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Todd Rundgren - Runt CD (album) cover


Todd Rundgren


Crossover Prog

3.13 | 57 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars I apologize for my bias in advance. Truth is, this album holds special meaning for me because its release coincides with my own release from the home I grew up in. At the still-tender age of twenty I moved into my very own efficiency apartment located a mere three blocks from the NTSU campus in Denton, Texas. The local independent record vendor was conveniently located in a storefront on my way to and from my classes and on one of my initial visits I spotted none other than beanpole Todd gazing wanly into my face, begging me to take him home to my turntable. Being a huge fan of the man's impressive work with his previous band, Nazz, I didn't hesitate for a second to part with a portion of my paltry parental allowance and invite "Runt" to become part of my personal renaissance.

Mr. Rundgren obviously adhered to the philosophy of "if you don't like the way others are doing it, do it yourself" because, other than the rhythm sections, it's all Todd and that in itself was quite innovative for 1970. That self-reliant attitude accounts for a certain quaint "looseness" that pervades this debut but that only contributes to its charm. The first half is pretty standard-for-the-era fare but the second half has much more of a prog flavor.

Rundgren starts things off with a heavy dose of lazy electric blues, not all that different from what Nazz did so well. Yet "Broke Down and Busted" still wends its way through a somewhat unconventional chord progression for that genre and the trio of Todd & the Hunt brothers turn in a respectable impression of Cream during the spirited instrumental sections, especially during the extended fadeout. "Believe in Me" is a short-lived piano ballad that reveals his affection for traditional songwriting and "We Got to Get You a Woman" is the bright, up tempo pop ditty that climbed into the crowded Top 20 singles charts and garnered him some much-needed attention early on. "Who's That Man" is a straight-ahead rocker where he gets to unleash some fiery guitar licks and his clever sense of humor. Here he warns a former lover named Maryanne that her new beau is, among other dubious things, "a black brother, an unwed mother/a flag-waver and a rock & roll raver/a hippie killer, an offshore driller/the new messiah and a habitual liar."

On "Once Burned" Todd enlists the capable talents of Rick Danko and Levon Helm (of The Band) to provide bass and drums but it's just another brief, bluesy torch song that barely lasts two minutes. After a mysterious, strumming intro "Devil's Bite" crashes in with a timely, harder edge to get the locomotive back on the rails and serves as a fine example of Rundgren's propensity for riff-based rock. The furious multiple guitar onslaught in the middle is exhilarating and the sharply-pointed words are a warning to his personal demon to stay out of his way. "I knew some day you'd be along/swingin' your tail and singin' a dead man's song/just when things get good you want your take/but you're wrong/'cause I'm leaving this shell and I'm movin' on," he announces defiantly.

Just when you think you've got a bead on what Todd is about, along comes the quirky modern jazz/rock of "I'm in the Clique." After an eerie, ghost-like beginning the exquisite drums of jazz legend Bobby Moses joined with bassist John Miller and the electric piano of Mark Klingman drive this eclectic piece like a finely-tuned gas engine. Rundgren's lyrical assessment of the snobby New York "in-crowd," delivered in a delicious, tongue-in-cheek monotone is not to be missed. "Maybe I could give you advice/but what can I say to you?/some people get it together/and some people never do/just try and get your foot in the door/and maybe, with a little luck, you may/also be in a position/to look down your nose on somebody someday," he sings sarcastically. Both Moses and Miller take advantage of the opportunity to solo their skills during this number. Next is the appropriately titled "There Are No Words," a slice of vocal experimentation that predates those later undertaken by the likes of David Crosby. Very soothing and cool.

What follows is a lively medley of three songs that work together incredibly well. After a funny, overwrought doo-wop intro "Baby, Let's Swing" takes over and glides. It's a not-so-subtle tribute to Laura Nyro's contemporary style of composing that segues seamlessly into "The Last Thing You Said" where the beat gets stronger and showcases the diligent work Todd put into systematically stacking his own harmony vocals. By the time "Don't Tie My Hands" enters the fray the music has grown into a driving force of nature that patiently builds up to a chorale climax that still moves me to this day. It may not be prog but I don't care. Good is good. So sue me. The longest tune is the finale, "Birthday Carol." It's structured in a very progressive way, much like his fabulous "A Beautiful Song" was that appeared on the classic Nazz Nazz LP. Since he takes credit for all instrumentation other than what is specified in the liner notes, the string quartet opening shows yet another aspect of Todd's considerable abilities. The ensuing shuffle groove provided by the rhythm section of Don Ferris and Mickey Brook lays down a firm foundation for Rundgren to dazzle on the guitar, backed by his own horn section. Abruptly the track drops into a quieter, piano-based interlude that is added to eventually with acoustic guitar and brass before the whole band returns in full force. Todd's somber string quartet closes the tune with a whisper.

Todd Rundgren showed all the world with this debut that he wasn't going to be restricted to creating any particular kind of music or coerced into developing a commercial, "sellable" image as he was while spearheading Nazz. Manager Albert Grossman and his fledgling Bearsville record label believed in nurturing the immense potential that Todd possessed and the result is this wonderful array of songs and musical influences that characterize this album. Some of it is predictably dated and it's far from being the tightest record you've ever heard but the heart and soul that this newly-unfettered artist poured into the project is genuine and refreshing compared to so much of the over-produced muzak that our ears are subjected to all too often. And, as I explained earlier, it will always represent freedom to me. 3.5 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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