Lovelorn ballads, Sufist chants and novelty pop from US rock’s ever-changing one-man band.
Through most of 1978, Todd Rundgren lived in splendid isolation. After splitting from his girlfriend Bebe Buell, he retreated to his house/home studio in Lake Hill, New York state, where he spent his days and most nights recording Hermit Of Mink Hollow on his own. A highpoint in his back catalogue, it’s re-packaged here with the two studio albums that followed.
All three show off Rundgren’s quick-fire turnaround of musical ideas. On Hermit…, songs such as Can We Still Be Friends avoided the cosmic rock of his group project Utopia to embrace the sweetly melodic pop of his early-‘70s records Something/Anything? and A Wizard, A True Star. Aware of how much his eclecticism frustrated his record company, Rundgren divided the songs into the sarcastically titled The Easy Side and The Difficult Side. There was little difference between the two. The latter includes Lucky Guy that, like Hurting For You earlier on, are the kind of soul-baring torch songs that Rundgren’s production clients Hall And Oats would later spin a career out of.
Hermit Of Mink Hollow is the pick of the three. But the follow-up, 1981’s Healing, showed an intriguing stylistic leap. Inspired by Rundgren’s interest in Sufism, its lyrics glow with optimism. The fashionable Linn Drum sound hasn’t aged well, but the hypnotic Healing Part III and bonus track Tiny Demons still impress.
Two years later, on The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect, Rundgren tried not to over-think his music in the hope of a hit. He was rewarded when the irritating novelty pop of Bang The Drum All Day became a rallying song at sporting events across the US. It is outclassed by a faithful cover of the Small Faces’ Tin Soldier and, at the other end of the spectrum, the jittery electro-pop of Chant, proving that even when Rundgren was trying hard he couldn’t quite rein himself in.
Accompanying this three-fer are six other releases that fill in the story both before and after. 1978’s live set, Back To The Bars, perversely avoids the just-released Hermit… and sees its creator plugging songs from his back catalogue with special guests including Stevie Nicks. But the most dramatic musical transition can be heard on a run of Utopia albums from ‘74’s Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and Another Live via 1980’s Adventures In Utopia and Deface The Music to ‘82’s curtain-call Swing To The Right. What begins as a dense fug of prog-rock guitar solos metamorphoses into 1980s powerpop with a keen political edge.
“I guess I’m out of sync with everybody else,” Rundgren told the press in 1978. “And eventually, they’ll all get into sync with me.”
They haven’t yet. But it’s the out-of-sync nature of everything here that adds to its appeal.
Here’s another batch of albums, now released on three double-CDs, by singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Todd Rundgren.
Back To The Bars is a double-album recorded live at shows in New York, Los Angeles and Cleveland during a tour of America in 1978 and features guest vocalists Stevie Nicks, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Spencer Davis and Rick Derringer.
Heart Of Mink Hollow, Healing and The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect are three albums released between 1978 and 1982. Each of these is a solo project in every sense of the word, with Rundgren producing, writing every song and playing every instrument.
Utopia and Another Live are credited to the band Utopia, which Rundgren formed in 1974. Tracks include the 30-minute The Ikon and covers of Something’s Coming from West Side Story and The Move’s Do Ya!