|RA- Todd Rundgren's Utopia|
Todd Rundgren is one of those aggravating rock whiz kids who can dually amaze you with his music and make you ill with his lyrics, which carry tile theme of cosmic consciousness and hayseed mysticism to more pompous degrees than even Yes' Joe Anderson. Ra, a 1977 effort with an occasional band, the ostensibly progressive rock and sometimes brilliantly kinetic Utopia, continued the Rundgren tragedy of good music with awful lyrics. When matters are at their best when the singing stops and the band is given the room to negotiate odd time signatures and reveal, in doing so, a remarkable, amazing in fact capacity to handle any style that strikes their collective fancy. The band (Roger Powell, Kisim Sulton, John Wilcox) proceeds towards some charging, frenetic, deliciously clever music.
But Rundgren, like, Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, allows the lyrics to become full-blown libretto. The merits of the extended narrative and the underlying bits of spiritualism is a debate left for those who seek truth in tea leaves and horoscopes, but the experience of having the words come at you, sun or recited in equal measure, makes this a record that does not rock you at all. Rather, it talks you into a fitful sleep, with dreams punctuated by agitated percussion. Most notable on side two's extended workout"Singring and The Glass Guitar", a detailed parable that breaks up the music, with Rundgren droning on with the plot particulars. The fantasy, what there is of it, is belabored at length. Every time the band begins something interesting or when Rundgren is doing an impressive guitar exposition, the recited lyrics intrude again, and so on. Either Rundgren considers himself a wise fabulist, or he just employs this dreck to kill time, fleshing out and lending continuity to passages he could not otherwise connect. The discerning 'Rundgren fan will throw away the lyric sheet and let the music mitigate the intellectual vacuity. Taking his world view seriously is like reading between the lines on a blank page.