Monday, October 27, 2008

Review: Arena receives 12 out of 13
by Avril Simister
ARENA rate 12 out of possible 13

Waiting for a new Todd Rundgren album is a strange experience, because you’re never sure what you’re going to get. Rundgren only makes an album when he’s got something to say, and he’s one hundred percent sure of how to say it. But that doesn’t mean he ever sticks to one genre. 'Arena' does exactly what it says on the cover, contains thirteen arena-rock songs. “Old-school guitar-rock” in Rundgren’s own words.

‘Mad’ and ‘Afraid’ are slow-burn rockers with thoughtful lyrics and decent riffs. The heavy rock kicks off with ‘Mercenary’ and its screamed “How do you like me now?” which is guaranteed to stick in your head. ‘Gun’ is interesting, because it sounds like it could have easily been written by Alice Cooper: “I’m young, dumb, and I’ve got a gun”. By this point you’re pretty sure Rundgren has a few issues with modern life. But the thrill of this track comes from the guitar work, particularly the solo, which could have come off a Wishbone Ash song.

What makes this record stand out from the average heavy rock offerings is that Rundgren will always include swirling harmonies and keyboards that offer a solid background for the riffs. So it sounds like him. Especially on slower tracks like ‘Courage’, where he ponders his worth as a man, and ‘Weakness’, a heart-wrenching love song. Suddenly gone is the anger at society, hangers-on, and the NRA. It’s like listening to a massive mood swing, without ever hitting a depressive low.

There’s a heavier reliance on blues than you’d expect, in the guitar work. The Zeppelin-meets-AC/DC stomp of ‘Strike’ showcases fantastic guitar work, as does the echoed haze of ‘Bardo’ and fuzzy chug of ‘Mountaintop’. But somewhere in the back of your mind you’re very aware that Rundgren is the pioneer of solo working, rather than having the back-up dynamic of a band playing together.

All of the songs here have a sharpness of perception and sense of humour in the lyrics that mean Rundgren can swing from being totally serious to riff-heavy gonzo rock without ever compromising the intelligence or value of his work. There’s a lot more studio wizardry here than you’d find on your average rock album, but what did you expect?
At an age where most artists would consider moving into crooner territory, it’s fantastic to find an album full of heavy-rock gems. Quick, someone do something to piss him off again…

Review Ratings
Here at Room Thirteen we've decided to do things slightly differently when it comes to rating CDs and live sets. It may seem normal to rate out of 5, 10 or 100 - but we've decided to rate out of 13. Every live review and CD review has a rating at the top of the page - detailing the marks out of 13. We feel that this gives more versatility than rating out of 5 and it fits in with our love of 13. If you've got any questions, don't hesitate to ask.

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