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Utopia

Eclectic Prog


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Utopia Ra album cover
3.75 | 75 ratings | 17 reviews | 25% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
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Studio Album, released in 1977

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Overture: Mountain top and sunrise/Communion with the sun (7:15)
2. Magic dragon theatre (3:28)
3. Jealousy (4:43)
4. Eternal love (4:51)
5. Sunburst finish (7:38)
6. Hiroshima (7:16)
7. Singring and the glass guitar (an electrified fairy tale) (18:24)

Total Time: 53:35

Lyrics

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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Roger Powell / keyboards, vocals
- Todd Rundgren / lead vocals, guitars
- Kasim Sulton / bass, vocals
- John Wilcox / drums, percussion, vocals, harmony guitar
+ John Holtsbrook / voice (7)

Releases information

1977 LP Bearsville 6965

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UTOPIA Ra ratings distribution


3.75
(75 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(25%)
25%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(55%)
55%
Good, but non-essential (9%)
9%
Collectors/fans only (7%)
7%
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)
4%

UTOPIA Ra reviews


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by corbet
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Todd is a "funny" guy. Whether this means that you actually think he is funny, or just believe that he thinks he is funny, depends on how straight-faced you demand your prog heroes to be. This album has some "funny" voices and stuff, to be sure, and unfortunately for some people this will immediately blind them to everything else to be found here. For me, it's always the music that comes first, and in that regard I hold Ra amongst my top tier of favorites. Todd was always his own island in prog rock, unlike anyone else at all, and along with Utopia's first album this is some truly exceptional music: burning guitar, fat drums, perfect harmonies, 70's synth antics... I always thank goodness for drugs, or he may have remained content as a pop singer!

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Send comments to corbet (BETA) | Report this review (#26492) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, January 17, 2004

Review by daveconn
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars RUNDGREN re-thought the whole UTOPIA thing, trimming it down to a quartet (adding bassist/vocalist Kasim Sulton in the process) and divining from the band's edited essence a mix of bombastic rock and Todd's familiar songcraft. In doing so, UTOPIA stumbled upon a signature sound in "Ra" that would be fine-tuned over the years but never really abandoned. Some have suggested that "Ra" is a concept album, but it's rather a recurring theme of the sun that gives the impression of a unifying concept; after all, what could a magic theatre, a nuclear bomb and a muse trapped in a glass guitar really have in common? The album starts off with an "Overture" borrowed from BERNARD HERRMANN (never heard of him, by the way), which is really just a way to get listeners' ears wet before launching into "Communion With The Sun." It's here that we're introduced to the new UTOPIAn ideal: cosmic chaos compressed into more confining quarters that keeps things moving briskly. The same approach is adopted for "Jealousy" (with its classic claustrophobic sound), "Sunburst Finish" and the overwrought "Hiroshima." On these tracks, UTOPIA's aggressive arrangements and lyrical naivety invite comparison to BLUE OYSTER CULT (whose "Godzilla" is oddly complementary to "Hiroshima"). These songs tend to define the album, although "Magic Dragon Theatre" points to Todd's longstanding affection for musicals and the ballad "Eternal Love" likewise looks to the leader's oeuvre. The only apparent holdover from UTOPIA's earlier excesses is the 18-minute "Singring and The Glass Guitar", which might have been subtitled "The hare who lost his spectacles (and couldn't see how silly he looked)." Although there are sections of "Singring" that work remarkably well, taken in toto it's a toppled-over wedding cake.

Even with a few flaws, "Ra" shines brightly in the UTOPIAn landscape as an example of Todd bringing his genius to bear on more ambitious music. As a halfway point between the sometimes sprawling arrangements of earlier UTOPIA albums and the streamlined pomp of subsequent works, UTOPIA moves from failed ideal to a workable blueprint.

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Send comments to daveconn (BETA) | Report this review (#26491) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Review by Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars "An electrified fairytale"

Todd Rundgren used to like to cram as much music as possible onto LPs. "Ra" was no exception, with five lengthy tracks on the first side, and two on the second. These days, he appears to rather struggle to come up with enough output worthy of a single disk.

The opening track, "Communion with the Sun", is a majestic, powerful piece, with swirling synthesisers, and a superb vocal performance by Rundgren. "Magic dragon theatre" is a wonderful piece of amateur dramatics ("I'm sure we were followed, Dr Clang") with a clanking piano beat.

At over 18 minutes, the last track, "Singring and the Glass Guitar", is the longest track on the album. Subtitled "An electrified fairytale" it initially comes across as a rather lightweight, slightly comical track. In fact, it is a well constructed piece of light prog, telling the tale of our heroes' search for four keys which will combine to release a glass guitar containing the spirit of harmony from a chest(!). The search and discovery for the four keys affords each band member the opportunity to slip in a brief solo. The story is narrated by what sounds like a dwarf on helium. The forgoing description probably makes the whole thing sound a bit silly, but trust me, it's well worth hearing.

The remaining tracks are all of a high quality, especially "Hiroshima" where the message is frighteningly clear.

An excellent album from Todd and his mates, diverse yet melodic, and well performed throughout.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#26493) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Review by loserboy
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Todd Rundgren wrote and released a ton of music over his career with the pinnacle album represented here with UTOPIA's 1977 Masterpiece "RA". This album has it all, with pop, rock and progressive leanings featuring UTOPIA's signature four-part vocal harmonies throughout. Without a question I hear musical allusions to STYX, 10CC, Adrian Belew, The ALAN PARSONS PROJECT and YES on this album. Todd and Roger Powell create some truly hypnotic synth and guitar interplay on this album. often trading licks back and forth (aka the track "Sunburst Finish") Although I love all tracks on this album, the standout piece is the Tolkienesk classic epic prog-rock piece "Singring And The Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairytale)" which tracks in at 18 Mins and makes we really wish they had written and recorded more of this kind of music. From an approach perspective this song plays out very reminiscent of TULL's "The hare who lost his spectacles" with its quirky narration. A fun little album with some very memorable numbers and inspirational pieces.

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Send comments to loserboy (BETA) | Report this review (#26494) | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, July 29, 2004

Review by Trotsky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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

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Send comments to Trotsky (BETA) | Report this review (#35300) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, June 05, 2005

Review by ClemofNazareth
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars I saw RA listed on a thread a few days back. The thread was a poll asking for a list of the top 10 progressive albums of 1977. Several people listed this one. Other than some of the Italian listings, I recognized pretty much all the albums, except this one. Curious, I decided to troll through my vinyl collection and dig out some old Rundgren music, maybe A Wizard/A True Star or Deface the Music. Imagine my surprise to discover that, not only do I own the RA album, but I have a pristine original pressing, complete with the calligraphy-laden inner sleeve (ornately hand- lettered by artist Hal Fiedler - Hal went on the do the same for the Kinks on their Give the People What They Want LP). The album also features an insert with a pyramid cut-out covered with photos of the "band" on each face of the pyramid, along with these instructions:

"Pyramid assembly instructions:

Cut along the outside edge of the pyramid (do not cut off tab 'a'). Gently fold the edges of each panel into a pyramid shape. Tape or glue tab 'a' under the edge of 'b'.

Experiments have been done with pyramids that have the same proportions as the one you are now holding in your hand. The findings of these experiments suggest that the energy within the pyramid is transformed in such a way that it slows down the rate at which organic matter deteriorates and decomposes. The flavor of foods confined in the pyramid's center was noticeably enhanced, and the freshness of the food itself was preserved for a surprisingly long time. If you would like to try an experiment of your own, find an area free of electromagnetic interference (away from t.v. set, etc.) ~ outside is real good. Using a compass, align one of the faces to magnetic north, place some object inside the pyramid for a while, and observe. Let us know what happens."

So if there were any doubt that Rundgren spent the majority of the 1970's stoned, this answered the question for me at least.

Still, I must admit about all I can clearly remember of Rundgren and of Utopia from my teenage years are "Hello, It's Me", "Bang the Drum all Day", and the uncharacteristic Motown medley from A Wizard. The rest of his music has faded with the dense smoke many years ago. I certainly don't remember purchasing this album some 28 years ago, but there it was. So I played it - three times, as often is suggested on this site.

Turns out it's actually a pretty decent album, although it probably came out about five years too late for the progressive heyday of the early 70's (not that Rundgren was ever much of a slave to fashion anyway). It must have been quite funny to see this on the record shelves next to some of the early Fear, Black Flag, and X recordings.

The quality of the record on the whole is a bit uneven, with "Hiroshima" being the one song I think could easily have been left off the album. Unlike most Rundgren tunes, this one doesn't seem to flow all that well. The guitar work is basically an uneven power-chord progression, punctuated occasionally with Oriental percussion and keyboard-type sounds. Rundgren and the young bassist Kasim Sulton alternate on vocals, which only serves to exacerbate the uneven delivery. The abrupt "nuclear explosion" at the end sounds more like a firecracker going off in a toilet.

The rest of the recording is quite interesting, even listening to it for (apparently) the first time nearly three decades after I paid $6 US for it (the price tag is still on the cover too).

The opening track, "Communion with the Sun", is prefaced by a short overture ("Mountain Top" and "Sunrise") by the late Bernard Hermann, composer of memorable film scores for Vertigo, Psycho, and Citizen Kane. The delivery is spirited and precise, with the harmonizing vocals of the four band members setting a solid tone for the rest of the album. Like several other songs on the album, the subject matter is the Sun ("Ra"), in this case a hippy-like ditty about communing with said Sun .

"Magic Dragon Theatre" is a typical Rundgren composition, with a circus-like delivery and lyrics that surely made more sense to him than they do to anyone else, then or now. I gather the song is about the spectacle of a stage show, complete with dancing girls, monkeys in top hats, and a freak parade. Sounds like Todd is reminiscing about getting wasted and going to the carnival (lol!). The intermittent wailing saxophone is an interesting touch.

"Jealousy" features drummer John "Willie" Wilcox on vocals and harmony guitar, but lack of harmony is basically what this song is about. Apparently someone's significant other grew green eyes, and the bloom is off the rose of that relationship.

"Eternal Love" finds Sulton again on vocals, and apparently Rundgren and the green- eyed monster made up.

"Sunburst Finish" has some really interesting vocals, as keyboardist Roger Powell, Sulton, and Rundgren alternate on the lyrics throughout. The lyrics themselves are pure bong-water - "traveling down the sandy track, compass in hand guitar on my back, trying to find the secret truth inside the pyramid", but the drums are crisp, Rundgren's guitar work is actually pretty upbeat and strong, and the song as a whole is a solid close to the first side of the album.

The final cut on Side B is the 18:24 tome "Singring and the Glass Guitar", the most ambitious effort on the album. Sound engineer John Holbrook gets all hopped up on helium and delivers some kind of Tolkienish spoken-word tale about a guy who's frolicking around in a Land called Honalee and.wait, wrong story. Anyway, the guy is wandering around looking for these golden keys that will unlock a glass guitar so he can smash it and release the "spirit of harmony". If it hadn't been written in 1977 I'd have sworn this was a half-decent plot for a cutout-bin Playstation game. The music itself is very good though, with intermittent solos and extended play by each instrument, along with some fairly strident but aggressive vocals by all four band members. It's a very well-constructed song which, if not taken too seriously, is well worth 18-plus minutes of your life.

All told, this has to be a four star album simply because it represents the only true attempt the venerable Todd Rundgren makes at employing an actual band, as opposed to a group of backing musicians. This in itself makes it an excellent addition to any prog music collection. The overall quality of the music suffers somewhat as a result of Rundgren's democratic approach perhaps, but the variety of sounds is something he would never subsequently achieve on his own. Worth a listen, and who knows - you may already have it and were too busy living in the 70's to remember!

peace

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Send comments to ClemofNazareth (BETA) | Report this review (#61974) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Review by Atavachron
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Todd Rundgren had in fact been an important pioneer in stateside progressive rock at a time when such a thing didn't really exist outside of Zappa and a few scattered bands, and his musical collective Utopia provided a platform for a wider prog palette. Unfortunately their third, 'RA', tends to disappoint save a few good moments here and there. Indulgent, over-produced and somewhat clumsy, the album is filled with layers of operatic vocals, mid-70s pomp-rock and American absurdities and sounds like an ill-prepared meeting of Queen, BOC and the Beatles jamming at Frank Zappa's birthday party, waddling along with college hijinks and enthusiasm. Rundgren's stable of Roger Powell (synths), Kasim Sulton (bass), and John Wilcox (drums) is a decent bunch and the first four tracks are strung together with big vocals and good energy, closing the first half with some old-fashioned riff rock in 'Sunburst Finish'. The eyebrow-raising 'Hiroshima' attempts politics but only embarrasses with naivite and ethnic slurs. Finishing is the 18-minute fable 'Singring and the Glass Guitar-An Electrified Fairy Tale', a failed attempt at epic theater and though vain and unimportant, this release may have some mild interest for prog enthusiasts.

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Send comments to Atavachron (BETA) | Report this review (#136303) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Review by Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
4 stars On Utopia's second studio album (third overall), they settled in with their permanent lineup, somewhat stripped down from the keyboard heavy band of the first two. Todd Rungren is there, of course, along with John Wilcox on drums and Roger Powell on keys. And here they have added singer/bassist Kasim Sultan.

While the album does have a hefty helping of good prog, there is also a hint of the pop direction they would veer towards in the very near future. Jealousy is a straight ahead rocker, with a single prog sounding riff at the start of each verse and chorus. Eternal Love is a fairly straight love ballad, that sounds a bit like a Queen arrangement (after they had forsaken their progressive roots).

The two purely prog songs are just great. Communion With The Sun opens with a short Bernard Hermann overture before breaking into the speldor of the song itself. Sunburst Finish (a guitar reference), closes the album with an equally proggy piece.

Magic Dragon Theater is a bit silly, but not bad, sort of a crossover prog song. Hiroshima, a heavy handed song about the use of the atomic bomb, features some wonderful screaming solos from Rundgren and Powell.

The album closes with the eighteen minute Singring And The Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairytale). While this prog epic is very well done, the simplistic tale makes it difficult to listen to repeatedly.

On the next album, Oops, Wrong Planet, Utopia took another step away from progressive music (other than to play the older songs in concert). Too bad.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#383289) | Review Permalink
Posted Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review by Slartibartfast
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars There are two Todd Rundgren albums that I find essential to my collection and would have no hesitation recommending to any prog rock fan. The first being of course Utopia and the second RA with Initiation coming in a close third.

You may know Todd from his hits, but when he decided to dabble in progressive rock music, he jumped in whole heartedly.

As you might guess from the cover art and album title, there is a bit of a sun theme going on here. It gets off to dramatic start with Mountaintop And Sunrise / Communion With The Sun. "love is one" dedicated to Ra, of course. Has all of the blazing guitar and synthesizers that endeared the first Utopia album to me.

Magic Dragon Theater breaks off from the sun theme and introduces a little humor. Reasonably complex short tune.

The next two have more commercial potential and are sort of polar opposites: Jealously and Eternal Love. I don't know if the former charted, but if not it should have.

Side one of the original album returns to the Egyptian/sun theme fininishing it up with a Sunburst Finish. Back into solid prog territory with this one.

Side two kicks off with a different type of sun: Hiroshima. A remeberance of an event that wasn't the U.S.'s best moments. "God God is on our side, he placed the power in our hands to teach the yellow peril how to make an oven."

Singring And The Glass Guitar wraps up the album clocking in at whopping 18 plus minutes (hey look, it's a fairytale.) Sort of a tongue in cheek fun epic.

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Send comments to Slartibartfast (BETA) | Report this review (#445530) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review by stefro
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Coming three years after the release of the 1974's 'Todd Rundgren's Utopia', 'Ra' was the final full-blown progressive rock record from the singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer's cult side project. After the release of the concert album 'Another Live', Utopia would begin to mine a streamlined, radio-friendly pop sound, partly because of the advent of punk-rock but also as a result of Rundgren's seemingly never-ending quest to explore as many styles and genre's as possible. As a result, Utopia's prog-rock phase was brief, yet it was also, at times, singularly brilliant. Whilst 'Todd Rundgren's Utopia' featured a mixture of live and studio tracks that culminated with the extraordinary thirty-minute epic 'The Ikon', 'Ra' feature's all studio recordings and a collection of shorter tracks that sport a slight pop edge yet remain deeply symphonic in their construction. The key piece here, however, is the album's centrepiece, the eighteen-minute multi-part suite 'Singring & The Glass Guitar', a gleaming concoction of slinky synths, soaring guitars and expertly-delivered CSNY-style harmonies that doesn't quite match the incredible heights of 'The Ikon' but still comes pretty damn close. Rundgren(guitar, vocals) is here augmented by Roger Powell(keyboards), Kasim Sulton(bass) and John Wilcox(drums), each of whom are given scope to flex their considerable talents, placing 'Ra' in that indulgent category of prog-rock albums that delight fans of the genre yet frustrate and annoy non-believers. The style has a futuristic edge, as neon-tinged keyboards shimmer under a haze of intricate instrumentation, Rundgren giving the album a rich and deeply-layered sound quality that leaps from the speakers, making for an almost cinematic musical experience. As an overall album, 'Ra' is a complex and colourful affair, full of both catchy melodies and dazzling technical displays and a worthy successor to the group's excellent debut. Its a pity that only two studio albums were made under the Utopia moniker, though with such a restless and inventive spirit as Todd Rundgren at the helm it's no real surprise. Fortunately for us, both albums feature a dynamic and highly inventive array of progressive rock textures, with fans of the genre's 1970's output in for a real feast for the ears. STEFAN TURNER, STOKE NEWINGTON, 2012

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Send comments to stefro (BETA) | Report this review (#862638) | Review Permalink
Posted Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Latest members reviews

4 stars Their first full album of all studio tracks, Utopia's RA is very eclectic in mood and style, with the nice ballad "Eternal Love", the angry "Jealousy", the Beatles-like psychedelia of "Magic Dragon Theatre", the serious band workouts "Communion With the Sun" and "Sunburst Finish", the not-so-s ... (read more)

Report this review (#580215) | Posted by 7headedchicken | Friday, December 02, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars A true ProG concept album, produced by Todd Rundgren, based on the supreme powers of the sun. Cool right? Along with solid performances by the band, the album RA, features plenty of unique guitar solos performed by none other but the "Runt" himself. All the songs on this 1977 release are stron ... (read more)

Report this review (#126483) | Posted by Wishbone Ash | Thursday, June 21, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars Just listening to this, so i looked up the reviews to see what others thought. This has always been one of my favourite Todd/Utopia albums and although patchy in parts features some his great guitar work. The opener is a lift from soundtrack composer Bernard Hermann. I believe it's from the ST ... (read more)

Report this review (#63330) | Posted by Billymac | Thursday, January 05, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars One of the last, finest prog albums from -70's. Lovely hippiestyle with poppish influence from TR. Very pleasant and i find it a masterpiece. First song is very strong, masterful guitarwork from Todd Rundgren, amazing keyboards, and stunning drums. Oh. its instrumental (mostly) . 10/10 Magic ... (read more)

Report this review (#62678) | Posted by | Sunday, January 01, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This album has maybe the greatest and most entertaining song ever: Singring and the glass guitar. Also Hiroshima is a wonderful great song. and great guitairing guaranteed! This album deserves 4.5stars so ->5 =) Todd Rundgren used to fill the lp:s so song quality may vary but this is a great ... (read more)

Report this review (#57004) | Posted by | Saturday, November 19, 2005 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This album should be bought for Side 2 alone! "Hiroshima" and "The Glass Guitar" are both progressive/art rock classics, with immensely poetic, creative lyrics, and incredible vocal and instrumental works. Sure, it's not as symphonic as Todd Rundgen's Utopia, the premire album of Utopia, since th ... (read more)

Report this review (#26496) | Posted by | Thursday, April 28, 2005 | Review Permanlink

2 stars I don't think this album has stood the test of time. The American's were not doing a really good job with progressive rock in the late seventies - maybe Kansas had a few flashes of inspiration - but generally it was a European thing. Just as the first wave of progressive rock was starting to be ecli ... (read more)

Report this review (#26488) | Posted by | Saturday, January 10, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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