Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Review: Todd Rundgren - Arena (BlogCritics.Magazine.org)

Music Review: Todd Rundgren - Arena
Written by Donald Gibson
Published October 14, 2008

Todd Rundgren is kind of like a Mensa member who gets inadvertently
enrolled in remedial math. His expertise in the studio is so copious
and his musical styles so varied that creating a pop or rock record
has sometimes made him sound artistically stifled, sporadic, or flat-
out bored. While he's demonstrated time and again that he can dabble
in various genres (and often on the same album), his more resonant
work has resulted from a cohesive and concentrated approach.

Rundgren does just that on his latest effort, Arena, on which he
delivers the kind of streamlined progressive rock suggested by its
title. Brazen, swift blasts of electric guitars are ubiquitous,
punctuated by meaty riffs and fist-pumping choruses. There's also a
palpable element of cheek at play here – if not downright cockiness –
but Rundgren (ever the showman) pulls it off.

As he has wont to do in the past, Rundgren assumes the role of a one-
man band, playing every instrument and programming all computerized
simulations. To his credit and to the album's overall advantage, the
synthesized aspects don't overtake or impede the robust velocity of
the music. Certainly, on vitriolic tracks like "Mountaintop"
and "Strike," Rundgren wields more power chords than Pro Tools.

He informs much of these songs with pointed lyrics decrying – or at
least contemplating – false hope ("Bardo"), resentment ("Mercenary"),
and myriad forms of deception. "There's another crack in the fa├žade,"
he sings in "Afraid" while on "Weakness," he asserts, "I'd be no good
to no one/If they knew the truth."

On arguably the album's most provocative track, "Gun," Rundgren rails
against a deceptive sense of security, savagely lampooning a
glorified American gun culture: "The Constitution says that I'm so
blessed/That I can clean my piece on the Supreme Court steps… There's
many like it, but this one's mine/A good replacement for a lack of
spine." He levels his most scathing caricature in the refrain, "You
better run/'Cause I'm young, dumb, and I've got a gun."

Even if Arena is but one of Rundgren's arbitrary sonic experiments,
he at least follows it through with focus, consistency, and no
shortage of testosterone. In a nutshell, he's succeeded here with
something, which sure beats getting by with anything.



Chuck said...

That Mensa thing is the silliest analogy (or is it simile) I've ever read!

Brian said...

I thought your review, especially the reference to Mensa, was pretty much spot-on for Arena. Todd is the smartest kid in class - most likely, in the entire school (not to mention the most cynical). I think that the only reason this particular album could be conceived as somewhat of an "arbitrary sonic experiment" is due to the lack of real drums, which, is the only disappointment offered by Arena. Even when it appears like Rundgren is "phoning it in," his music is so much better than anything else out there, any critique is rendered nearly irrelevant. Brian Grace - www.myspace.com/briangracemusic