If Todd Rundgren’s 1972 album ‘SOMETHING/ANYTHING?’ had set certain expectations with listeners — namely, that he was a cool new hit maker, albeit one with an eccentric streak — he spent the next several years disabusing them of that notion. In fact, his 1974 double album TODD, in particular, showed him to be a full-on eccentric who just happened to be capable of writing conventional hits, when the mood struck him.
For example, “I Think You Know” a fine ballad, but one spiked with noisy crashes and incongruent synth flourishes. The noise continues on the following song, “The Spark of Life,” which is ALL incongruent synth flourishes; neither were destined to make radio playlists or impact the pop chart, as did “Hello It’s Me” two years before.
The sequencing of the record is also eccentric. “A Dream Goes On Forever” is one of his best songs, period. The lyrical focus moves from outward to inward as the song progresses, from soldiers fading away, to true loves dying, to everyday hopes and fears experienced. In the end, he draws the lens in to his own heart (“You’re so long ago and so far away … I guess I believe that I’ll see you one day” “How much I love you you’ll never know / ‘Til you join me within my dream”).
It’s a perfectly mournful pop moment that he follows with “Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare,” a goofy, Python-esque word-drool with sound effects that often compete with Rundgren’s almost indecipherable vocal. One can imagine hardcore fans spending hours memorizing the whole thing and feeling a sense of accomplishment when they recite it all the first time.
“Drunken Blue Rooster,” an instrumental exercise featuring Rundgren on many keyboards (like an eight-armed Rick Wakeman at an early ‘70s Yes show), serves as an oddball prelude to the heart-tugging “The Last Ride,” a soul ballad about a man “more a fool than alive” who “turned away love when [he] needed it most.” It’s elegiac — something significant is ending at the end of the drive, so he takes his time, moving through town (“No use running,” he sings, “take it slower”). THAT is followed by the hyper-distorted garage stomp of “Everybody’s Going to Heaven / King Kong Reggae,” which flattens the somber spirit of “The Last Ride” like an anvil falling on a cream puff.
Rundgren continues to get his rocks off on the cranky and cranked-up “Heavy Metal Kids,” only to segue into “In and Out the Chakras We Go,” six minutes of spacy prog that would have sounded at home on a Camel or Soft Machine album. It’s the kind of music he would soon be making with Utopia, using the band as an outlet for his more progressive tendencies.
TODD is not as impenetrable as some would have you believe. It’s one of those albums that benefits from repeated listening, with layers of interesting moments and beauty that reveal themselves only gradually. It requires patience, but richly rewards those willing to make the effort.