One Long Year

Todd Rundgren

Artemis Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Mark Feldman

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/15/2000

Rock and roll's most underappreciated experimentalist, Todd Rundgren, is back with his first collection of all new (well, almost all new -- we'll get to that in a minute) material in half a decade, and while it's not a disappointing set, it does leave us wishing there were just a little more to it.

First of all, One Long Year is only 42 minutes long. That was more than enough in the '70s when Rundgren was cranking out an album a year, sometimes two if you count those with his band Utopia. But in the current musical environment without those vinyl limitations, it's rather skimpy. Ironically, many of Rundgren's '70s albums ran nearly an hour, as he crammed as much into those tiny grooves as he could. Now he's only using half of the storage capability of the current CD format, which is kind of odd for an artist who in the past has usually been ahead of his time.

Secondly, there are two tracks which are not new at all. "Bang On The Ukelele Daily" is a live Hawaiian folk style reworking of his mega-overplayed (and overrated in my opinion) 1983 hit "Bang On the Drum All Day." It's cute, no doubt about that, but has no place sitting right in the middle of a new studio album. Neither does the bossa nova version of "Love Of The Common Man." At least the original (which was on 1976's Faithful LP) of this is worth rehashing, but this is quite obviously a leftover from With A Twist, Rundgren's recent CD of bossa nova covers of his own old songs. To include it here rather than something new comes across as more of an act of laziness than anything else. So now we're really down to only slightly over half an hour's worth of actual new material.

But length aside, the remaining tracks are some of Rundgren's best in years. Much to the probable joy of many of his fans, he has dropped the "TR-I" moniker, stopped rapping, and is instead exploring many of his older styles in new and exciting ways. His R&B roots are covered on "Buffalo Grass" and "Hit Me Like A Train," both sounding straight out of 1989's excellent (and overlooked) my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Nearly Human album. His progressive-rock past is covered on the Utopia-esque "The Surf Talks," complete with his mystical and irresistibly-pretentious vision. And "Jerk" is an interesting extension of the industrial and rap styles he explored on his more recent albums, without actually being a rap song. Of the new material, only the repetitive instrumental "Mary And The Holy Ghost" is a throwaway.

The highlights? The most obvious Todd-o-phile pleaser is "Where Does The Time Go," one of those timeless sensitive-new-age-guy love songs that never get stale in Rundgren's hands as long as that vintage keyboard keeps chugging along. Who can argue with a chorus like "Where does the time go when I'm with you / how many hours do I lose every day / they recombine when I'm missing you / slowing me down like a digital delay?" It's as good as "Hideaway," "Can We Still Be Friends," "I Saw The Light," and all those others that we all know and love. It even has a little bit of that lounge beat he experimented with on With A Twist.

But the best songs aren't all old hat, as Rundgren proves on several tracks that he can sound contemporary, yet still sound like himself. "I Hate My Frickin' ISP" is another instant Rundgren classic, as he harps on the endless dial-up delays - "I'll never get back the time that I waste" he sings, over a pounding, power-rock beat that would make Third Eye Blind jealous. "Yer Fast (and I Like It)" is a shockingly-PG-13 rated slice of melodic noise that is far more 'alternative' than music that many artists young enough to be Rundgren's children are making these days.

There seems to be a running thread, at least among those three songs, of time slipping away, doesn't there? It's too bad that he doesn't stretch this further into a sort of concept album. And there is a somewhat-related disturbing thing going on here - the beauty of most of Rundgren's best albums lies in their ability to create a specific mood. He's had his pure pop albums (such as Something / Anything, Hermit Of Mink Hollow, Nearly Human), and his albums with one specific type of experiment (such as the minimalism on Healing, the rap on No World Order, or the self-explanatory A Cappella). But his last release, 1995's The Individualist, was startling in its tendencies to jump all over the place, and that continues here.

The key to appreciating One Long Year is not to think of it as an album proper, but more of a Rundgren brainstorm. He admits as much by including a "ratings legend" in the CD insert, categorizing each song as either "happy," "hurty," "angry," "dirty" or "dippy" (and incidentally, I would've been the last to say that "Bang The Drum All Day" was dippy). The best Rundgren albums do, indeed, contain some of each of those, but they somehow feel a little bit more cohesive than this one does. Ultimately, we are left crying for more of the genius we know this man is capable of, especially when considering the 5 year wait between albums. Here's hoping Todd Rundgren still has enough creative juice left in him to go out on a few more album-long limbs. There is half an hour's worth of grade A music here, but that's only half an album, so it only gets half an A.

Rating: C+

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