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




Eclectic Prog

4.14 | 258 ratings

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4 stars On the surface, one would think that Todd Rundgren and prog were made for each other. After all the trio of sprawling double albums (Something/Anything?, A Wizard/A True Star and Todd) that he released from 1972 to 1974 visited a myriad of styles and when he formed a new six-piece group Utopia at the height of the prog craze, it seemed that the world was at his feet. Nonetheless, even though I'm fond of a lot of Utopia's music, I do feel that Rundgren's songwriting style was at odds with the kind of prog he wanted to make.

I'm come to the conclusion that Rundgren is at his best writing shorter pop-rock songs (a la Jackson Browne, only with cosmic fills where Browne employs a country-rock touch). His solo songs like We're Gonna Get You A Woman, I Saw The Light, Love Of The Common Man and A Dream Goes On Forever are among my favourite Rundgren tunes (and better than the average prog track he cut). Even a lot of his more creative pieces prior to forming Utopia had a distinct pastiche feel that makes his prog seem a little forced. Still, he did have a lot to say, and each of Utopia's first three albums has some great playing that will attract proggers. In fact most of that great playing is on this debut.

Now, there are some prog-rock fans who are wildly enthusiatic about this album, but I do have some reservations. Despite some outstanding moments, this reveals a lack of focus, particularly during the half-hour long closer The Ikon. Nonetheless, its highlights are enough to make it, not just the finest Utopia album, but a landmark of American progressive rock.

What can I say about the storming 14 minute opener Utopia Theme that kicks off this album? Largely instrumental, and full of scorching solos (I count at three great keyboard solos alone!) and some excellent twists and turns, the mind-boggles at the fact that this was recorded live! The follow-up Freak Parade is another fine piece, with a storming, rolling intro, a largely reflective, electric-piano dominated segment, a lengthy jam that's centered around a quirky synth riff and spoken vocals over funky backing (I'm not particularly fond of this part which sounds like revved-up Steely Dan with weak vocals!).

The third track Freedom Fighters is a potent reggae-inflected shorter song that sticks out simply because it's not prog at all (despite what the rippling synths might try to tell you!). Still, it's a great Rundgren moment and one of his best-ever pop/rock songs. The Ikon, on the other hand has some lows that include moronic vocal parts and dull meandering moments, but also has some inspirational high-octane jazz-inflected rock with great solos ... some of the electric piano/synth exchanges blow me away and Rundgren's muscular guitar escapades can also be engrossing ... yet even those portions can seem a tad overlong. I can scarcely think of a piece in prog that needs more editing (although Singring And The Glass Guitar from the third Utopia album Ra runs it close!)

Still in many ways, there's nothing quite like this album. If you're only ever going to get one Utopia album, make it this one. ... 72% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 4/5 |


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