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UTOPIA

Eclectic Prog • United States


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Utopia biography
Formed in 1973 in New York, USA - Disbanded in 1986 - Reunited briefly in 1992 - Reformed in 2011

UTOPIA was initially an ensemble, formed by Todd RUNDGREN as a counter-point to his solo work. Various musicians came and went, but the main stays of the band were Roger POWELL (keyboards), Kasim SULTON (bass), and John "Willie" WILCOX (drums), and of course TODD himself handling the guitar work, all four members supplied both lead and harmony vocals.

Their first album "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" consisted of only four tracks! This was at the height of prog/fusion, and so the quality of musicianship was undeniably high. Between this and "Ra", the line-up was amended, until the four members noted were "the band". Further albums were forthcoming, with a more democratic look to the songwriting credits, but it was always Todd's band. Lead guitar, and most of the lead vocals, plus the major chunk of songwriting were his, this was not to the detriment of the other members, but the boss was always pre-eminent.

For your further listening pleasure, find the following albums. "Another Live", "Oops! Wrong Planet", "Adventures In Utopia", "Deface The Music", and "Swing To The Right". You may find the last couple too "poppy", but you have to realise that Todd Rundgren has always been, and still is, one of the best writers of the infamous "three minute ditty". However, if your taste is for ten-thirty minute, multi-part epics, you won't find many better than on the first two quoted albums.

Take half an hour out of your day, and listen to "The Ikon", the track which takes up the entire second side on the vinyl version of "Todd Rundgren's Utopia", I guarantee you will come away impressed.

: : : Ian Yeldham, SPAIN : : :

See also: WiKi

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UTOPIA discography


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UTOPIA top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.14 | 268 ratings
Todd Rundgren's Utopia
1974
3.67 | 118 ratings
Ra
1977
3.15 | 54 ratings
Oops ! Wrong Planet
1977
3.25 | 43 ratings
Adventures In Utopia
1980
2.87 | 37 ratings
Deface The Music
1980
2.10 | 31 ratings
Swing To The Right
1982
2.95 | 32 ratings
Utopia
1982
2.44 | 32 ratings
Oblivion
1983
2.90 | 22 ratings
POV
1985
3.00 | 5 ratings
Disco Jets
2012

UTOPIA Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.18 | 43 ratings
Another Live
1975
3.53 | 16 ratings
Redux '92 Live In Japan
1993
3.07 | 8 ratings
Last of the New Wave Riders
2003
5.00 | 3 ratings
Live at the Electric Ballroom, Milwaukee, 23rd October 1978
2014
4.00 | 6 ratings
Live At The Chicago Theater
2019

UTOPIA Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

UTOPIA Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

1.75 | 17 ratings
Trivia
1986
2.35 | 15 ratings
Anthology (1974-1985)
1989
3.98 | 11 ratings
City in My Head
1999
3.00 | 2 ratings
Benefit for Moogy Klingman - Live from Peekskill and New York City
2020

UTOPIA Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

UTOPIA Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Todd Rundgren's Utopia by UTOPIA album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.14 | 268 ratings

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Todd Rundgren's Utopia
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by Squire Jaco

4 stars I'm an avid prog rock fan, but I also have a pretty extensive collection of Todd, whose music most may view as "eclectic" if nothing else - dabbling at times in pop, prog, electronica, computer-based effects, etc. So if you never spent the time to get to know the Todd beyond his Carole King-like ballads, then you might have missed some pretty cool music of his. (You also would have missed some not-so-great stuff in and around, but we won't go into that here;-)

He was perhaps at his proggiest in 1974 and 1975 when he gave us "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" and followed it up with his "Initiation" album (which I've already gone on record as promoting as a personal "Top 5" album). But this Utopia album is different from all of the subsequent Utopia albums in one major way: the personnel that comprised all subsequent studio albums of the prog-pop Utopia were Todd, Kasim Sultan (bass), Roger Powell (keys), and John Wilcox (drums), while this one-off first Utopia album consisted of Todd, John Siegler (bass), Kevin Ellman (drums), and THREE keyboardists: Moogy Klingman, Ralph Schuckett, and Jean-Yves "M. Frog" Labat. Different sound and different musical focus.

The bottom line here is that this album is really something special for prog fans. The opener, "Utopia Theme", was recorded live in Atlanta, and really is superb for all of its 14 minutes, featuring GREAT guitars (by TR), synths, vocals, melodies, and mystical lyrics. The remainder of the album is studio recorded. The 10-minute "Freak Parade" begins with a great vibe, and ends with the solo bass line fading out. In between, you get a little Zappa-like quirkiness - a bit weird for me in places, but it does hold together pretty well. "Freedom Fighters" is not quite as "poppy" as some reviewers might have you believe. Yeah, it's written in 4/4 time and only lasts about 4 minutes, but it's also a pretty good song. And you kind of need that before the 30-minute-long album closer "The Ikon". This cut is classic prog that runs the gamut from symphonic to spacey (think "Treatise on Cosmic Fire" in spots), to jazz fusion, to Western hoedown! Lots of soloing and jamming combined with clever transitions to new sections.

If you like adventure and a plethora of keyboards in your prog diet, this first unique Utopia album is a great way to escape to musical nirvana. Recommended.

4-1/2 stars

 Benefit for Moogy Klingman - Live from Peekskill and New York City by UTOPIA album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2020
3.00 | 2 ratings

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Benefit for Moogy Klingman - Live from Peekskill and New York City
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

3 stars In 2011 Mark 'Moogy' Klingman was seriously ill (he would pass away later that year) and his medical bills were mounting up. Todd Rundgren decided to help out his old friend and bandmate, and reformed Todd Rundgren's Utopia to put on a show to raise funds. Of the six people who played on the debut album back in 1974 ,only Jean-Yves Labat was missing, his place on keyboards being taken by Kasim Sulton so they still had the three-keyboard line-up of the debut, plus four singers. This is a six-disc set, with two CDs of this show and two from later the same year, by which time Moogy had passed. There are also two DVDs with the set comprising the two gigs, plus some band interviews, but this review is just for the audio.

To be fair, when a large disc set like this is produced it tend to be expensive, obviously, so it is only real fans who are likely to purchase it, but is it worth the effort? Well, in the first place it is a scarce recording so there are going to be some who just have to have this, but for me the vocals on the first two discs (and consequently the first DVD I expect), just aren't strong enough. Hearing Moogy sing his most famous song, "(You Got to Have) Friends" is quite painful, but I do wonder how many people realise that he wrote one of the most important songs for Bette Midler, and took over as her musical director after the departure of Barry Manilow, plus as well as being in Utopia, Moogy played on ten Rundgren solo albums. The first gig on this set was the first time the five members of the original line-up had played together in more than thirty years, and I am not sure how much rehearsal time had been allocated, but it wasn't enough. The audience were having a great time, as were the band, but hearing it now some nine years after the event I cannot say it is something I am likely to play again as it is ropey and too disjointed.

By the time of the third and fourth discs the band was now in a far better place, with the loss of the backing singers and without distractions, and they had obviously had more time together. Again, they played all of the debut album, plus songs from others, but again it does not really feel quite right to me. My preference has always been the later period Utopia, and when comparing this against the 7-disc set which is 'Last of the New Wave Riders', released in 2003, there really is no comparison in my mind. That set, alongside Todd's own 'Can't Stop Running' 6-disc set released the same year, are the ones to get to really enjoy the master and his band in concert. This is okay, and I am sure fans of the Utopia are going to rush out and get this, but having listened to it all the way through a few times for review, I'll probably stick to the aforementioned sets for pure listening pleasure.

 Live At The Chicago Theater by UTOPIA album cover Live, 2019
4.00 | 6 ratings

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Live At The Chicago Theater
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

4 stars Reverting back to the original name for the band, and also down to the quartet format which they used from the late Seventies through to when they original disbanded, here we have Utopia on fine form. Todd Rundgren (lead guitar, lead vocals) again has John "Willie" Wilcox '(drums, percussion, lead vocals) and Kasim Sulton (bass, lead vocals) close to hand, with just keyboard player Gil Assayas being new to the band. This reminds me so much of the 'bootleg' albums released some 15 years ago for both Todd and for Utopia, with the latter being the 7-disc set 'Last of the New Wave Riders' which obviously hadn't been retouched or re-recorded and was so much better for it. Like many I have followed Todd's career with great interest for many years and consider myself to be incredibly lucky to be present when he made a small club appearance in New Zealand some years back with a put-up band. He was playing blues that night, but anything he does is simply magical.

A quick check down the track-listing and I was smiling even before this hit the player. Any set which includes the mighty 'Trapped' is always going to find favour with me, and 'Love In Action' is just putting the icing on the cake, but there are 24 songs on this two-hour long set so there is plenty here for everyone. Todd may be 70 years old, but that is no reason at all to slow down, and he provides great guitar and his voice is still surprisingly strong, and if it cracks here and there who cares? Just adds to the honesty. He may not hit the high notes with as much oomph as he used to, but the crowd lapped it up. Three of the guys hadn't hit the stage as Utopia since the early 90's, and haven't recorded together in more than 30 years, so many never expected to see this ever happen, and the ones who were that night had a blast. To get the full experience fans are going to have to raid the piggy banks, as this has been released as a deluxe 4-disc digipack including a Blu-Ray, DVD and 2 CDs. Utopia are back!

 Todd Rundgren's Utopia by UTOPIA album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.14 | 268 ratings

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Todd Rundgren's Utopia
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by WFV

4 stars Prog pomp at it's most preposterous.

This album is in your face, no holds barred prog. It's like Rundgren and his crew are literally trying to break new ground with their instrumental attack, but to my ears they only dig themselves deeper in the hole of their own creation. I'm no Rundgren fanatic, in fact I'm really only familiar with Something/Anything, and of course Bang the Drum all day. So I've let him sit, marinating, for the right time to get acquainted. I've heard Todd referred to as a rock and roll maverick, which I like the sound of.

Still It's hard for me to get over judging him based on hearing Hello It's Me in the dentist office when I was ten or so. One listen to that song and it was obvious to me Todd is a pop master - that melody always stuck with me after thirty years. Of course it's not prog so I really want to judge his material on it's own merits without bias.

I'm not sure of his ambitions as a progster though. I think this album embodies half of what prog was developed upon - grandeur. A sound bigger than a sextet. The first track is really good prog, the second Freak Parade is a highlight for me, to me it sounds like a solid Frank Zappa song from that period with Todd Rundgren on vocals. Freedom Fighter is just there and the Ikon is a manufactured overblown epic that rivals any other prog song in pomp factor. I can definitely see how some out there think it is the greatest epic in history but I think it's required prog listening albeit an exercise in over the top.

The definition of a three star album for me in my collection, but required listening at some point for any serious prog fan out there. Obviously Todd Rundgren is a big name in the music biz and that lends legitimacy to this record that many one off prog albums don't have.

 Ra by UTOPIA album cover Studio Album, 1977
3.67 | 118 ratings

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Ra
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by Walkscore

2 stars Wasted Potential. Epic Ruined.

This album should have been great. It begins with a great opening track "Mountaintop and Sunrise: Communion with the Sun", a classic late-1970s progressive rock song. It ends with an 18-minute epic. There are some great guitar solos, and some excellent musical sections. However, the album falls flat, badly. First of all, the ruined epic: On top of what would have been a good-to-excellent composition, Rundgren adds a narrator telling the tale of the main character in a FAKE Scottish accent (on "Singring and the Glass Guitar"). It is unlistenable (except perhaps once, or for a good laugh at a party!). Only about seven minutes of music from this 18-minute epic are NOT ruined by this narration. This was totally unnecessary, as the listener can easily get enough of the story from the regular lyrics (and/or Rundgren could have simply typed the story on the album). AND, it is a really unintelligent story in the first place. Between the opener and the closer are a collection of tunes that border on cheesy for different reasons. Some are just sappy ("Eternal Love"), others are over the top silly ("Hiroshima") while the rest are just not that musical. It is almost as if Rundgren decided to sabotage this album out of spite or something. At the very least, the result is that there is only about 15 minutes of decent music on this 45-minute album (the opener, and parts of the other tunes). Really disappointing waste of great potential. I give this album 3.3 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates as low 2 PA stars.

 Another Live  by UTOPIA album cover Live, 1975
3.18 | 43 ratings

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Another Live
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by Walkscore

3 stars Decent, but not in the same league as the debut.

After recording their first album (Todd Rungren's Utopia), Frog Labat left the band, so Rundgren recruited Roger Powell to play the synths, and Powell became an important force in the band from that point on (and Moogy would leave after this album, a big loss). This album reflects tunes they played on the tour, which no longer included their amazing epic, "The Ikon", because it was too hard for the band to play live! (Todd practiced the band to perfection in the studio when recording the debut, explaining how tight that album is. However, The Ikon is found on the Ambassador Theatre 1974 Live Album). The songs here are good, but not in the same league as TR's Utopia. They are easier and definitely more accessible. Saying this, this music is still progressive rock, at least the first half of it. "Another Life", "The Seven Rays", and "The Wheel" are on the first side and are the best tracks along with "Mister Triscuits" (which is where Powell gets to shine). All of these are original tunes first appearing on this album. On the second side, the band also played "Heavy Metal Kids" from Rundgren's solo album 'Todd', "Just One Victory" from the solo album "A Wizard A True Star", and the Move/ELO single "Do Ya". Each of these tracks on side 2 is just OK. Indeed, when I play this album, I only ever put on side 1. Rundgren's vocals on Do Ya in particular are rough, and it is not clear why he would even release it (other than he liked to play it, which is fine I guess, but it doesn't add to this collection). While this is a lot better than all the Utopia albums that would subsequently follow, it is a huge disappointment compared to the amazing debt Utopia album (but of course, expectations were going to be huge after that one, so perhaps this is not a fair statement). On the whole, I give this album 6.6 out of 10 on my 10-point scale, which translates to mid 3 PA stars.

 Todd Rundgren's Utopia by UTOPIA album cover Studio Album, 1974
4.14 | 268 ratings

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Todd Rundgren's Utopia
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by Walkscore

5 stars Totally Essential. The Best Utopia/Rundgren Album!

Unlike the Utopia albums that would follow, it is clear that a ton of love, time, and devotion went into writing this music and making this album. The compositions are so intricate and well worked-out, and the playing is so tight. It is only on this album that you have such top-notch musicianship. Unfortunately, Moogy Klingman - whose virtuoso keyboard work is one of this album's characteristics - would leave, as would Frog Labat on synthesizers. Listening to the Utopia catalogue, it seems that Rundgren's energy just got zapped with each new project. But it is here in full force. This album is not only Rundgren's best overall, but it contains his -and Utopia's- best-ever piece, "The Ikon". This is a 30-minute piece of music that never gets boring. Indeed, it is fast-paced, laced with excellent solos, and lots of dynamics. Unlike other long tunes, this one actually functions as one single piece of music (which is difficult to write) and not a collection of songs strung together. There are primary, secondary and tertiary themes, which come and go and vie with one another at different points in the composition, including the ending. It is so complex and difficult to play that Utopia (with different members once they began touring, after Klingman left) rarely ever played it (only on their 1974 tour). In addition to this, the album contains the band's theme song, recorded live in Atlanta: "Utopia". This is one of progressive rock's essential anthems. Finally, the album contains a really fantastic piece "Freak Parade", a quirky 10-minute piece that mixes jazz fusion, military marching music, electric funk, and lyrically a philosophical treatise on what it means to be a 'freak'. These three compositions are all 10/10, a feat that would never be repeated in Rundgren's career. The only lesser song on this collection is the very short "Freedom Fighters", which interestingly is one song on the album that the maintream rock critics (eg Rolling Stone, AllMusic) seem to really like, probably because it sounds like any other of Rundgren's solo songs. But it is just a normal rock song, nowhere in the same league as the rest of the album. This was recorded around the same time as Todd recorded his best solo album ('A Wizard, A True Star') but that album comes across as fragmented and more of a collage of (brilliant) snippets, while this album is a symphony. Make sure you listen to this album multiple times, as it is quite dense, and so will seem inaccessible at first. But on multiple listens the fullsome musiciality becomes clearer, and you will find the effort worth it. I give this 9.6 out of 10 on my 10-point scale.

 Deface The Music by UTOPIA album cover Studio Album, 1980
2.87 | 37 ratings

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Deface The Music
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by CassandraLeo

5 stars

This album seems to be either loved or hated, with little middle ground. Count me in the "love" category. This album had the severe misfortune of being released around the time of John Lennon's assassination, which doomed it to commercial failure, but in musical terms it rivals the Rutles as being as superb a Beatles pastiche as has ever been assembled; as evidence, Rundgren submitted the lead-off track, "I Just Want to Touch You", for the soundtrack of the film Roadie, and it was rejected because the film's producers were afraid of getting sued due to its strong similarity to the Beatles' music.

The album effectively sounds like a 1980-era update of the Beatles' sound, and it goes roughly through the band's career, with the opening song sounding a lot like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There" and the closing track having obvious similarities to "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "I Am the Walrus". It's fun to pick out all the musical references to the Beatles' catalogue, with "Feel Too Good" seeming a bit like "Getting Better" and "All Smiles" being awfully reminiscent of "Michelle", but the songs are enjoyable on their own merits even without the spot-the-Beatles-reference game. They're simply great pop songs in their own right. The lyrics often veer more towards the side of parody, but it's certainly on the affectionate side; an album that mimics the Beatles this well couldn't have been recorded without significant love for the source material.

The album's only real weakness for me comes on the "Eleanor Rigby" pastiche "Life Goes On", which suffers from using a synthesizer rather than an actual string quartet to replicate the original song's string arrangement. If this album had been recorded today, using a synthesizer might have been less of a problem, but the synthesizers of the early 1980s were not particularly great at producing the sounds of string instruments. Other than that, I have no complaints with this record. Rundgren and company don't do dead-on Beatles impersonations vocally like the Rutles did, but that's fine; they're capable singers in their own right, and the album's vocal harmonies sound great.

One does, of course, end up wondering how much this belongs in a prog collection, and the answer ends up being "it depends on the listener". The Beatles are, of course, one of the most important precursors to prog music, and thus many prog aficionados will end up enjoying them. Whether a listener will enjoy this record mostly comes down to whether they will enjoy an affectionate parody of/tribute to them or not. That's obviously a bit subjective, but as far as Beatles parody-tributes go, I can only place the Rutles in the same league, so I can't help giving it anything but the full five-star rating.

 Last of the New Wave Riders by UTOPIA album cover Live, 2003
3.07 | 8 ratings

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Last of the New Wave Riders
Utopia Eclectic Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Honorary Reviewer

4 stars As with Todd's 'Can't Stop Running' boxed set, this is another collection of albums that have previously only been available as very expensive Japanese imports. Four albums, seven CDs, the set may be basic with no sleeve notes as such (and again, as on the other set, one of the albums has no dates) but this is excellent value for the Todd fan. The first CD (and the only single CD set) is 'Oblivion Tour', which was recorded surprisingly enough on the Oblivion Tour. This is the CD that has no details (but probably has the best sound), but would have probably been recorded in 1984. Utopia knew what was expected of them by now and Todd obviously relished being in a band, although he still played the rock god to the hilt. With harmony vocals in abundance Utopia do manage to come across sometimes as if they have been listening to too much Styx but that band never had the depth of musical ideas as these guys. Only "Trapped" and "Love Is The Answer" are sole Todd compositions, as Utopia were very much a band and to my ears it is the song that gives title to this boxed set that is the stand out ? a great song packed full of melodies and styles.

The second set is 'Deface The Music Tour' which was recorded in 1980, and this does suffer from some quite iffy sound levels, particularly at the beginning where on "I Just Want To Touch You" Utopia show that they can combine The Beatles with The Beach Boys to produce a sound that is fresh yet also belongs very firmly in the Sixties. But after all the discs are all marked as being bootlegs so the sound shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Twenty- five songs on this set, which obviously have never been touched up as Todd manages to slip in a few bum chords into "Where Does The World Go To Hide" but yet again the band seem to be enjoying themselves. The crowd are also having a blast, particularly when "Love Of The Common Man" makes an appearance. This album is probably one just for the fan due to the sound quality but is damn fine just the same.

The third set is the 'Oops! Wrong Planet Tour' from 1977 and opens with the complete intro tape as the band took the stage of "Mars, Bringer of War" from the Planets Suite (although here called "Intro" and strangely credited to the band?). Then it is straight into "Trapped", and the crowd going nuts. This is probably the rockiest album, and the one that I enjoyed playing most with songs such "When The Shit Hits The Fane ? International Feel" deserving a name check for the title alone, although Todd certainly gives his guitar some serious workout during this. Yet again Utopia show that there were few to live with them when they were on song, as they were this night in Chicago.

Lastly we come to 'Live In Tokyo '79' which features another lengthy workout of "The Seven Rays" (also on the third set) ? the guys have chance to stretch their musical wings and take off, but here they then slow down for Todd's ballad "Can We Still Be Friends". "Gangrene" means that the band don't slow down too much and show that this is a rock band that have so much pop melody and harmonies within all that they do that others pale into insignificance. With good sound, this is a great set to close with and with "Hello It's Me" also making an appearance this set is one that many fans will love.

Yet again a well-crafted collection of bootlegs that any fan of Todd Rundgren or Utopia will just have to have. Superb from start to finish.

Originally appeared in Feedback #78, April 2004

 Ra by UTOPIA album cover Studio Album, 1977
3.67 | 118 ratings

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Ra
Utopia Eclectic Prog

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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