Friday, July 20, 2012

Todd Rundgren - Healing

The thing about Todd Rundgren’s seminal Something/Anything is that it is so good…so inspiring…that you immediately begin searching for other records in his catalog that will provide the same rate of return.

Chances are good you’ll never find one.

Within seconds of listening to anything post S/A, you’ll also discover that Rundgren follows his irreverent muse to places that not only aren’t fulfilling, but nowhere near the caliber of what he’s capable of.

I learned this by acquiring a bunch of Todd Rundgren records in the cutout bins throughout America, discovering firsthand why they ended up in the cheap seats to begin with.

Healing was one of those records, Rundgren’s 1981’s release, which shows him exploring the idea of spirituality, and one that listeners will finally begin to question the artist’s fixation with keyboards and synthesizers.

The reality is that these types of devices generally bring out the laziness in Rundgren, giving him the false sense of security that the record is over when it may actually require a little more time and effort from him.

The case is painfully obvious on Healing, a record plagued with half-baked concepts and woefully inept arrangements that sounded dated the moment they were released.

It wasn’t the first time Todd used his electronic equipment as a crutch again more organic outlets, but it may have been the first time where getting through an entire side of a Todd Rundgren album proves to be such a chore.

Beginning with “Healer,” the record’s mission statement, if you will, that comes a few years too late to qualify as a Peter Gabriel outtake, yet sounds like Todd just discovered him for the first time.

“Flesh” continues the album’s thematic approach, complete with a near a Capella delivery, complete with pointless gaps in between each preachy verse.

“Golden Goose” is completely uncoordinated with the rest of this record, a pointless oom-pah up-tempo novelty that jars the listener out of any holistic qualities the album portends to channel.

The rest of side one flows in and out of mundane MOR flourishes that try to incorporate atmospheric textures and soulful vocal scales in an obvious attempt to fool listeners-particularly in the cult of Todd-which Healing is more than its minimalistic approach suggests.

But before you can get completely cynical on Todd and declare that Healing was the first hint at Rundgren’s incredibly self-centered and ego-driven 80’s decade, side two suggests that this album definitely stood a chance.

Essentially the record’s centerpiece, “Healing” is presented in a three-song suite that takes up the entire second side. It is here that the atmospherics seem to match Rundgren’s intent of blending the power of healing by actually creating music with healing qualities.

As a result, side-two of Healing became an instant favorite, with side one seldom finding any companionship with my turntable’s needle. The original pressing contained a bonus 7” single of “Time Heals” and “Tiny Demons,” two distinctively separate yet enjoyable cuts that probably deserve better than their “bonus single” status. They certainly deserve better than being tacked on at the end of Healing, which is what every edition of the record has done with them since the original vinyl edition fell out of print.

As a Todd Rundgren document, Healing is arguably a release that is deserving of attention beyond the completists, and beyond the loyal faithful that will place it higher than it actually is. It is indicative of Todd’s problem of failing to live up to the expectations that everyone placed on him after his early masterstrokes, by conveniently side-stepping any attempt to try to challenge them.

You could make the argument that Healing is a notable challenge and a worthy attempt at greatness, but the music within it demonstrates otherwise. It is an effort that literally hinges on two sides: one that feels like a simplistic bit of patchwork that barely adheres to the lofty themes that its title suggests.

The other side does manage to reflect something special, but unfortunately, it’s not enough to excuse the inherent frustrations of his career or the reasons why Healing came into my own life through the bargain bins than are already littered with remnants of Rundgren’s fickle muse.

1 comment:

Kiko Jones said...

I wish could disagree with any part of your review but I can't.
I will say, however, that "Healing (part 1)" manages to avoid being dated and instead transcends its '80s production and is simply of its time, as all good musical period pieces tend to be.