It's an amazing fact of life that after over thirty years of producing astounding, beautiful, frustrating, complex and genre-defying music, Todd Rundgren still remains to many (especially in the UK) a word of mouth cult. Always more renowned for his production work for artists as disparate as Meat Loaf (Bat Out Of Hell), and the New York Dolls, the very mention of his name in some faithful quarters can induce apoplectic bouts of proselytizing. To them he's a visionary without whom there would be no Prince, MTV, or access to internet music (his most recent work has been available only as downloads for subscribers). Truth be told, it's always been this wilful refusal to be shoehorned into a bracket that's hindered widespread acceptance - he's a master of every style from classic soul to bizarre electronica. But with Liars, his first album proper for nearly a decade, he may yet claw back the reputation that he first earned in the 70s with albums like Something/Anything? or The Hermit Of Mink Hollow - stuffed with self-penned, self-produced masterpieces.
Todd's status as an outsider was also sealed by his vaulting (some would say over-reaching) ambition. No subject was ever deemed too grand or heavy (remember, we're talking about a man who once wrote pieces about chakras and the healing power of music!) and there's always been a strong thread of spiritual questing in his work. Liars is no exception. Taking as its theme the lies we encounter in our daily lives, it scrutinises not only the small fibs that we have to tell ourselves to get through a day (''Happy Anniversary'', ''Flaw'', ''Past'') or the ones fed to us by the media ("Soul Brother"), but also the big ones either handed down by our peers or perpetuated by our own flawed humanity. Paraded before us are the fundamentalist lies of recent world events (''Liar''. ''Mammon'') and the spiritual myths created by our so-called civilization (''God Said'', ''Afterlife''). However, don't let this gravity put you off. The album's more weighty concerns come couched in some of the most consistently enjoyable music he's made for aeons.
From the trance-like opener, ''Truth'', it's obvious that he's kept his influences as fresh as ever. Indeed, the whole album bursts with creative vigour, its programmed grooves dripping with loopy electronica (especially on ''Stood Up'' or ''Happy Anniversary''). With only old cohorts Kasim Sulton (bass), Jesse Gress (guitar), John Ferenzik (keyboards) and The Tube's Prairie Prince (drums) for company he manages to fuse new and old with his singular genius for harmony. Old fans will find much to enjoy here, from the skewed humour of ''Stood Up'' to ''Past''; the most gorgeous, tear-inducing, blue-eyed soul ballad he's written in years.
One can't help but detect in this, and in tracks such as ''Future'' (where he bemoans the lie of a non-existent gleaming future that was sold to our generation), a coming-to-terms with the process of growing older. Yet he's by no means mellowed or succumbed to pointless bitterness. On this evidence he still has the energy, not only to keep pace with the contemporary scene but to point the way. Long may he continue to defy our expectations... --Chris Jones
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