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Articles Home » 2008 Articles » Rundgren, Todd - 2008 Arena
Rundgren, Todd - 2008 Arena

ARTIST: Rundgren, Todd
ALBUM: Arena
LABEL: Hi Fi Recordings
YEAR: 2008


LINEUP: Todd Rundgren - vocals, all instruments

TRACK LISTING: 01 Mad * 02 Afraid * 03 Mercenary * 04 Gun * 05 Courage * 06 Weakness * 07 Strike * 08 Pissin' * 09 Today * 10 Bardo * 11 Mountaintop * 12 Panic * 13 Manup



To my way of thinking, the complete discography of Todd Rundgren would be the equivalent of an A La Carte restaurant. You can take your pick of the many varying styles he has delivered over the last 40 years or so. Whether it be The Nazz, Utopia, his solo works or even the ill-advised New Cars venture from 2006, there is something for everyone. For this particular listener, I have dabbled in Todd's discography, but it is his work with Utopia that struck a chord. In their earlier days, Utopia straddled the arena 'big rock' sound combined with progressive elements. Unusually, but thankfully, Todd's recent arrival 'Arena' is a return to that earlier time, the album title perhaps a reference to the stadium filling genre of rock music from the 70's? Who knows. What is known, is that Todd cosseted himself away in his Hawaii studio during the Northern spring of 2008 to record this album. There are no strange and quirky arrangements to be found on 'Arena', it's a straight up hard rocking effort that fuses Todd's love of hardware and software gadgetry along with the idealisms of simplified songwriting from two or three decades prior.

The Songs
The intro acoustic guitar melody of 'Mad' is a great scene setter, the track gradually builds up momentum to become a gritty guitar based rocker. I really liked the liquidity of 'Afraid', the track flows nicely with an ambient vibe mixed with an AOR like delivery. I'm certain this one will appeal to the AORsters out there. 'Mercenary' is a harder edged effort, mimicking many of the modern rockers of the current day. The distorted like vocals amplifies that harder edge, but it still retains a ton of melody. It would be hard to ignore the (near) blatant ZZ Top reference points on 'Gun', the boogie like arrangement tips its Stetson in the Texan's direction, with a ton of spruced up wah wah which will amuse Mr Gibbons and co.. The Utopia feel becomes apparent on the melodic 'Courage'. Again, the track just flows nicely, and has a commercial aspect about it. 'Weakness' takes us back to the 70's again, the guitars are soaked in flange/reverb, the retro sound will appeal to fans of Pat Thrall and Automatic Man for sure. Ironic that 'Arena' is timed for release about the time of AC/DC's newie 'Black Ice'. Listening to 'Strike', Rundgren would have you believe that this is Brian Johnson singing the lead, such is the similarity. Like the perennial Aussie rockers, this track could very well be a quasi AC/DC track!

The send-up on the album is 'Pissin', a nice enough track, the lyrics however are a different kettle of fish. Other reviews describe this track as that 'comedic companion piece' on the album. You have to listen to it carefully to understand and appreciate Rundgren's sense of humour. A neat synth sequence precedes 'Today', a track laying a close foundation to Rundgren's 2004 album 'Liars', but it has also has a clean-cut Rush like sound, as heard on their later albums throughout the 90's. Turning down the metronome to 'half-pace' is the mellow spaced out vibe of 'Bardo'. Again, it's a return to the 70's.. just knock back a few lagers and smoke on your favourite herb of illegality, and you'll drift away on this one. 'Moutaintop' combines boogie riffs with a chant-a-long backing vocals. It's the sort of thing Paul Rodgers could've done back in the 70's if he wasn't fronting Bad Company. Mind you, BC could've done something like this too.. hmm.. 'Panic' is fast paced, and in a style that combines power-pop and new wave, something that Rundgren flirted with himself during that late 70's/early 80's era.. to great effect. The closer 'Manup' finishes up in the same way that 'Mad' opened the album. A guitar rocker with an 'arena' like sound. Guaranteed that this would sound kinda awesome in the live context. The track features a great guitar solo to round it all out.

In Summary
In the lead-up to the release of 'Arena', Todd did mention that this would be a return to guitar rock, without the eccentricities of prior albums. You can't get more simplified than 13 songs all with single word song titles. Rundgren is doing an extensive selection of live dates throughout the world to promote the album, and will have a backing band including keyboardist Kasim Sulton, drummer Prairie Prince, bassist Rachel Haden and lead guitarist Jesse Gress to help him out. He will be in the UK during November 2008. For all you British readers, get along and see the man while you can.

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#1 | Eric on October 22 2008 23:58:32
Todd's releases have never been consistent, so it's nice to hear he's returned to form- at least somewhat. I prefer his 70's solo stuff, especially 'Something/ Anything', but even that double set had some filler. So much talent and such a huge ego to harness it's not a wonder he's been all over the musical map.
#2 | englandashes on October 27 2008 22:33:51
Picked this cd up at the weekend at a record fair, purely on the strength of GD review, otherwise I would not have even entertained the idea of buying it, especially after listening to 'liars', what was going on there? But george is totally spot on with the review and I found it a breath of fresh air to many recent melodic releases, it contains variety and instant great songs. I'm off to find Utopia
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