on 20 September 2008
In 2004, Rundgren impressed fans and critics alike with the mind blowing return-to-form retro modern album "Liars". Expect the unexpected from the Wizard, A True Star. Todd's back, but this time around he hasn't opted for the pop ballad route.
Rundgren's new album, "Arena", is a stripped down, back to basics collection of guitar rock anthems. Nuances and nods to vintage ZZ Top, Ted Nugent, RUSH, Robin Trower and AC/DC are on the menu of the day, but make no mistake, this isn't a thumbs up to AOR radio in the vein of REO Speedwagon, Foreigner and Journey.
Like Neil Young, Rundgren continues to push the envelope. Over a career that spans 40 years, his output is consistent and constantly surprising.
Twenty-eight years later, the former Hermit of Mink Hollow, continues to wave the rock'n'roll rule book in front of the noses of all those cynics who never even knew how to rock in the first place. It's a delightful display of self-recognition and an affirmation that the man is always on the edge.
What you get on the new album is a first class ticket to rock'n'roll salvation. Not only do the new songs display an emotional reaction, but, together, they represent a rock'n'roll mindset that doesn't date.
The album kicks off with the rock humdinger "Mad", followed by the lush mid-tempo power ballad, "Afraid." Make no mistake, on "Arena", Rundgren makes no concessions. This is a guitar rock album, simplified, potent and direct.
Third track in, TR hits the nail on the head with "Mercenary", a song that sounds like it could have stepped out of RUSH's "Moving Pictures" album. "How do you like me now?," screams Todd. No doubt, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson fans will love it.
Are you just looking' for some "Tush", or is that that the same riff TR's executing in the song "Gun"? The latter starts off all retro sixties electric guitar and then if flash forwards to Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever" with Utopia backing vocals. This is a bluesy guitar rockin' track that blasts Hendrix and Gary Moore. "This is my rifle and this is my gun. This is for fighting and this is for fun."
In "Weakenss" he epitomises the human experience. The song starts with a lazy Hendrix guitar riff that sounds it was just ripped out of Electric Ladyland. Todd comes on with a bluesy, gutsy vocal, and literally sings his heart out. Shades of "The Last Ride" from the "Todd" album, and you suddenly find yourself in some kind of post hippy psychedelic acid flashback.
"Are you ready to rumble?" So, asks Todd in the AC/DC electrified song "Strike".
"Pissin" sounds like it was performed by a bar band straight out of David Lynch's "Blue Velvet", and then gradually morphs into some southern fried slide guitar anthem. "Today" begins with a shimmering keyboard intro, sneaks up and subjects you to a masterpiece in pop perfection. It's also quite possibly the only song on the new album that sounds like a distant relative to 2004's "Liars" album.
As you dig deeper into the album, the song "Courage" rears its head, and suddenly, you find yourself thrown back into Side 1 of "Faithful" where acoustic and electric guitar interweave into a hypnotic flurry of stunning melodic hooks, enhanced with beautiful vocals and glorious harmonies.
The song that illustrates Rundgren's genius as the ultimate songsmith is celebrated in the thumping, grunge electro guitar rocker, "Mountaintop". Here, Rundgren borrows the riff from Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky", and then turns it into a radio active guitar anthem, featuring one of the catchiest choruses you're likely to hear this year.
"Arena" is Todd Rundgren's masterclass in pop perfection. This is the Wizard's gripping return to the guitar rock album. It's a remarkable achievement.
One of my simple rules of life is this; anyone who doesn't think that seventies Todd Rundgren is a musical genius cannot be trusted on any music related matter. Ever. Now, I'm not going to deny that Mr Rundgren has made life difficult for me from time to time. The late eighties and nineties, in particular, were fairly indefensible, but Liars was a return to form, despite selling about three copies, and when I heard that Arena was going to be a guitar heavy rock album, the anticipation levels went through the roof.
Now I'm sitting here with an advance copy of the nineteenth studio Todd album and it's pretty much everything I could have hoped for. Todd himself said Arena "is a definite return to riff-oriented guitar rock. It's supposed to make you reflexively pump your fist and wave a lighter in the air." Well, not quite, but it is a fabulous return to form and the music that made me swoon for him in the first place. Don't come here if you're looking for his experiments in a cappella, bossa nova, and rapping. This has much more in common with some of his heavier Utopia moments, minus the gibberish, and all the better for it.
The songs are all short, sharp and to the point, with even the titles restricting themselves to a single word. And for a man who has just turned sixty, he performs them with a fire in his belly. At times he even veers surprisingly close to metal as he rocks out hard, with "Gun", in particular, a pounding riff happy tune that should sound even better with a real band on his live dates. However, this is Todd Rundgren, so the album still manages to be a concept album, albeit a loose one about the nature of conflict.
The opener "Mad", is also the single, and it's a straight down the middle rock tune that doesn't really prepare you for what's to come, although it does have a splendid guitar solo. "Afraid" is a much more restrained number which would have slotted easily onto Liars, but then "Mercenary" arrives and blows you away with it's vicious guitar and anti-war ranting. An absolute belter of a song. And is that a tribute to Boston (the band) in the middle? You won't be surprised to learn that "Gun" is about gun control, but it's another heavy rocking cracker. "Courage" takes us back to classic seventies Todd and is a nice change of pace. Coming up to the half way point and "Weakness" seems to be his take on the blues, with a slow, menacing groove.
Over on Side 2 (if only), and Todd has decided to beat AC/DC at their own game on "Strike". Yes, really, the most unlikely sentence I've written this year, straight of Flick Of The Switch, with repetitive beats and cries of "are you ready to rumble". Utterly mad and utterly splendid. Then the chorus arrives and he actually does a Brian 'Beano' Johnson impersonation. I had to hit replay just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. The obligatory comedy number arrives on "Pissin", and I do not want to know why someones "dick is in the mayonnaise". The first skippable number. Things flag slightly on "Today" and "Bardo", the keyboard heavy former sounds like a Liars outake, the latter is a good, mellow, spaced out number that just seems out of context here.
But Mr Rundgren still has a few tricks up his sleeve as we near the end, with the boogiefied "Mountaintop" finally attaining the punching the air effect, "Panic" playing homage to some of his own earlier work, and a number that long term fans will find themselves returning to and the closing "Manup", an out and out stadium rocker, replete with another classic guitar solo.
It's not the greatest album he's ever made, but it's certainly up there with some of his best. I'm old school, so would have preferred real percussion and bass, rather than Rundgren's preferred protools method, but it's a small quibble on what is one of my favourite albums of the year. I'm not sure about the UK release but there is an American version planned which will come with a DVD and CD of Rundgren's live performance of the album from a US show in July. Something I will definitely be queuing up for, especially if the UK tour lives up to its promise.
on 4 November 2010
I hadn't listened to Todd Rundgren in too long, then recently went on a voyage of rediscovery and browsed through some of his works on Amazon. I was intrigued by descriptions of Arena - the price was great so I chanced it. I'm really glad I did because I've had many hours of entertainment from this disc. Whether much of it was tongue in cheek who knows, but for sheer musicianship and entertainment value it's a blast. Yes there are plenty of nods to other bands and their works but it's still all Todd Rundgren and his singing and playing are really on great form - it's so easy to criticise but very very difficult to write songs with his feel for lyrics and melody, especially if there's a sense of humour in there too :)
There aren't many albums I've bought not knowing the songs where I've actually discovered I love most of the tracks, what a catalogue of surprises.
I didn't regret this purchase one bit and would recommend it to anyone who likes well produced rock music that's a bit different but still makes sense!
on 26 September 2008
I was fortunate enough to hear a preview of this album and have two words for you..... "buy it!".
It is the best thing he has done in ages. Proper TR songs at last.
on 7 April 2011
Right.I've had this album for over two years now and played it tonight for the
umpteenth time and just wonder what some people want from a rock album.
It's bloody great.The people on here who want his earlier stuff like
Cliche regurgitated are looking in the wrong place. Todd Rundgren does not replicate
himself.He moves on.We've got to accept that and embrace it because that's what
makes the man he is.
It's exactly why fans like me have been into this fella for decades.
I remember this album getting reviewed in Mojo magazine and the reviewer saying
it's all the same pace.WHAT!Did he not hear the change in tempo from the rockers
to blues to the ballads? Did he listen to it?Probably not it seems.
One day TR will hang his boots up .The world will be a poorer place.
on 25 June 2014
I chose a 4* rating because said item does what it says on the packaging
I've played this product a few times now & it's exactly what I was looking for
& yes said product met my expectations that is for sure well satisfied cheers
& yes I would recommend said product to future prospect clients because
it's good value for money does what it says it does in the packaging &
one would not be disappointed with said product that's is for sure enjoy :-) :-)
This Todd-R Album was released back in 2008 in fact Todd-R was mini-
touring with said album before it was released onto CD and entitled Arena
It's not a bad album I personally like it & it's good value for money a lot of
the tracks as Todd-R described it is basically about the fall out left over
via the constant strife and sad conflicts which is going on even too today
in the Middle-East no one wins wars only everyone suffers one way or
another and that some people under the miss-understanding that killing
is acceptable & not a sin is crazy God's fife (5) commandment states
thou shall not kill end of so how can this be acceptable when even God
states that one should not kill end of unfortunately in the World we live
in that War can become a big business & greed & selfishness comes
into the equation with certain individuals wanting to rule the World
Have a thought for future Generations where is the Love in this World
nowadays real change comes from within ones being killing one &
other does not impress change ones mind set end of true opinion
Anyway this is what the tracks of this said album is basically about
with Todd-R's original song writing & performing on display
Yeah I'm not young & dumb & let's stop using Gun's or as J.C.
would say those who live by the Gun will perish by the Gun with
I'm not impressed conclusion give peace a chance & try living
in harmony instead of destruction & oblivion
on 17 November 2008
It seems to me that people get overexcited when Todd Rundgren releases a "normal" album, so they tend to overrate it. For instance, I don't think Hermit of Mink Hollow (1978) quite lives up to its reputation, though it's still a fine album (and certainly better than Arena). I mean, five stars for this, let's get real here.
There are some songs that have decent guitar hooks and verses which make you wait for that killer chorus; sadly, they never really come. The song Mad is the best or, if you will, the worst example of this.
Todd is Todd, and he does what he wants, I guess, but I really wish he would concentrate on his strenghts, and that is writing POP songs rather than rock songs. His voice sounds mostly weak on the rockier songs plus his riffs are often so-so; those have been heard zillion times before.
Having said that, the best song on the album might be Strike, which is basically an AC/DC parody/tribute. Other better songs for me are Afraid, Courage, Pissin and Today, but they are just ok, nothing more.
The True Todd-heads probably already have this album, but for a new listener I would much more recommend albums like The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything, A Wizard, A True Star and Todd. Don't start with this.
And yes, the vocals are FRUSTRATINGLY low. Songs like Gun, Mercenary and Courage would have certainly benefitted from better mixing.
on 18 January 2011
I really hoped that Todd would carry on the great work from "Liars" but sadly this album does not play to Todds strengths...I really think he should realise the limitations of his vocals and I also wish he would stay away from inferior heavy metal stuff that just sound like a soundtrack to a WWF sequence. Todds great gift is his ear for melody ("The missing link between Brian Wilson and Prince" is a wonderful comment I read on him)and on this CD he just gives brief glimpses of that talent that at times has bordered on greatness. Also Todd why do you produce such naff covers for your Cd's!?
on 24 October 2008
THIS NEW RELEASE FROM TODD RUNDGREN ENCAPULATES ALL THE BEST QUALITIES OF THE GREAT MAN. GREAT GUITAR,CATCHY POP HOOKS AND HIS FAMOUS WALL OF SOUND DYNAMICS. ADMITTEDLY TODD'S WORK OVER THE PAST DECADES HAVE BEEN RATHER PATCHY AT BEST BUT HERE WE HAVE HIM AT THE AGE OF 60 HITTING FULL STRIDE AS IF HE WAS IN UTOPIA CIRCA 1976. I CAN'T FIND ANY FAULT WITH THE PRODUCTION, YES ITS DENSE BUT ISN'T THAT PART OF TODD'S CLASSIC SOUND ANYWAY? VOCALS ARE AS GOOD AS EVER AND BOY, SEARING GUITAR SOLOS ABOUND. ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC.
on 17 November 2008
For quite some time now, every other Todd Rundgren release has seen him delve into new musical territory, whether broadway, hip hop, bossa nova or RnB. Arena continues this pattern. The concept this time is 70's stadium rock and heavy metal.
Some may say that this perpetual musical mimickery shows Rundgren lacks the originality he once had. But in actual fact Todd Rundgren has always been an acolyte for the art of reproduction, the chief alchemist taking base musical metal and altering it wonderfully so. It's that gift that made him a Wizard, a TRue star. From the Carole King and Laura Nyro influenced Something Anything to the didactic titled Arena, Rundgren never conceals his musical cues. Sometimes he does it well. Sometimes he doesn't.
With limited resources at his disposal, Todd Rundgren ought to be given credit for his skill in putting together another album on a shoestring. However it is disappointing to hear that all the same sound issues that blighted The Individualist are present on Arena. Lyrics are hard to make out, as if Todd is TRying to disguise the frailties of an aging vocal behind loud music. The overall production and mixing has a cheap digital feel.
Granted, he has toned down the usual Rundgren embellishments on this album; a TR-ick he has used copiously in the past to tart up fundamentally weak and repititive material. This time the music isn't an ugly mug with some make up on, just an ugly mug. The music sounds remarkably mechanistic and artificial for an album that is supposed to be stripped-down lo-fi ballsy rock. This is more like faking it in front of the mirror with an air laptop. The epitome of plastic pastiche.
Taking a look at the tracks themselves, MAD is just about ok, but the way he takes the song from it's nice clean acoustic CSNY/America beginning, and thrusts it into heavy metal, is just one of many dubious progressions on this album. The Utopian heavy metal guitar sounds like someone trying to cut their way out of a brown paper bag with a blunt chainsaw. Unconvincing and unpleasant.
Many songs on Arena not only have a limited pleasure principle, but also compositional problems. Too many songs on the album sound like a verse has been grabbed from here, a riff from there, and a middle 8 from some sub-folder leftover from the Liars album. It all sounds too much like a square object jammed into a round hole. This album has a lack of musical fluency which Rundgren tries to disguise with for example the little funky flick on Afraid, tenuously linking the verse to the middle eight. It cons some people, but it doesn't work for me anymore.
TR-i isn't hiding behind multi-track polyphonic wizardry this time, which just makes the limitations of this psuedo-analogue reTRovation all the more apparent.
AFRAID is just a banal conciousness-raising effort that sounds like a Christian rock song. A miserable dirge.
MERCENARY has this Led Zep Hawkwind thing goin on, threatens to be pleasing but is killed off by the sheer digital mechanical lethargy of it all.
GUN is a witty blues-rock indictment of gun culture. The middle eight is a lovely piece of blue eyed soul, Todd's instinctual phrasing is flawless here, pity it sounds like a totally different song.
COURAGE and WEAKNESS are two lumps of sugary earcandy for the Todd crusties. We've heard these chords, harmonies, and the sensitive-man sentiments a zillion times before. Passable, lyrically truthful, and unoriginal.
Todd takes impersonation to a new level of literalism on STR-iKE. Single handedly incorporporating the whole of AC/DC in his macbook reportoire.
PISSIN is fun. Reminiscent in some ways of Soul Brother from Liars. The same laid back wit.
Almost surprised to see that TODAY came bottom of a Todd Rundgren fan poll, gaining zero votes. Lovely spacey Utopia synth intro, and a riotous guiter-vocal, best served loud, ala Billy Idol. This is Arena rock with spikey short hair. Slightly Emo, and a hundred times better than MCR. A good track.
BARDO is just a soporific spliff-fest. More Eastern preachy. Gary Moore. Not my scene.
MOUNTAINTOP. Synchronise those air guitars, throw out the mic, your goin up to the spirit in the sky... It sure feels like I may expire at any moment. Rolleyes.
PANIC, frenetic rock reminiscent of The Police and Utopia's network album. Good track.
MANUP, the rockier side of Foreigner and The Cars. If that's ya drift, It's an alright track. But not my drift.
To sum up, this album isn't in the same league as its RnB inflected predecessor Liars, and is emblematic of my own existential loss of love for the music of a life-long hero. This is Todd in, fling out another album hit the road and have a few beers mode. Other than that, the innovaTR offers nothing new on this elpees worth of Wrigleys. The fans will lap it up, and the rest of us will remain a tad more circumspect. But at 60 years old and 40 years of music-making, Todd Rundgren remains indestructible. He'll be back with a masterpiece next time. He's a one off with a huge ego who enjoys the job he's doing. You can't quibble with that. Here's to the next 40 years, even if some of us won't be around.