30 September, 2012

30 Reviews In 30 Days: Review #30

Todd Rundgren, Something/Anything? (Bearsville, 1972)

Something/Anything? isn't really concerned with deep meaning. And, oddly enough, that's just fine. This double album is all about classic pop craftsmanship as an art form, an end to itself: there isn't much heart and soul here, but soul-rending self-expression patently isn't the point. The point is how good Todd Rundgren is at pretty much any style of song he chooses to try his hand at recording, and he succeeds so easily so many times on this album that it probably had more than a few pop stars who heard it shaking in their boots for a few months. It's been referred to before as an "encyclopedia" of different styles and different kinds of pop songs, and that's accurate. It is mind-boggling to think that, at 23, Rundgren walked into a L.A. recording studio with literally no one else but an engineer and a daily dosage of Ritalin, sat down at a drum set which he'd never played on record before, and ended up bashing out three full sides of immaculately written, astoundingly well-arranged and performed, and extremely catchy pop. He would have recorded more by himself, but after an earthquake, he relocated to New York and recorded the fourth side in live takes with a pickup band consisting of session musicians that were hanging out at the studio. The fourth side is my least favorite side on here, but it certainly has character and is as well-performed as anything else here.

Songs here range from pure '70's AM pop ("I Saw The Light," one of Rundgren's most famous and well-loved singles; the remake of his old song "Hello It's Me," which was his most successful single; "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference," "It Takes Two To Tango") to keyboard-led psychedelic indulgences ("Breathless," which is a technologically oriented synth wankfest that succeeds anyway, probably because it has a melody; the incredible Beach-Boys-meets-"Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite" ballad "The Night The Carousel Burnt Down") to weirdly catchy novelty numbers (the Gilbert and Sullivan tribute "Song of the Viking," the drunkenly slurred, bluesy "I Went To The Mirror") to pseudo-hard rock songs (the slow guitar solo vehicle "Black Maria" and the ridiculous slide guitar infested "Little Red Lights"), and even to other styles I can't discuss because this sentence is running on long enough as it is. The hardest-rocking songs on here are a power pop masterpiece called "Couldn't I Just Tell You," which is good enough to rival pretty much anything Big Star did, and a drunken, obnoxiously misogynistic but deeply catchy singalong number tastefully entitled "Slut" that Big Star ended up covering live in the '70's. There are so many good and astonishingly well recorded and performed songs here that I really can't imagine not getting it if you're at all a fan of '70's pop music. It may seem overlong and maybe mediocre at first due to sheer length - the whole thing is 88 minutes, and it can be very hard to sit through all in one go - but keep listening and it'll eventually make sense. Something/Anything? is a pop masterpiece that succeeds because of extraordinarily well-observed Beatlesque pop craftsmanship, technological mastery, sheer musical ability and performance. This album is a master-class in those fields.

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