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Todd Rundgren and Utopia Reviewed on this page:
Nazz Runt The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren Something/Anything? ... XTC to Jill Sobule - but he's a musical polymath. Plays guitar, keyboards, horns, who knows what else; has a huge vocal range; writes prolifically; and at least on most of his early records, proves himself with a dead-on command of melody, harmony, and arrangement. His magical early 70s records are shockingly good, combining Carole King -like melodies, Brian Wilson -like harmonies, Jimi Hendrix -like guitar playing, and late 60s Beatles -like production. Problem is, Rundgren has a habit of derailing his career with ambitious, idiosyncratic production experiments that antagonize the critics and confuse his fans. Meanwhile, his lengthy digression with the somewhat faceless pop-rock group Utopia resulted in a lot of entertaining albums, but not a lot of commercial success, locking him ever more tightly into the image of a cult star. Despite all the missed opportunities, Rundgren and Utopia's catalogs are well worth exploring. His first three records were as the leader of Philadelphia's mid-tempo late 60s rockers the Nazz, a band that didn't have a very distinct identity but did make some good music. During the early 70s he produced what many consider his best solo work, successfully keeping up with that era's phenomenal explosion of pop textures and styles. By the mid-70s he'd formed Utopia, which eventually stabilized its composition around four virtuoso musicians who ended up splitting songwriting and singing responsibilities. Rundgren continued putting out self-written/performed/produced solo albums on a regular basis, slowing down only when Utopia collapsed in the mid-80s after failing to gain a consistent mass audience. Over the past decade and a half he's occasionally ventured forth with a "comeback" album, but from what I've heard none of these efforts really match his best records from the 70s.