(Esoteric Antennae/Cherry Red Records. U.S. release date April 7, 2015. All vocals and instruments by Todd Rundgren unless otherwise noted in review.)
“Global”, the illustrious and brilliant (and woefully underappreciated) Todd Rundgren’s 25th solo album is a pleasantly odd bag: alternating between themes of partying and dancing lies a more ominous sense of foreboding apocalypse. It would seem Todd is taking a page from one of his early protégés, Prince, and just enjoying himself while Rome burns.
As a result, the listeners of “Global” are still presented with a true aural treat. Rundgren’s voice has not sounded this good in years and the music, while certainly not quite of the caliber to rank with the many brilliant recordings TR has produced throughout his career, is soulful, danceable and…dare I say it…sometimes even downright fun—this in spite of the impending doom awaiting our fate that Todd must believe is inevitable.
Not up to the level of 2004’s excellent “Liars” or even 2008’s surprising guitar god, riff-ridden “Arena”, “Global” nevertheless finds Todd much more accessible and warm than he appeared on his last CD, 2013’s somewhat sterile “State” and the several other strange, contractual-obligated recordings he has released in the past few years.
Like that last official solo record, “State”, which tried to reach the house/club market, “Global” remains techno-laden with nary a guitar riff to be heard. However, the warmth that Rundgren is known for is back and the partying is more fun (unlike the somewhat disturbing “Party Liquor” from “State” for example.)
“Global” kicks off with the rousing “Evrybody” which sounds like what would happen if Todd’s old mates, the New York Dolls, went techno. It’s bound to be a show opener and has an infectious groove—call it punkish funk. While the lyrics aren’t the introspective and philosophical reflections TR fans often yearn for and expect, the dancing we experience on this track will no doubt effectively shift our focus from mind to body.
The album’s second cut, “Flesh And Blood”, continues the party theme so prevalent on “Global”; not offensive at all, and a good track, but more of a “State” outtake to these ears.
Highpoints on the record include the urgent and ominous “Rise” (“There ain’t no future in this place” while “time keeps tickin’ away”). The human race will fall, Rundgren deeply sings, unless we rise.
The ephemeral “Blind” may be the standout track on “Global.” With a blistering sax solo by occasional TR sideman Bobby Strickland, we are admonished somewhat and advised not to turn our eyes away from the world’s problems which Todd accentuates with a loud “Wake up!” just before Strickland’s stellar solo.
“Holyland”, which begins sounding more like a jingle for a Carribean cruise, gradually morphs into a beautiful, more introspective Rundgren lyric. “ALL is the Holyland,” he sings—the “drop of rain, blade of grass and grain of sand”. This is classic Zen/metaphysical Todd which has recurred throughout his career: forget the man-made geographic boundaries, he is saying; ALL Earth is the “Holyland.”
Todd’s latest tribute to womankind (remember “It’s A Woman’s World”?) is a true funk-infested jam featuring guest background vocals from Todd’s wife Michele, singer Jill Sobule, wunderkind bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, Rachel Haden and Janet Kirker. Todd pleads for a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T for my ladies” and a little less testosterone on the song (“Earth Mother”) which, one must believe, will be another new tour favorite.
“Soothe” is one of those special Rundgren songs that only an artist of his caliber could write. Not traditional love song, or even sentimental reflection a la “Can We Still Be Friends” or “Past”; rather, this new ballad is a sincere offer of empathy to a loved one that finds TR in familiar—but much more mature—musical territory. It’s a true gem of song, the type that, honestly, I could only hear Rundgren sing. “I love you, baby” is all well and good: but Todd, admitting that only so much can be done to alleviate a loved one’s pain, offers to provide consolation and “soothe” them in this warm and touching song.
One of this critic’s own personal favorites is the excellent track “Fate.” More cynical than the majority of the other songs on “Global”, the classic Rundgren harmonies run counter to the ominous message behind the music: “Our fate is sealed, we bankrupt ourselves,” he sings, “Our future is no longer ours—our fate is sealed—all bets are down.” “Just One Victory” this ain’t, but Rundgren always has called it like he sees it. Let us just hope he is wrong.
The most radio-friendly songs on “Global” (if that antiquated term is even used anymore) are “Global Nation” and “Skyscraper”, the latter featuring a guest background vocal by old TR stalwart and Utopia bandmate, Kasim Sulton. Here again, the party is ongoing; strange counterpoints to such serious tracks as “Fate.” Nevertheless, these tracks find Todd much more forceful in voice and more fun in approach and, again, should be concert staples and favorites.
“Global” closes with “This Island Earth”, an updated version of “Gaya’s Eyes” which sounds as if it could have also been included on “Initiation” This gorgeous song, which features a very odd slow/fast time change signature, has Todd bemoaning what he sees as the neglect of the planet. The same planet, which on an earlier track, “Terra Firma”, Todd sings he finds his faith “whenever I feel afraid.”
Final verdict: “Global” is a strange, but vital, mix of party anthems, dance tracks and foreboding warnings. I believe this particular record has a very good chance of being one of Rundgren’s most successful in years because it is accessible while simultaneously retaining the quirky and brilliant individuality which is the modus operandi of all Todd Rundgren work.
Longtime fans like this writer (35 years) should be very happy indeed while new, possibly younger fans, will get to hear what a 66 year-old musical genius sounds like. And he sounds pretty damned good on “Global.”
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