TODD RUNDGREN "Arena" Hi Fi Recordings
-- Alexander F. Remington
Friday, December 12, 2008; Page WE08
TODD RUNDGREN always had a knack for a hook, an instrumental
proficiency to rival Prince and an ego to match. Forty years
since "Open My Eyes" and 60 years old, he's back to what he does
best: simple hard-rock pop songs.
His latest album, "Arena," is a concept album for '70s AOR (album
only radio), like a Who "Sell Out" for the classic-rock era, minus
the fake commercials. Even the song titles are
archetypes: "Courage," "Weakness," "Panic."
They're a lot of fun. Opener "Mad" segues into "Afraid," and the
whole sonic palette is immediately apparent: multitracked singalong
choruses, occasional synthesizer, straightforward drums, mixed-down
bass and, of course, guitar riffs everywhere, every note played by
The pace slows on the second half, as up-tempo slows to mid-tempo,
and the chunky riffs become less prominent: Anthems have to give way
to ballads, after all. The best is "Today," which opens with an
arpeggiated synth reminiscent of Pete Townshend, and builds strum by
strum to a shouted, reverbed repetition of "Today's the day!"
The album isn't quite classic. It does a noble effort evoking a now-
maligned era, playing its tropes with reverence rather than a smirk,
but it's a little too historically accurate for anything timeless.
It's a vanity project that works, but a vanity project nonetheless.
Appearing Wednesday at the Birchmere (703-549-7500,
http://www.birchmere.com). Show starts at 7:30.