Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Todd Rundgren 21: A Cappella

Just as nobody was buying Utopia albums, Todd’s solo career had ground to a halt. The Bearsville label ceased to exist, which enabled him to put out the album he’d been sitting on for a year on Warner Bros. Once you hear that album, you can understand why labels were reluctant to back it. As befits the title, A Cappella was “written, produced, and sung” by Todd, using only his voice and we’re guessing occasional handclaps. When there are “drums”, they’re created using the sampler that would soon be as dated as the Yamaha DX-7. (The Fat Boys didn’t have the only Human Beatbox on the charts.)
Todd was always adept at layering his own vocals, but these aren’t necessarily pop songs, and the clutter of the multitracks sometimes makes it hard to hear the songs themselves. For instance, “Blue Orpheus” begins with a lovely choir-like blend, but goes off the rails when the percussion kicks in. The best tracks are those that use only voice and no effects, such as “Pretending To Care” and “Honest Work”. “Something To Fall Back On” was the obvious single, but even that hasn’t aged well, continuing the resemblance to “Jane’s Getting Serious”.
The timing was awkward as well, considering how much space is given to the antiwar “Johnee Jingo” and “Miracle In The Bazaar”, which comes off like a Muslim call to prayer. “Lockjaw” is a noisy “rocker” about a mythological bogeyman, delivered in the same cartoony voice that sank “An Elpee’s Worth Of Toons”. We’re not sure who “Hodja” is, but Wikipedia says John Stamos performed a version of it on the first season of Full House, so we’ll pass. A cover of “Mighty Love” by the Spinners is probably the best way to close the set.
We’d be curious to hear the actual songs on A Cappella to see if they’d improve with band arrangements, but we’re not that curious. Ultimately the album is as frustrating as the first Utopia album and Initiation, where he also dared people to keep up with him.

Todd Rundgren A Cappella (1985)—2

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