Monday, April 5, 2010

Todd Rundgren 3: Something/Anything?

Todd spent his first two albums proving his versatility, both as a songwriter and as a producer. So the logical next step was to do an album all by himself. Why? Because he could.
Actually, that’s not completely accurate. Something/Anything? is split between three sides played all by his painstakingly overdubbed self, and one side of full band performances captured absolutely live in the studio. The result is two records containing some of the tastiest ear candy known to man.
So yes, that’s track after track of concise pop, fully arranged to sound like a band, starting with the Beatlesque “I Saw The Light” and followed by the low-key “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”. “Wolfman Jack” is a tribute of sorts to the onetime DJ and eventual B-lister. “Cold Morning Light” and “It Takes Two To Tango” follow the path of the sensitive singer-songwriter, but “Sweeter Memories” takes us closer to FM territory with a thicker guitar sound.
Side two (or “the cerebral side” according to his indispensable liner notes) is playfully experimental, starting with a spoken sound effects section and an instrumental that’s been used for countless radio beds over the years. “The Night The Carousel Burnt Down” is built around various keyboard effects, rescued by the pure pop of “Saving Grace”. “Marlene” is one of the sweetest love songs ever; notice how it always sounds like it’s increasing in pitch by the end, but it’s not. “Song Of The Viking” deserves to be sung by more high school choral groups, but “I Went To The Mirror” is the culmination of too many drugs in isolation.
Side three takes us completely from AM to FM with the heavy “Black Maria”, the impenetrable “One More Day” and the direct power of “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”. “Torch Song” ventures back to schmaltz, torpedoed by the car effects (later exploited by Meat Loaf) on “Little Red Lights”.
Every sound you’ve heard so far, from the guitars and keyboards to the drums and horns, has come from the deft fingers of this skinny wunderkind. To prove that he could play well with others, side four is loaded with session help to get those sounds down just right, complete with studio banter and starting with a trip through the archives. Most of the songs on this side are jokey—the success of “Piss Aaron”, “Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me” and “You Left Me Sore” (a PSA for VD prevention) or “Slut” depend on your mood. “Dust In The Wind” was written by his keyboard player and is not the Kansas song, but “Hello It’s Me”, itself a remake of an earlier Nazz single, is every bit the tour-de-force he anticipated.
Maybe it’s because side four sounds just a tad dated, but we lean towards the other three sides, fascinated as we are by someone who can transfer all those arrangements from his head to tape—and play decent drums, too. Something/Anything? is an impressive achievement, although as with many double albums, there is what those in the industry have come to call “filler”. Even if you skip past the ones you’re not too keen on, you’ve still got a solid 45 minutes: I Saw The Light - It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference - Sweeter Memories - Intro/Breathless - Saving Grace - Marlene; Song Of The Viking - Black Maria - Couldn’t I Just Tell You - Torch Song - Dust In The Wind - Hello It’s Me. (Okay, so it’s not as exciting an exercise as compiling a single-disc White Album, but what is?)

Todd Rundgren Something/Anything? (1972)—4

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