Friday, April 3, 2015

Global – Todd Rundgren’s Spirited & Catchy Shout Out to the World

Todd Rundgren’s new recording Global is all about self-determination and the love of the common man. It is a musical shout-out urging unity, an invitation for the fat cats to crawl off their lofty perches and join the party down below where all the real living gets done. Most of the lyrical themes revolve around mother earth and is delivered with a strong humanist outlook.

Rundgren typically constructs his albums around anchored bookends. The first song, the introduction, is usually a riveting welcome to the listener which hints strongly at the general theme of the record while setting the tone. And the last track, the conclusion, usually assumes the role as a summary imploring the listener to take heed or take hope. In this case the lead-off track Evrybody capably fills the role exploding out of the gate and getting the foot tapping immediately suggesting that Global may be upbeat and spunky. The outro is a moody intellectual piece called This Island Earth which offers a sober counterpoint to the Ancient Aliens hoopla suggesting instead that we are all on our own, that it is up to humanity to save the planet as well as ourselves.

Most of the songs on Global are built around catchy choruses and there really are no instrumental solos (save for a screeching sax on Blind) or those patented bridges for which the artist is so well known. This appears to be a conscious decision as Rundgren opts to utilize a more simple approach tweaked with futuristic pings. Holy Land and Skyscraper are especially memorable tracks featuring lyrics that actually mean something. Soothe is a classic ballad that offers a dose of aural tonic for those in need (in other words, all of us!).

The juxtaposition of guitar god and mystic healer with disco DJ has always perplexed many of his followers, but then again, maybe all this EDM biz is akin to Hodja and his whirling dervishes whipping themselves into a physical frenzy allowing for a spiritual epiphany. At the very least most of us Baby Boomers don’t mind a nice soundtrack to motivate us to walk off those extra pounds and shed some angst (but better watch that volume on the iPod!).

There are sure to be plenty of old Rundgren fans, the stubborn faithful, who will be disappointed that he has chosen to stick to the computer as his primary musical palette. In fact the only guitar that these ears (admittedly not so sharp these days) hear on the entire recording is a couple of crunchy chords in Evrybody. Considering that he remains one of rock’s most admired players, this is both eyebrow-raising and intriguing. In the end the listener can choose to either embrace or reject this offering. However I would suggest that it would be a mistake to reject it after only a few listenings because, as with most recordings, it takes several listenings before all the little sweet parts are revealed and the hooks get a little stickier and start to kick in. Given half a chance these tunes quickly become earworm melodies that you just can’t seem to shake out of your head.

Rundgren, best known for his early pop songs (I Saw the Light, Hello It’s Me, Can We Still Be Friends, Love Is the Answer) and the novelty stadium anthem Bang On the Drum all Day as well as his many productions (notably Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf and XTC’s Skylarking), is actually experiencing a renaissance of popularity with the younger musical explorers of today. Many up-and-comers have cited him as an influence and he has become the fashionable remixer-in-demand. Modern recording techniques have allowed him to become involved in various projects without requiring a time commitment from him or even his very presence. These virtual gigs probably fit his temperament as well as his attention span which is notoriously short. On the other hand, his actual presence is vividly experienced during the slew of recent Ringo Starr tours as well as the live full orchestra recordings of his songbook in Amsterdam a few years back not to mention all of his various live solo incarnations.

The guy gets around, both literally and virtually (Note: Runddans, the collaboration with Hans-Peter Lindstrom & Emil Nikolaisen is scheduled for release in early May).

Personally I can’t help but feel that Todd Rundgren (as well as a handful of other contemporaries – Neil Young immediately comes to mind) has earned the right to follow his muse in whatever mode or method he currently finds appealing. If that’s what it takes to inspire him to create new music, then by all means, follow your bliss and create. Add to the oeuvre, speak your mind, and the audience has the right to either tune in or tune out. The hermit of Mink Hollow never seems hesitant to abide.

Global is a reminder that in the end all we’ve really got for sure is the dwindling resource of time and one another. Might as well celebrate our existence while we can because we’re all together again... carry on, Todd!