Wednesday, 6 July 2016

"Todd Rundgren's Utopia/Another Live" by TODD RUNDGREN'S UTOPIA (2012 Edsel 2CD Reissue with 1990 Rhino Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...In A Time Unique...In A Time Devine..."

A clever pairing by Edsel of the UK - Todd's Prog masterpiece "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" from 1974 and "Another Live" - the atmospheric live album that followed in 1975 - a record done in front of an audience (instead of in the studio) which concentrated on mainly new material penned by the same 'Utopia' line-up. 

But as one reviewer has pointed out - there's a mastering error on the "The Ikon" from "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" that's been carried over from the 1990 Rhino Remaster CD onto this Edsel Reissue. But frankly Frank - it lasts five seconds at the most and I can live with it. Here are the Freedom Fighters and Freak Parades...

UK released 27 February 2012 (6 March 2012 in the USA) - "Todd Rundgren's Utopia/Another Live" by TODD RUNDGREN'S UTOPIA on Edsel EDSD 2127 (Barcode 740155212735) is a 'Collector's Edition' that offers straightforward transfers of 2LPs (1974 and 1975) onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (59:22 minutes): 
1. Utopia
2. Freak Parade
3. Freedom Fighters
4. The Ikon [Side 2]
Tracks 1 to 4 are the album "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" by TODD RUNDGREN'S UTOPIA - released November 1974 in the USA on Bearsville BS 6954 and November 1974 in the UK on Bearsville K 55501. Produced and Engineered by TODD RUNDGREN - it peaked at No. 34 in the USA (didn't chart in Britain). "Utopia" (aka "Utopia Theme") was recorded live at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia in November 1973 - the rest of the album is studio.

The Band:
TODD RUNDGREN - Guitars and Vocals
(Jean-Yves) M. FROG LABAT - Synthesizers
JOHN SIEGLER - Bass and Cello
KEVIN ELLMAN - Percussion

Disc 2 (46:09 minutes):
1. Another Life
2. The Wheel
3. The Seven Rays
4. Intro/Mister Triscuits
5. Something's Coming
6. Heavy Metal Kids
7. Do Ya
8. Just One Victory
Tracks 1 to 8 are the album "Another Live" by TODD RUNDGREN'S UTOPIA - released November 1975 in the USA on Bearsville BS 6961 and October 1975 in the UK on Bearsville K 55508. Produced by TODD RUNDGREN - it peaked at No. 66 in the USA (didn't chart in Britain).

The Band:
TODD RUNDGREN - Guitar and Vocals
ROGER POWELL - Moog Synthesiser, Trumpet and Vocals
RALPH SCHUCKETT – Keyboards, Accordion and Vocals
MOOGY KLINGMAN – Keyboards, Harmonica, Glockenspiel and Vocals

The 20-page booklet is a fabulous thing to look at – original artwork, press clippings, band photos, trade adverts, live shots, lyrics, concert posters – and all of it washed down with new liner notes from Rundgren expert PAUL MYERS – Author of "A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio". Although its credited at a PHIL KINRADE master (at Alchemy) - Edsel have used and licensed the Rhino 1990 Remasters complete as we've already said with a mastering error on "The Ikon" between 16:15 and 16:20 minutes where the music pours into the right speaker for five seconds in a very bad panning mistake. Personally I can live with it - but I can wholly understand the rage of fans that could have expected Edsel to notice this and perhaps correct it. As the February 2016 "Bearsville Albums Collection" Box Set for Todd Rundgren 'doesn't' include Utopia material - original Rhino and Edsel reissues appear to be the only place you can get the "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" album digitally. There are no Audio issues with the "Another Live" set. To the music... 

When I bought "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" in November 1974 on Vinyl – I was already steeped in ELP, Yes, Genesis, Camel, Van Der Graaf Generator, East Of Eden, Greenslade and god knows what all from the preceding five years. Its long tracks didn’t make my musical resolve buckle - in fact I found it utterly mesmerising. I loved everything about the LP - the cover art - the virtuoso playing – the hippy-babble lyrics that talked of inner exploration - never mind the sheer deluge of musical ideas and themes going on in Side Two’s 30-minute opus "The Ikon". Along with "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway", Greenslade's "Spyglass Guest" and "Relayer" by Yes (all 1974) - Rundgren's first "Utopia" LP represented the height of Progressive Rock for me (and the end of its golden era too). It still feels that way.

It opens with "Utopia" (co-written with Dave Mason) – a difficult 13-minute guitar driven Progster recorded live in Atlanta, Georgia at The Fox Theatre – a full year prior to the album's release. The three/four minute Todd Rundgren "I Saw The Light” pop songs of old had gone for good - and in their place had come 'exploratory' pieces – many of enormous length and complexity and primarily based around his guitar and a bank of four uber-fluent keyboard players - Moogy Klingman, Ralph Schuckett, M. Frog Labat and Roger Powell (Powell would join him for the live set and all Utopia albums afterwards). Given that it was not the norm – huge guitar passages that had more to do with Zappa than the Brill Building - the crowd’s roar of approval reaction at the end of "Utopia" with it's "City In My Head" lyrics is celebratory – like they’d heard the beginnings of something new and exciting. As the crowd applause fades at the beginning of "Freak Parade" we segue into a brilliant funky keyboard riff that's very Stevie Wonder but soon settles into a drunk Bluesy guitar thing. It's 10:18-minutes chops and changes from slow to Rock to Funky and are utterly brilliant. The four-minute riffage of "Freedom Fighters" is the nearest the album comes to what could have been a single - but it's "Soldier Of The Mind" lyrics and manic pace and wall-of-sound production keep it firmly in the 'we don't play this Progressive stuff on the radio' category.

But then comes the monster - the 30-minute Side 2 magnum - "The Ikon". Because they owned the studio - they spent months preparing the multiple segments before recording and editing the lot. There are fast parts - slow parts - trippy parts - freak-out passages - finally ending in an instrument-builder passage like Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" did. I can't be rational about - as a Progressive Rock piece its without peer - think "The Gates Of Delirium" from "Relayer" only 10 minutes longer and musically more imaginative. According to the liner notes there's another 30 or 40 minutes of it that couldn't be fitted onto an almost 60-minute vinyl LP (unheard of at the time).  I once inflicted this 30-minute density on The Grove in Clontarf before the dancing proper started (forgive me Cecil)...

After the hard work of "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" - the "Another Live" set comes as a clever musical counterpoint. Mostly all new material recorded 'live' instead of in the studio to give it that 'oomph' – but as far as I'm concerned it only partially worked. This is one of those infuriating live records that could have been a masterpiece but doesn't get there. But man-oh-man that good stuff. "Another Live" has moments of undoubted brilliance like "The Wheel" and stunning emotional finisher "Just One Victory" and even features a cool cover of The Move’s “Do Ya”.

The album opens with the trippy Brass Funk of "Another Life" complete with backing Singers and Roger Powell giving some Herb Alpert on the Trumpet as Todd sings of "...certain things affect me certain ways..." But that's soundly trumped by the beautiful melody in "The Wheel". As the crowd are settling and shouting from the excitement of the previous Prog Rocker - Rundgren is impervious to their demands and opens with an Acoustic Guitar. The gorgeous lullaby is soon joined by Moogy Klingman giving it some Fred Neil Harmonica while Powell adds Trumpet and Schuckett does a fairground Accordion refrain as the 'Ferris Wheel' lyrics eventually have the crowd clapping - Rundgren going Acapella for the final passage to huge applause. Although "Seven Rays" is good - you wish it had been a studio recording because somehow this live version lacks something despite its jaunty disposition.

We enter Mahavishnu Orchestra Fusion with the wild keyboard soloing of "Intro/Mister Triscuits" that is both brilliant and dreadfully self-indulgent at one and the same time.  This bizarrely but effectively segues into Leonard Bernstein's "Something's Coming" from "West Side Story" which I feel is a cover to far no matter how much fun it must have been to arrange and play. We return to 1974's "Todd" double album for the hard-hitting "Heavy Metal Kids" which features a wild guitar solo and they then do an excellent cover of Jeff Lynne's "Do Ya" (the B-side of "California Man" from 1972 by The Move). But the whole record is redeemed by a fabulous live version of that "A Wizard, A True Star" classic "Just One Victory" where the layered vocals are so well done. The crowd feels it all the way as he sings "...we've been praying for it all day...give us just one victory...and we're on our way..."

To sum up - a clever pairing of albums even if it is a mixed batch of genius, knob and self-indulgence. And sloppy mastering error or no - I love it.

As the pre-amble liner notes to "The Ikon" on the back cover of the "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" LP says - " discover themselves to be mankind and joyfully begin to adjust their thinking along these lines..." 

Amen to that baby...

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