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

TODD RUNDGREN'S UTOPIA

Utopia

 

Eclectic Prog

4.14 | 243 ratings

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baz91
Prog Reviewer
5 stars OK, so I'm gonna guess that the reason you're here is because you stumbled across this album somewhere and found it had a 30 minute long track and are now trying to find whether this is actually true. Well progheads, the answer is yes, somehow Todd Rundgren managed to fit 30 minutes of continuous music onto just one side of vinyl! Back in the 70s this caused the record to have a lower sound quality, and the disc was extremely fragile. There was a warning, telling listeners that they should record it to cassette the first time they played it! This didn't stop him later making one of the longest single LPs of all time 'Initiation' with one side lasting over 35 minutes. But that's a story for another time.

Indeed this album is very long. Todd Rundgren was looking to experiment in prog, and there are good signs: 4 tracks (3 are over 10 mins including one over 30 mins), bizarre artwork, and not one but THREE keyboardists! However is the music any good? Why sir, yes it is!

The album opens with a staggering 14 minute live track, Utopia Theme. What a theme! There's a lot to excite prog fans here. The track itself is mostly instrumental, save a tiny amount of lyrics situated right in the centre of the song. There is some virtuoso keyboarding and guitaring going on, and the whole thing rocks very hard. The drums are sublime, especially the rolls he gives on the toms during the 'build-up' sections. If you're not a fan of live tracks, then there's no need to worry, as there is virtually no sound of the audience until the very end (oh apart from one moron whooping in the middle). If you don't like sprawling instrumentals, then you probably won't like this one. In fact you probably won't like the whole album either! Begone with you! The rest of you, buckle down for some more great prog.

Reaching the second song, one realises Freak Parade is actually quite an apt title for this extremely quirky track. The instrumentals are extremely odd, with moments of beauty being surrounded by odd time signatures, and 'freaky' themes, but they are nonetheless progtastic. In common with the preceding track, this song also has a tiny amount of lyrics placed right in the centre of the song. They begin 4:40 into the song, and end 4:20 from the very end of the song, which is almost exactly central! The lyrics themselves are fantastic, and sound extremely syncopated. Proggish stuff indeed, you should love it!

By this point, we are over 24 minutes into Side 1, which would be a perfectly reasonable time for the record to stop, and for you to turn over. This doesn't happen though, as we are faced with the 4 minute Freedom Fighters. Usually I try not to have prejudice against shorter songs in favour of longer ones, because judging a song by it's length can be fruitless. Your prejudice would be justified in this case though, as this is a real stinker amongst some truly fantastic music. Four minutes spells pop song to me, and apparently this is an attempt at a pop song. It's just awful though! The melodies are terrible, the singing awful, the lyrics unbearable, the sound effects stupid, and on top of that, the sound quality just gives it a glaze of horribleness. I truly have no idea why Todd Rundgren recorded this pile of crap. How he thought that putting this song on the album could make it commercially justifiable, that casual listeners would hear this, and perhaps buy the album just for this song. It's a nightmare, but it's only 4 minutes, so it's over quickly!

Now we're there - we've reached possibly the longest continuous progressive song of the 70s (on one side of vinyl), The Ikon! Amazingly this song is longer than the conjoined impressions of Karn Evil 9, which was spread across two sides of vinyl as ELP felt it was too long for a single side! Longer than Cygnus X-1, spread across two albums! But before you charge headlong into listening to this song, you'd probably like to hear why you should devote even a single half hour of your life to this track, let alone multiples of half hours.

For those of you who have heard A Treatise On Cosmic Fire, Rundgren's epic 36-minute synth-dominated instrumental production, and were perhaps disappointed by it's lack of structure (or perhaps anything musical), you should know that The Ikon is a completely different (and better) kettle of fish. Upon my first listen, I started to grow impatient of the repetitive riff at the beginning, and at the 3 minute mark I decided to skip through to see if the rest of the track would be based around this riff. I felt very foolish to discover that lyrics were just around the corner, and I should have trusted more in prog! From then on I listened to the track without skipping about. What I found was very rewarding indeed. This track skips about from theme to theme, whilst fleshing them out fully before moving on. There are lyrics, although in total about 6 minutes, and they are few and far between. These lyrics make the song feel very different from an instrumental track, which gives it a huge advantage in my mind, as this would seem like a bizarre jam otherwise. The lyrics are great, with tongue-twisters and the like being thrown in at around 9 minutes. It's extremely difficult to describe the vast amount of musical ideas being thrown around in this song. My favourite thing though is that they resurrect the opening theme for the end of this song, and combining the three keyboards and guitar, manage to play a lot of the other themes on top of this! This track is Ikonic indeed!

All in all, this album is a wonderful obscure gem, and The Ikon is a testament to the experimenting of musicians in the 70s. To be able to write a 30 minute song that is interesting and exciting all the way through is very difficult, but Todd more than pulls it off! If you have half an hour, give it a spin, you'll enjoy what you find!

baz91 | 5/5 |

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