Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Todd Rundgren [extended]

  • Runt [Ampex, 1970] B
  • The Ballad of Todd Rundgren [Ampex, 1971] B
  • Something/Anything? [Bearsville, 1972] A-
  • A Wizard/A True Star [Bearsville, 1973] B-
  • Todd [Bearsville, 1974] C
  • Faithful [Bearsville, 1976] B
  • RA [Bearsville, 1977] D+
  • Hermit of Mink Hollow [Bearsville, 1978] C+
  • With a Twist . . . [Guardian, 1997] Dud

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Runt: Runt [Ampex, 1970]
If there were any justice, "We Got to Get You a Woman" would melt Ti-Grace Atkinson's heart and "I'm in the Clique" would earn the artiste a free night at the Record Plant. But they're not playing the single on WBAI, and the artiste, ex-Nazz and present whiz Todd Rundgren, already knows his way around. Takes a certain professional brass to write a song called "There Are No Words" that goes "Oh, Ah, OOOOO"--or to assume the persona of a newborn twin, especially for nine minutes. B

Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren [Ampex, 1971]
If pop can be either sunny or moony, this is green cheese. And though it's less wildly uneven than its predecessor, that cuts two ways--the boyish "Be Nice to Me" and the mock-macho "Parole," while quite nice, will never call me back to the ordinary stuff the way Runt's prize runts did. B

Something/Anything? [Bearsville, 1972]
I don't trust double albums, especially when all sixteen cuts on three sides were laid down by the singer-composer-producer and all seven on the fourth by a studio pickup band. But this has the feel of a pop masterpiece, and feel counts. The many good songs span styles and subjects in a virtuoso display that runs from the evanescent "I Saw the Light" to a true tale of high-school grossouts called "Piss Aaron." And the many ordinary ones are saved by Todd's confidence and verve. The studio pickup side, for instance, gains genuine meaning from his tongue-in-cheek notes ("I drafted it into some sort of operetta, that kind of thing being very popular nowadays"). Studio games that would infuriate me on somebody else's record add context here. And his perpetual adolescence is winningly lyrical and winningly snide, though rarely at the same time. A-

A Wizard/A True Star [Bearsville, 1973]
I'm supposed to complain that for all his wizardry he's not a star yet, but just you wait, he can't miss, the Mozart of his generation, that last a direct quote from a fan who collared me at a concert once. Bushwa. His productivity is a pleasure, but it always makes for mess. Examine the enclosed fifty-odd minutes and you'll find a minor songwriter with major woman problems who's good with the board and isn't saved by his sense of humor. B-

Todd [Bearsville, 1974]
Enough already. On sides one and four of this not-too-specially-priced double-LP the useful moments are buried in the usual aural gadgetry, and only occasionally does he pick himself up from the rubble on sides two and three. Todd has honest ambitions, and they're welcome, but his invention has worn so thin they seem delusory. Uneconomical and unecological. C

Faithful [Bearsville, 1976]
As you probably know by now, one whole side recreates six '60s studio masterpieces note-for-note, from the calculated spontaneity of Bob Dylan to the electronic perfectionism of the Beach Boys and the Beatles. This is impressive and amusing, you can fool your friends, but it's overwhelmed (once you've heard it a few times) by what might be called the Enoch Light (or Your Hit Parade) (or voiceprint) effect. That is, Todd's vocal imitations (a phrase that deserves one of his slurs) sound thin and forced. This is especially notable considering how well his voice works on the other side, his clearest and most interesting set of songs since Something/Anything. It also reinforces the unfortunate impression that even when clearly interesting, Todd is factitious and compulsively secondhand. B

Utopia: RA [Bearsville, 1977]
Todd Rundgren solo is a conundrum--a jaded, youthful pop technocrat whose inconsistency can be passed off as creative exuberance. Todd Rundgren bandleader is a disaster--a humorless rock progressive whose scientific know-how adds no saving details to his arid futurism. Roger Powell's circa-2001 improvements on the Hammond B-3 organ dominate as usual--it's not for nothing that Todd refers to the sun as "Ra, holy synthesizer." The first side is bad, the second unspeakable, yoking an appallingly unimaginative eighteen-minute "fairy tale" about stolen harmony to an infuriatingly impotent seven-minute preachment about Hiroshima. Why must those few rockers who espouse moral ideals do it so ineffectively? Oh, I know, mustn't criticize--just go out and achieve "Eternal Love." D+

Hermit of Mink Hollow [Bearsville, 1978]
Only a weight as willfully light as Todd can be trusted to put his smartest song ("Onomatopeia") on "the easy side" and his dumbest ("Bag Lady") on "the difficult side." C+

With a Twist . . . [Guardian, 1997] Dud

Further Notes:

Distinctions Not Cost-Effective [1980s]: His Rhino/Bearsville best-of has an '80s side, including the unlistenable "Compassion." Stick him in a studio with Ted Nugent until he recants.

Everything Rocks and Nothing Ever Dies [1990s]