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

TODD RUNDGREN'S UTOPIA

Utopia

 

Eclectic Prog

4.14 | 258 ratings

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Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This album is one of the most astonishing and peculiar prog efforts to come out of the USA: prolific and eclectic rock musician/writer/producer Tood Rundgren really nailed it when he became interested and obsessed with prog rock. "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" is a solid exposure to the straight pompous side of symphonic prog, with a prominent presence of keyboards (two in charge of piano, organ, clavinet and synthesizers plus a third one exclusively devoted to synthesizers), yet having a guitar that makes itself quite noticed. Rundgren was always grandiose in his musical endeavors, and during his age of prog fascination, the stage was set for yet another step toward this direction in his own musical journey. Meanwhile, the rhythm duo states a magnetic and powerful delivery of the complex tempo shifts and mood variations. Sonically speaking, Utopia sounds like a combination of two power-trios: one keyboard-based and other guitar-based. Stylistically speaking, the sound is based on a dynamic confluence of symphonic, heavy prog, prog-fusion and psychedelia-tinged space-rock: eclectic to the end from the very beginning. The opener 'Utopia Theme' is a surprising example of majestic combination of Return to Forever, early Nektar and complex bluesy hard rock, even anticipating some of the textures elaborated a few months later in Yes' "Relayer". 'Freak Parade' makes another disparate but again successful combination: symphonic melodic schemes and Zappaesque moods. There are certain circus and burlesque vibrations in some relevant melodic developments, which makes sense with the inclusion of Emersonian piano and synth flourishes. There are other calmer passages in which Rundgren states a jazzy approach to his guitar soloing, properly complemented by the electric piano. The Zappa thing is highlighted when the jazzy factor turns to a funky-friendly structure for the sung portion. 'Freedom Fighters' is the shortest track in the album. Catchy and stuck with a verse- chorus structure, it definitely preserves the album's prog essence quite efficiently, if only slightly watered by glam-rock dewdrops: the airs of heavy rock brought in by the guitar state a proper counterpoint to this particular tendency. This is only the album's A-side so far: 28 long minutes of pure, consistent prog rock explosion. The B-side is occupied by the 30 minute long 'The Ikon'. Of course, it is no surprise, since Rundgren was very akin to the idea of pushing the boundaries of the vinyl format. 'The Ikon' alone comprises the album's eclectic drive and energy, with lots of room for soloing (mainly, the keyboardists, with a special mention to the distorted electric piano that almost emulates a Hammond organ!). This song has three distinct sung sections, with the long instrumental passages serving as respective preludes and/or interludes. Some will remind you of an ELP'ed Return to Forever, other sections will remind you of Wakeman-era Yes, others will shock you with a vibrant confluence of Nektar and Pink Floyd, others will surprise you with its mixture of synth-based krautrock and standardized symphonic prog. The third sung section is my personal fave: it makes an interesting prog approach to soul music, even portraying a slight Broadway mood. The instrumental portion that follows is a very interesting one: it alternates fusion, country flavors, Celtic colors and Focus-like dialogues of piano and lead guitar. The finale retakes the sung portions' motifs combined through the opening motif's reprise. In conclusion: "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" is a major prog asset in any good prog collection. Rundgren did not just catch a formula: he and his fellow band members nailed the spirit.
Cesar Inca | 4/5 |

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