Utopia may have been an outlet for some of Todd Rundgren’s more ambitious musical experiments, but he was still considering himself as a solo entity on its own. Initiation offers a typical grab bag of styles, yet just as determined to test the endurance of his rabid fan base.
“Real Man” is a pop song and obvious single, heavy on keyboards with plenty of soul. However, “Born To Synthesize” takes its soul a little too seriously, an a cappella performance treated with echo and phasing that distracts from the “message”. Before anyone took him to be too far above tangible matters, “The Death Of Rock And Roll” turns up the guitar to complain about critics who complain about him, who “get [their] records for nothin’ and call each other names”. The questioning continues in “Eastern Intrigue”, which namechecks almost as many deity candidates as it does tempos and meters. It still makes a smooth transition to the title track, which hearkens back to the Utopia album, despite a saxophone solo by David Sanborn. “Fair Warning” brings back the Philly sound with a near-Hey Love Soul Classics arrangement, complete with a fake Barry White monologue at the top and a reprise of “Real Man” for the fade.
The fair warning and goodbye stated on side one becomes particularly prophetic on side two, a 35-minute instrumental simply titled “A Treatise On Cosmic Fire”. Mostly performed on synthesizers, it comes in three parts (played out of order) with an intro and outro and pretty heavy sounding subtitles with seemingly Hindu connotations about the seven chakras, until you notice that section two of part one is subtitled “Bam, Bham, Mam, Yam, Ram, Lam, Thank You, Mahm”. It’s all very well constructed, with a few catchy sections and themes that seem to recur, but somehow we get the feeling that it was composed to give him something to meditate to.
With Initiation, Todd’s still determined to see who’ll keep with him; clearly he didn’t have time for people seeking catchy hits. The sound of the album didn’t help; with over half an hour crammed onto each side, the sleeve came with a warning that if you had a less-than-pristine needle the output would suffer. He even suggested taping the album and listening to that instead (horrors!). Maybe he needed to edit himself, because more doesn’t necessarily equal more here.
Todd Rundgren Initiation (1975)—2