled on a stable line-up of main man Todd Rundgren (guitar/vocals), ever-present keyboardist Roger Powell, teenage bassist Kasim Sultan and drummer John Wilcox. Unlike the first two Utopia albums (which were actually credited to Todd Rundgren's Utopia) the band tries to be more democractic here, sharing songwriting and even lead vocals. Sadly that is one of the elements that contributes to this being a really inconsistent album that dishes out fine musicianship and uninspired writing in almost equal measure.

This album really is startling uneven. On the positive side we have the fiery Communion With The Sun which has some nice moments, and Sunburnt Finish, a splendid rocker with a great riff, an excellent verse melody (which is sung by Powell, Rundgren and Sultan in turn!), a fusion inspired mid-section and some awesome exchanges by Powell on Moog and Rundgren himself! Then we have Hiroshima, one of Rundgren's most powerful songs ever. With strong anti-war lyrics, heavy riffs, and a gripping arty mid-section (with voiceovers and other sound effects) this piece is also graced by some vicious solos from Powell and Rundgren.

On the downside there are totally un-prog songs which are inferior takes on sounds already covered ad nauseam by Rundgren. Magic Dragon Theatre is one of those quintessential Rundgren pop/soul mini-operas that belongs on his classic 1972-1974 phase. Jealousy is a dull hard rock number sung by Wilcox and even the ballsy Rundgren solo that would have done Richie Blackmore proud doesn't save it. Likewise Eternal Love, despite an interesting psychedelic acapella section and some nice keyboard fills, is basically a draggy piano ballad sung by Sultan.

The uneven nature of the album is probably best summed-up by its 18 minute centrepiece Singring And The Glass Guitar, an excellent tune almost marred by some intermittent and highly ridiculous vocal additions from an "old fairie" John Holbrook. Despite that silliness (which reminds me in a strange way of the awful Hare Who Lost His Spectacles story that interferes with Jethro Tull's excellent A Passion Play album), this song is generally great. An epic fantastical tale, with wonderful melodies, and potent instrumental fireworks ... each band member represents an element within the tale (Rundgren is Earth, Wilcox is Water, Sultan is Wind and Powell is Fire) and each turns in an excellent solo accordingly. I really enjoyed Wilcox's drum solo and Sultan's melodic bass excursions, which is great considering these guys generally were outshone by Rundgren and Powell. That's not to say that Powell doesn't put in another stunning turn on Moog and I must say I really love the epic feel of the Rundgren-led conclusion.

Nonetheless, like its two predecessors, Ra is a flawed prog-rock album. I really wish there was some way to take all the best bits from the first album, the first half of the second and chunks of this one too, and re-edit the whole affair into a prog masterpiece. There is a fair amount of rambling that goes on even within the really good songs, and I can well imagine that hard-core proggers will find albums like Ra to be a big disappointment. ... 61% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 3/5 |


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