Runt. The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren

Todd Rundgren

Ampex, 1971


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Throughout his career Todd Rundgren has been known to throw listeners complete curveballs from album to album; beyond that, he’s not been afraid to potentially sabotage his own success in order to follow the musical visions he’s had.

Runt. The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren potentially was the first such curveball. While his debut solo effort Runt could hardly have been called a hit factory (despite having the track “We Gotta Get You A Woman”), Rundgren began moving towards becoming a one-man band at times on this one, and moved away from tracks that could have been AM fodder—remember AM radio, kids?—and followed what he perceived to be the natural next direction of his music. It’s confusing at times, but listenable—even if you sometimes find yourself wishing that Rundgren would simply kick out the jams and let the music flow.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

When Rundgren does let the music stretch out and become more rock-oriented, the album finds its greatest success. The opening track “Long Flowing Robe” might have needed additional development in terms of lyrical content, but is a solid way to start off the musical journey. Similarly, “Chain Letter” is the closest thing we get to hearing Rundgren the rock star, and even though it’s the longest track at just over five minutes, one wishes it had stretched out even longer.

Often, Rundgren settles into the concept of being a rock balladeer—and this strategy works more often than it fails. Tracks like “Bleeding,” “Wailing Wall” and “Be Nice To Me” all clearly pointed to the direction that Rundgren’s music was headed with his next effort Something/Anything, even if he was still hashing out the fine points of creating such songs. Others, like “The Range War” and “Boat On The Charles,” don’t quite reach the target, the former being the silliest of them all.

It could well be that Runt. The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren is not the kind of album that one can get away with just a cursory listen to. There is some depth to the album that begs for the full attention of the listener—and, more often than not, that effort pays off. But even with three albums with The Nazz and one solo effort under his belt, Rundgren was still playing the role of the grand experimenter, not quite knowing how his efforts were going to turn out but accepting them as they were created. In the case of a few tracks like “Parole” and “Boat On The Charles,” perhaps a bit more attention to detail would have proven beneficial.

Rundgren would stumble into success one album later, and while the groundwork for that success is clearly heard being laid on this album, it showed that a few coats of polish were still needed. Runt. The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren is an interesting snapshot of the artist as a young man, but it suggests the photo wasn’t quite fully developed—yet.

Rating: B-

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