Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Bargain Bin Review #6: Todd Rundgren - "2nd Wind"

We're back after a long absence!

"2nd Wind" is the 13th studio album from maverick rock musician Todd Rundgren and yet again it finds him following his muse and not kowtowing to the interests of his record company.

Todd is a virtuoso who has been know to record and produce entire LPs on his own in his own studio. He occasionally performs and records with his live band Utopia in addition to making solo albums.

This album is different inasmuch as "2nd Wind" is a record that Todd Rundgren recorded live in front of an audience. Performed in  a similar fashion to Joe Jackson's 1986 LP "Big World", where the audience were instructed to remain absolutely silent until the music was finished. From the perspective of an audience member, it must be an odd way to experience a show. And a strange way to perform for the band considering that most of the energy in a live performance comes from both audience and band feeding off each others's vibe.

Despite Warner Brothers' insistence that there was no "single-worthy" material on this album, there are plenty of songs that are eminently singable, even though they don't necessarily stand up well against the man's best work. The opening "Change Myself" contains a soaring melody but with a classic self-deprecating Todd lyric in the chorus: "How can I change the world of I can't change myself? Try again tomorrow."

Tracks four through to six inclusive are recorded excerpts from a stage version of the Joe Orton play "Up Against It", which explains the faux-Broadway nature of the music and the shprectstimme vocals.

"Public Servant" and "Love Science" have a cheeky playfulness about them, not to mention some of the slinkiest grooves he's ever written. "If I have to be alone" and "Who's Sorry Now" are the pick of an overly ballad-heavy record. Honourary mention goes to "Kindness" as a gorgeous slow song too.

But the real issue is the horribly dated late 80s production, with thin Electro-drums and awful dated synth strings and pianos. The core of the songs are strong but they are tarted up with a finish to make them sound plastic. Despite this fact, the videos for the album were expensive animated ventures made on the then-new "Video Toaster" graphics processors for the Commodore Amiga computer. According to Electronic Musician magazine (via Wikipedia): "Todd Rundgren's stunning video for his song "Change Myself" required no less than ten Toaster systems running in parallel for a period of five weeks."

In the end, the album bombed. Neither of the two singles from the LP attracted sufficient airplay ("Public Servant" was a bad choice for a single anyway) and The New York Times panned the stage show. Still, if you can find a copy of the album, there's still some great tunes here, if only for their good ideas and not their overlong arrangements.

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