TODD RUNDGREN DISMISSES a lot of the extraneous chaff that can go with recording, by choosing electronic landscape as backdrop for his melodic pop masterpieces, of which there are at least a couple on his recent blunt-circular-saw blade, Global.
You know he’s going somewhere when he introduces a song with that Rundgren signature dissonant 3rd plus suspended chord, which he does here on both ‘Holyland’ and ‘This Island Earth’. If you’re a musician, you probably know what I’m going on about. If you’re not, you’re lucky. There’s nothing quite like hearing something that really blows your dress up, but acquiring the habit of analysing the reason every time is such a bore. The older I get, I just want to turn that damn thing off and let those moments have their wicked way. Todd’s music does this – rare in rock/pop now, but he gives enough of a nod to current electronica trends and then substantiates them with the lifeblood of actual songs.
That’s not to say every song here is a bona-fide winner. Certainly not compared to, for example, his encyclopaedic pop revelation of 1972, Something/Anything, or the ‘75 electronic rock experiment of Initiation with its spiritually insecure diatribes, dynamic chordal frenzies and a whole side of synthesizer virtuosity that would put (the then up-and-coming) Kraftwerk to shame. But what you get from Rundgren now is the tacit installation in your brain, of a confidence that he knows what he’s doing thanks to decades of perfecting his craft. Even when the voice falters a little, it sounds like he’s aware of it, but then there’ll be a burst of vocal range and energy as exuberant as anything from his earlier works A Wizard, A True Star or A Capella.
What you also get with Rundgren, is the work of a creature close to extinction. That has nothing to do with age, that suggestion would be crass. It refers to a class of musician whose planet’s cultural history has enabled them to develop over half a century into a level of accomplishment that for many reasons most likely won’t be repeated. Some of these reasons would be: The decline in audio quality resulting in at least one generation who no longer demands it; the decline (at least in the mainstream) of musical quality resulting in one generation who never experienced it, and a couple of older generations who did but have inexplicably adopted the listening habits of the newer. Thirdly, and this is the main reason: The internet opening the floodgates onto the pitch, inundating the team members with spectators who want to be just like them. It’s as simple as that. The filter disappeared. The record labels disappeared. Artist development disappeared. Some are still attempting to keep it all alive, but currently they are team members outnumbered 10-to-one by spectators.
So whereas the lyrics of Global often make contemporary cultural references, these privileged Rundgren compositions born in the shadow of countless others, along with the effortless performance and understated production of Global, at least for me, subliminally represent the end of an era. One that is already in its aftermath as a result of its own musical global warming that smashed the glass ceiling. That’s why we’ll never see another Todd. Who of the current batch will be him in 40 or 50 years? No one. The climate won’t enable it. It’ll take longer for that cycle to revolve. It won’t be like Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, but more like a JG Ballard dystopia. By then, most of our current pop stars will have spent at least a couple of decades ensconced in day jobs, to which they will walk, with the general population, perhaps in single file, the concepts of both music and retirement a distant memory, tagged in permanent ankle-trackers, and adorned in gray global-issue uniform. PETER KEARNS