Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Todd Rundgren 25: No World Order

Ever the technophile, Todd Rundgren leapt into the possibilities of interactive music by offering his compositions as a series of files that could be programmed, sampled, and manipulated by any listener with the technology (read: cash) and the patience to handle it. For those who would rather hear his latest music as complete songs, a non-interactive version of No World Order was designed to suffice, though still credited to his TR-i moniker. With 16 tracks, six of which were alternate versions, this was still presented as an uninterrupted program, to encourage the shuffle play function on the listener’s CD player to encourage random and infinite variations of the sequence. (A year later, Rhino released No World Order Lite, which stuck to the ten songs, though it didn’t recoup their losses much.)
All of this makes a simple recap of the musical content more difficult than usual, since the music was designed to be fluid. With the exception of his voice and guitars, the accompaniment is largely computer-generated for a very sterile atmosphere. Luckily, “Worldwide Epiphany” is tuneful and rocking, though his rap detour (not the only one here) shows a debt to Public Enemy. “Day Job” is delivered in a Chuck D bark, punctuated by some berserk samples, but while “Fascist Christ” is more direct and topical, it’s hard to take him seriously. “Love Thing” is new jack swing two years after Bell Biv Devoe’s peak, whereas “Property” has a “Billie Jean” bounce. By the time the title track comes around the rap approach has become tiresome, and it goes on to derail “Proactivity”. However, “Word Made Flesh” brings back the rock for a potential anthem, and “Time Stood Still” and “Fever Broke” display more of his own classic brand of soul music.
While No World Order isn’t made for casual listening, Todd still displays his expert grasp on production and songwriting throughout. Maybe somebody out there has the capability to remix the tunes, dilute the raps, and update the dated textures into something more approachable. But then, doesn’t that negate the point of the exercise?

Todd Rundgren/TR-i No World Order (1993)—

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