The photo of Todd Rundgren’s studio in the booklet for his new CD says it all; a lone workstation sits in the darkness, and this is the place where Rundgren creates his music now. The singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer/engineer made a string of amazing albums in decades past where he played real instruments—and EVERY instrument—but his last few studio albums have been mostly created on the computer.
Sometimes the technology can clash with what the artist is trying to accomplish—for instance, on Rundgren’s 2008 album Arena, on which he went for a guitar-oriented hard rock feel that didn’t always jibe with the programmed drum tracks. But State, the 2013 edition of the ongoing musical tale of Todd Rundgren finds him working in the style of techno, which is much better suited to his current recording mode (after all, isn’t most of today’s music created on computers?); it doesn’t hurt that State includes, in my opinion, Rundgren’s most compelling set of new songs in years—maybe decades.
State kicks off with “Imagination,” an eight-minute-plus meditation on a topic that’s obviously important to Rundgren: creativity. It’s a slow, hypnotic groove based around a dark chord progression that brings to mind early Black Sabbath, of all things. Not immediately catchy, but very effective and entrancing—it evoked memories of Rundgren’s meditation on meditation, 1981’s Healing.
State does find Rundgren exploring a variety of song styles channeled through the CD’s techno orientation. “Serious” is based around a James Brown-esque riff, while “Something From Nothing” is a classic Rundgren ballad that’s reminiscent of the soul-searching, yearning slow songs from his superb full-band albums Nearly Human (1989) and 2nd Wind (1991). “Party Liquor” could be a drinking-anthem sequel to Rundgren’s hit I-don’t-want-to-work battle cry “Bang on the Drum.”
Throughout his career, Rundgren has not only stayed on top of trends—he’s anticipated them. This time around, he’s commenting on current technology in that snarky way only he can; “Ping Me” cleverly finds him equating an online ping with a romantic declaration, while “Angry Bird” evokes the popular game in a tale about an unhappy female. “Collide A Scope” finds the artist at his most playful, matching opposite words in a whimsical way that evokes memories of “Onomatopoeia” from 1978’s Hermit of Mink Hollow.
This isn’t the first time Rundgren’s worked in the techno style; his 2004 Liars CD played with modern dance motifs, although his command of the form on State is more assured and organically integrated with his classic songwriting style, which mixes challenging chord progressions with sweet melodies.
State may be jarring at first to longtime Rundgren fans. The electronic tracks may seem a drastic change from his more organic sounds of yesteryear. But stick with it. Over time and repeated playings, the substance of the material sinks in and the style becomes familar—and the strength of this work comes through like the gem it is.
Throughout State, Rundgren offers up sharp lyrics infused with his characteristic wit and sarcasm, served up over musical beds that serve up his imaginative chord progressions with clarity and style. No, there aren’t many real instruments played here—a bit of electric guitar on a few songs, and of course Rundgren’s still-stellar-after-all-these-years vocals. The strength of State is the songs—creative, melodic, memorable. Rundgren’s been at this a long time, but the State of the artist in 2013 proves he still has plenty of coal in the furnace.Buy Todd Rundgren State: Deluxe Limited Edition 2 CD Set on Amazon