Top positive review
23 people found this helpful
Rundgren's Arena Explodes With Guitar Bravado
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.