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Todd Rundgren - Liars CD (album) cover

LIARS

Todd Rundgren

 

Crossover Prog

3.26 | 23 ratings

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CassandraLeo
4 stars Given that terms such as "alternative facts" and "post-truth" have now become regular parts of political writing, there probably has never been a more pertinent time to review an album such as Liars, which has only become more relevant with every single day since Todd Rundgren released it. It's commonly considered to be Rundgren's most satisfying post-'80s effort, and I can't particularly disagree with this consensus; while he has released plenty of other works in the latter half of his career which I enjoy greatly, this is the one to which I keep returning most often, and which still has the most to say about the world we live in.

The basic concept of the album, in case you haven't read it elsewhere, is "a paucity of truth" - as Rundgren describes in the liner notes, every single song is in some way about a form of dishonesty that we have accepted in our day-to-day lives. The forms of dishonesty Rundgren examines aren't always apparent on the surface, and in some cases the lyrics themselves are actually reflections of the dishonesty. This means that "Happy Anniversary" may initially read as a sincere expression of gender-essentialist views of relationships rather than the savage attack on such thinking that it actually is, and "Soul Brother" can be an attack on the watering down of the modern music industry while, simultaneously, implicitly criticising the often chauvinistic attitudes about race and gender that frequently accompany such attacks, particularly when made by white men such as himself - underneath the surface, the song cuts both ways, attacking the attitudes of not just performers and music executives (explicitly) but also audiences (implicitly).

So it goes throughout the album; some of the songs are more straightforward critiques (such as "Mammon", an outright attack on the love of money as the new American religion), while others require more examination to see where the dishonesty angle comes from. The album's thematic centrepieces, for me, are "Truth", where Rundgren ruminates on the difficulty of finding truth in the modern age; "Mammon", as previously mentioned; "God Said", where Rundgren ruminates on the deceptions of religious leaders; and "Liar", which is a venomous attack on terrorists, those who manipulate and incite them, and the United States' disproportionate response to them. I would consider all of these musical highlights as well, and also add "Stood Up", "Wondering", and "Living" to this list. There isn't a single song I would cut from the running order, though, despite the album's long running time (it's actually his longest studio album since Something/Anything?).

While the album is overall quite angry, Rundgren's trademark humour isn't completely absent. One of the funniest tracks is "Flaw", which contains Rundgren singing copious amounts of profanity in a completely over-the-top blue-eyed soul style, and if you can get past the venomous sarcasm, "Happy Anniversary" also becomes quite hilarious, particularly the way Rundgren sings the chorus. The album's melodies and production also have a warmth to them that help offset the anger. The album has aged incredibly well; all of its songs are extremely memorable and contain fantastic hooks, and most of them are every bit as relevant today as they were when they were written. Sadly, the ones that aren't relevant now will likely become so again in the near future.

The album probably isn't quite complicated enough to qualify as outright progressive rock, though most songs are also given arrangements that are too complicated to qualify as mere chorus-verse-bridge pop; several songs have lengthy instrumental sections that are often quite adventurous. Musically, overall the album comes across to me as a mixture of baroque pop, synth pop, and power pop (depending on the track); there's a wide range of stylistic diversity, but the whole album maintains a consistent atmosphere, which is helped by the fact that the entire album flows seamlessly (except in Japanese releases, where Rundgren excluded the connecting passages so that every song could stand on its own).

For the purposes of this site, I'm assigning this album four stars, but in terms of musical value, it's a clear five-star album that only becomes more important with every day. I would have little hesitation placing this up there with Rundgren's landmark '70s works like Something/Anything?, A Wizard, a True Star, Todd, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, and Initiation; I've gotten that much enjoyment out of it, and to be honest, I actually find the fact that someone can produce music this vital and relevant as far into their career as Rundgren did to be personally inspiring.

CassandraLeo | 4/5 |

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