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Todd Rundgren

Bearsville BR 6963
Released: May 1976
Chart Peak: #54
Weeks Charted: 15

Todd RundgrenIt's 1967 and both Hendrix and the Yardbirds are busy evolving the electric guitar, the Beatles and the Beach Boys are revolutionizing the aesthetics of the studio and Dylan is burning in creative fever with a rock band and sad-eyed ladies. Todd Rundgren is a kid with his first band, the Nazz, and he's listening hard.

Almost a decade later, he's turned up with recitations of six of the most important songs of that year -- "Good Vibrations," "If Six Was Nine," "Most Likely You'll Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" and "Rain." Rundgren's career has been that of a renaissance pop musician, sopping up influences like a sponge and employing them with clever calculation. The problem here isn't Rundgren's lack of the vocal and instrumental chops of his influences -- he doesn't have the voice of Brian Wilson, for example, but he's mastered his style -- but that as literal recreations, the tunes are little more than artifacts. Initially interesting and funny, they're ultimately redundant. And if they're designed for Rundgren's teenage constituency, one is left hoping that the astute will pick up on the Runt's hint and dig up the primary sources. Would even Rundgren himself listen to his versions in lieu of the originals?

The original material that fills side two is a more ambitious tribute to his influences and his strongest collection of pop tunes since his classic Something/Anything? Rundgren wrote of that album's "I Saw the Light": "If there's a single on this album, this is it, so I put it first like at Motown." The new "Love of the Common Man" certainly deserves the same accolade: its infectious melodies, endearing voice and sentiments and tasty mix of Beatles-esque guitars and harmonies make it irresistible. The simple chorus hook -- "turn the world around" -- carries more genuine power than all the cosmic proclamations that have cluttered much of his recent work.

"Cliche" is similarly effective, with a strong pop melody enlivened by Rundgren's harmonies and the intricate weave of various keyboards. He explores his soul influences with a strong if somewhat overblown ballad, "The Verb 'to Love.'" He pokes fanciful fun at rock's recent infatuation with Caribbean rhythms on "When I Pray" (with its wonderful chorus, "singin' om omigod, please be there") and showcases his flashy guitar moves on the rockers, "Black and White" and "Boogies (Hamburger Hell)." Diverse, highly musical and, best of all, fun, these songs embody the influences that Rundgren put under a microscope on his tributes.

Rundgren is very much a product of the Sixties and, specifically, the artists he has chosen to cover on Faithful. And with the help of Utopia (his band), he's lived up to the album's title. "Good Vibrations," "Strawberry Fields Forever" and the rest are not interpretations but facsimiles, verbatim mimics of the riffs and ideas of the originals. Faithful's failure to live up to the second side's more ambitious definition of the term -- that is, a new embodiment of his heroes' energy and visions -- is the tragic flaw in what is otherwise Rundgren's strongest album in years.

- John Milward, Rolling Stone, 7/1/76.

Bonus Reviews!

I see Todd Rundgren as a child of the times, a technocrat with a good sense of pitch. His vision seems to have more to do with working "studio magic" than anything else -- his songs (all of side two here) seem quite modern and synthetic, as if most of the experiences they were based on came in via the media. They feel air-conditioned, their windows sealed shut. I could be wrong, of course, as my view of Rundgren has been casual, but I just can't see much point to this album, unless it's an exercise in producing records. There's a certain brashness, I suppose, in the way he almost re-creates the Beach Boys' arrangement of "Good Vibrations" (which, incidentally, is instructive; one can't help noticing how he's scrubbed off all the Beach Boys' rakishness, without which their style is about as interesting as Lawrence Welk's) and then mimics Dylan's inflections. But you can get a certain brashness almost anywhere you turn these days, and the other side is all these fiberglass-bodied "originals" that absolutely refuse to be remembered one moment after they stop... and yet don't sound all that bad while they're going Hmph. I think I'll staycasual about this act.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 10/76.

Interesting idea, as Rundgren devotes side one to some of the better and more esoteric songs of the '60s, offering remarkably faithful adaptations vocally and instrumentally. Side two is the original material, primarily in the easy rock vein popularized by the artist over the past several years. One long cut with a classical beginning and a pop/soul feeling is the most intriguing, while the remainder are in a more typical Rundgren vein. Good harmony, double-tracked vocals and smooth production the highlights. Best cuts: "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," "Rain" "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Love Of The Common Man," "Cliche," "The Verb 'To Love.'"

- Billboard, 1976.

As you probably know by now, one whole side recreates six '60s studio masterpieces note-for-note, from the calculated spontaneity of Bob Dylan to the electronic perfectionism of the Beach Boys and the Beatles. This is impressive and amusing, you can fool your friends, but it's overwhelmed (once you've heard it a few times) by what might be called the Enoch Light (or Your Hit Parade) (or voiceprint) effect. That is, Todd's vocal imitations (a phrase that deserves one of his slurs) sound thin and forced. This is especially notable considering how well his voice works on the other side, his clearest and most interesting set of songs since Something/Anything. It also reinforces the unfortunate impression that even when clearly interesting, Todd is factitious and compulsively secondhand. B

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

One half of this outing features Rundgren delivering almost letter-perfect versions of '60s classics like "Good Vibrations" and "Rain," which are impressive in their attention to detail but sound strangely lifeless. On the other half of the album, he delivers some of his best work since Something/Anything?, particularly on "Black & White" and "When I Pray." * * *

- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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