Friday, January 18, 2019

Todd Rundgren 18: Utopia

Technically this is the second Utopia album called Utopia, but except for Todd Rundgren’s involvement, it’s miles away from the prog escapade of eight years before. This being 1982, Utopia was all about catchy pop with clever rhymes and metaphors all about the trials and tribulations of modern romance, heavy on guitars, harmonies, and trendy keyboards. All the compositions are democratically credited to Utopia as whole, the members trading off on lead vocals. Todd himself only sings lead on three tracks, duetting in unison with Kasim Sulton on others.
“Libertine” crashes out of the speakers, setting up a perfectly frenzied guitar solo, but the effect is lessened by the more MOR “Bad Little Actress”. The wonderfully Beatlesque “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” could easily have fit on Deface The Music but for Roger Wilcox’s oafy delivery. This track was also promoted with a video wherein the band members appeared as hapless insects—pretty advanced for the time. (Also, Kasim Sulton had left the band for a short period, and this track was co-written with his ultimately temporary replacement.) Drummer Willie Wilcox takes over singing on “Neck On Up”, and frankly his voice isn’t bad. “Say Yeah” has some familiar changes and harmonies too, but the “say what” hook emerged a continent away from Merseyside.
“Call It What You Will” is along the same general lines as “Libertine”, right down to an albeit less insane guitar solo. And like side one, “I’m Looking At You But I’m Talking To Myself” slows the pace down, and right on time, the terrifically stupid “Hammer In My Heart” brings it right back up. (This wouldn’t be his only stupid yet wonderful song of the year, and we’ll get to that.) “Burn Three Times” is dopey but not in a good way, cramming in every cooking cliché as they can get to rhyme, and “There Goes My Inspiration” is something of a downer.
Ten songs are listed on the sleeve, but the set included a “bonus LP” of five songs, called side three on the inner sleeve and labels, the same five songs on both sides of the vinyl. Although it kicks off with “Princess Of The Universe”, one of the most infectious backhanded compliments of the decade, the other tunes aren’t as strong. “Infrared And Ultraviolet” offers the requisite demonic guitar work, “Forgotten But Not Gone” is an amalgam of ‘60s rockabilly but for the anachronistic piano, “Private Heaven” approaches ‘70s rock but misses, and “Chapter And Verse” works the “Burn Three Times” angle about as successfully.
Listening to Utopia now, it makes more sense how Todd ended up working with various members of the Cars over the years. Not all of the songs stand out, but they are catchy, and it provided value for your dollar. The original cassette shuffled the side three tracks within the program, while the eventual Rhino CD simply had them at the end of the program. Collectors will want to find a Canadian reissue, which adds the so-called “dance mix” of “Hammer In My Heart”. Get down! (Another historical footnote: this was one of exactly five albums released by the short-lived Elektra subsidiary Network Records, putting Utopia in the regal company of Irene Cara.)

Utopia Utopia (1982)—3

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