Monday, December 23, 2013


Two things:
One -- Through Christmas Day you can still download my record-store memoir GUARANTEED GREAT MUSIC! absolutely FREE at's Kindle Store. I think it's worth it, and you'll have a good time.
Two -- I am an IDIOT. I talked about Todd Rundgren and Utopia's rather good 1980 pop-prog album ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA in the text of GGM! -- it made my "Best of 1980" Top 10 list that I posted in the record store -- then I FORGOT to include the album in the RECORD STORE DAZE playlist/discography. Don't know what the hell I was thinkin'. I THOUGHT it was in there.... At my advanced age, I'm probably lucky I can remember ANYTHING anymore....
So, to counterbalance my guilt and stupidity, here's Todd....

Although I thought Todd Rundgren was pretty freakin' great back in the day -- his "Saving Grace" is still one of my favorite songs ever -- I was never able to get much into Todd's prog-rock spin-off band Utopia. And I LIKE Prog.
Ghod knows I tried -- I bought Utopia's first album and ANOTHER LIVE, but it all sounded too mushy, too cluttered, too over-the-top. There was too much going on for Todd's usual crystal-clear production. It was all just too much -- like an album full of Todd's song "Just One Victory," but without the great tune underneath it all. Or maybe there just weren't enough good tunes.
I even tried OOPS, WRONG PLANET, which was supposedly more streamlined. But between the UGLY band photos on the back cover and the silliness inside, I just couldn't get into it. Didn't even try RA -- talk about silliness....
But that all changed with ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA. When I came into work one day, my boss Gary was playing the record, and to me it sounded just like a good, commercial Todd Rundgren album, with maybe a few lyrical-musical proggish-stretches here and there.
I walked in on the opener, "The Road to Utopia," which seemed to me like a good compromise between Todd's pop tunefulness and Utopia's over-the-top cosmic weirdness. I still think so. The difference here is a strong song structure, with some memorable CHORUSES. The vocals are solid, too.
The first-side-closer, "Caravan," is another solid compromise, though not quite as memorable -- not as many good, catchy choruses. More atmospheric.
Then we move into the album's interior. Here Utopia masquerades as a high-tech New Wave band, sort of like a more-human Devo. Bassist Kasim Sulton's lead vocal on "You Make Me Crazy" is thin and New Wave-ish enough, and the song's production is annoying enough, that it could have been a big hit back in '80. Once I adjusted to the archness of it, I thought it was pretty cool and high-tech! A great lost single.
The album's minor hit was "Set Me Free," a pretty standard commercial pop song, which I read later was keyboard-player Roger Powell's plea to Bearsville Records head Albert Grossman to release Powell from his solo recording contract. "Set Me Free" is OK, but it's no award-winner -- it made a middling impression on the charts.
The flip side, "Second Nature," was a standard-issue Toddsong, pleasant and nice, with cool vocals and nice choruses -- it could have been a filler straight off of Todd's great SOMETHING/ANYTHING album. But there wasn't much about it that would have attracted attention on radio.
Flip the record over, and things get a little weird. "Last of the New Wave Riders" was pure cosmic silliness: "The last of the New Wave riders/Will be the first of the New Age ... MASTERS!" ...Uh, OK.
"Love Alone" was a spacey near-a-capella vocal ... thing. I've forgotten most of the rest, to be honest.
But the pick of the album was buried toward the end of Side 2 -- the dramatic, angry, crashing "The Very Last Time," which I hated at first. I thought it was too angry to go with the light pop songs that filled up most of the rest of the album.
Opening with a chiming keyboard-and-guitar phrase and then slamming into a heavy show-offy guitar riff for the choruses, clearly someone here is pissed about a love affair that went bad. And the group vocals on the choruses are great! Some of the lyrics are pretty funny too, in Todd's patented tender-tough-guy vein.
Todd apparently liked "Very Last Time" too -- it ended up on his VERY BEST OF.
So, six pretty-good-to-great songs and one absolute knockout, plus a couple oddities out of 10 -- still scores a solid 65 percent or so on the Spidermeter. Don't know what that is? Look up Spider Robinson's old book-review columns from late-'70s GALAXY science-fiction magazine -- the Spidermeter's a way to grade a multi-part work of art beyond saying "Eh, some were good, some sucked, a knockout or two, what can you do?" Not a utopian outcome maybe, but still the band's best, I think.
Never heard their Beatles-style follow-up DEFACE THE MUSIC more than twice, and heard only "Shinola" off of SWING TO THE RIGHT, which didn't quite seem worth it. Heard at least one more song from later Utopia, "Hammer in My Heart," which was OK in a sort of New-Wave vein. Only heard one song off of Todd's HEALING, the kinda-good "Time Heals." After that I lost track of TR and Utopia until Todd's best-of ANTHOLOGY came out and I caught up on stuff like "Hideaway" and "Bang the Drum All Day."
But back in the day, I thought this version of Utopia could have turned into a pretty good pop band. Don't know why that didn't happen, whether it was because of Todd's eccentricities or what. But ADVENTURES IN UTOPIA is still worth a spin.
More soon, I promise....

1 comment:

  1. Utopia, like Rundgren himself remains having a frustrating catalog, the early stuff to Pomp Prog but I actually like Oops Wrong Planet more than you did. It kinda foretold the future of that band although their unevenness really killed them to be a consistant band. Adventures In Utopia when I first heard it I didn't much like at first but actually has gotten better over the years. Caravan got plenty of airplay on KRNA late night. I enjoyed the Beatles parody or tribute album Deface The Music, as Utopia like the Rutles could give the Fab Four a good soundalike album. Swing To The Right was a piece of shit that I played once and traded it in. They couldn't decide if they wanted to be prog or pop rock and it sounded like that. Final decent Utopia was their S/T album which was pretty good power pop most of the way. After that, meh.