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Todd Rundgren - Liars CD (album) cover


Todd Rundgren

Crossover Prog

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Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Remaining true to himself

In the words of Todd, the songs on this album are all about "a paucity of truth". He goes on to say that they reflect "how much dishonesty we have accepted in our daily lives" and "the fact is, we are terrified of the truth". Strong words indeed, indicating that Todd is not inclined to shy away from controversial issues, and is as willing as ever to voice his opinions candidly and honestly. The risk with such ventures is that the message becomes the main focus of the album, with the music coming a distant second. So is this the case here?

Overall, "Liars" sees Todd returning to the accessible pop styles which he has remained faithful to on and off over the years. As such, many of Todd's fans were pleased with the album when it was released. As is the case on the majority of Todd's solo albums, he does all the work himself, including writing, producing and playing on all the tracks. Guest soloists are brought in for two songs ("Happy anniversary" and "Soul brother"), but apart from that this is truly a solo album (recorded at Rundgren's home in Hawaii).

The opening "Truth" has an 80's feel to it, with staccato synths setting a strong beat for Todd's power pop vocal. The song is reminiscent of bands such as Johnny Hates Jazz, Talk Talk, Mister Mister etc. As catchy pop singles go, this is the strongest Rundgren has come up with in many years. "Sweet" smoothes things down, with a Bosa Nova type rhythm of the type Todd exploited on "With a twist". While not quite as laid back as the songs on that album, this is a pleasantly relaxed interlude.

"Happy anniversary" includes the line "Men are stupid, women are evil" assuring Todd that he can upset everyone on the planet when he wants to! The song trades soft verses with overtly pop choruses and sounds remarkably like some of the upbeat material on Genesis "Calling all stations" album. "Soul brother" returns us to the smooth shuffle style, the song bemoaning the passing of real soul (music). Lyrics such as "And if you want to be a star, just grab your crotch and squeeze it hard" leave little doubt as to those who Todd feels are responsible for the situation.

"Stood up" lightens things up a bit lyrically, with such classics as "And when they asked for volunteers, I must have thought they said drink beers" and "And nobody has the slightest choice but to put up with my droning voice". The song has a pleasant pop arrangement, with some old fashioned phasing thrown in for good measure. "Mammon" is much darker, the sound being reminiscent of the work of the Sisters of Mercy. Todd's vocals are decidedly heavier and rougher than usual here, the song also benefiting from some fine lead guitar and symphonic "orchestration". Here it is religion which is the target for the Rundgren venom, the lyrics focusing on the monetary obsessions of organised religion.

"Future" describes how the promises which were made of a technological future free of mundane chores has failed to materialise, the song being set to a suitably futuristic back beat. "Past" may appear like a natural counterpoint to "Future", but in reality it is simply a lush romantic ballad. As such, it is a little out of place thematically here, the only "lie" as such being the singer's attempts to convince himself that a dead relationship still has mileage. That said, the song features one of Todd's passionate vocal performances.

"Wondering" is an unremarkable but enjoyable pop rock song, which might have been successful as a single 20 years previously. The song has something of a trance feel. "Flaw" reverts to the broken love theme, but this time the lyrics are far more direct and bitter. Musically, the song is a light soul number with decent vocal harmonies. "Afterlife" is not the doomy examination of the hereafter the title suggests, but a lighter musing with romantic overtones. "Living" features a TRI (Todd Rundgren interactive) type frantic rhythm supporting an anthemic melody. One would imagine that if he were so inclined, this would be a highlight in a live set.

At over 7 minutes, "God said" is the longest track on the album. This pleasantly laid back number is a sort of cross between Mike Batt and the Bee Gees, with superb a keyboard arrangement. The song challenges conventional religious notions that mankind has to "Suck up" to their God, but this time it is devoid of the anger and finger pointing of previous rants. The closing title track throws everything into the pot in a full blooded attack on those who send others into battle, be it as a soldier or as a suicide bomber. While not the most pleasant of listens, the message is stark and clear.

"Liars" is a fine album of reasonable diversity. Todd is fairly liberal in his use of the album's concept, but the tracks sit well together as a package. At over 70 minutes, the album is perhaps somewhat longer than it needed to be. That said, there is plenty of top quality music here, and some fine arrangements of the songs. Not Todd's most progressive hour by any means, but recommended nonetheless.

Report this review (#199645)
Posted Sunday, January 18, 2009 | Review Permalink
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars What? An album from the mid-2000's called "Liars" that is not directly about the Bush Administration?

Back in 1993, Todd Rundgen reinvented himself into "TR-i", which he called "Todd Rundgen interactive". The albums he created under this label were mostly sequenced with Todd adding vocals, and a few guitar parts and other instruments. By and large, these albums were failures, as the tendency to forego his songwriting in favor of tedious techno-posing just didn't make for interesting albums.

On this album he uses the sequenced effect a bit better, as he first came up with a theme, the various types of lies that one encounters in life, and built the disk around it. Sure, there are plenty of tedious tracks, and the fact that all of the songs blend from one to the other, add to the tedium after a while. But in all of this, there are some great lyrics, and some good music.

Happy Anniversary is a song where a daughter is told by her mother that "men are stupid" and a son is taught by his father that "women are evil". The two choruses come together for a great effect. Soul Brother is a fantastic soul number lamenting the lack of soul in the modern version of the genre.

There is little actual prog here, although the last song, Liar does qualify.

It's not a great album, but not a total waste, either. And I suppose some of it could be about Bush & Cheney.

Report this review (#368865)
Posted Friday, December 31, 2010 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#1327236)
Posted Monday, December 22, 2014 | Review Permalink

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