Todd Rundgren

Bearsville / Rhino Records, 1976


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Just when you think that Todd Rundgren is getting predictable, he goes and does something that confuses critics, confounds casual followers, and delights his diehard following.

After a few rather "experimental" albums ( A Wizard, A True Star, Todd and Initiation - all albums I admit I still haven't gotten to yet) and after founding his progressive rock side project Utopia, Rundgren took a look back at his roots and recorded Faithful, an album that is partially made up of cover tunes, partly of originals. Good gravy, some might have thought, had Rundgren finally lost it? However, Rundgren's staying true to form to the covers (except for one major mistake, which we'll talk about) and his uncanny ability to craft pop songs makes Faithful a surprisingly strong album and delightful listen.

On the six covers, Rundgren occasionally sounds like the singers he's replacing. His cover of "Good Vibrations" is impeccable, even down to the use of the theremin - and he turns in a damn fine Dylan impersonation on "Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine". And I defy anyone except for the diehard Beatles fan to not enjoy Rundgren's cover of "Rain."my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

While Rundgren doesn't even come close to sounding like Jimi Hendrix in terms of a singing voice, his cover of "If Six Was Nine" is respectable, and it demonstrates his skills on the six-string. But Rundgren makes a major mistake on his cover of "Strawberry Fields Forever": Listen closely as the second verse ends, and try to keep time to the beat. Someone - either Rundgren or drummer John Wilcox - loses a whole beat, and kicks things off too quickly. (This is more shocking to me because I've always considered Rundgren to be a perfectionist.) Besides this flub, the cover is true to the bone.

After a whole side of covers, Faithful returns to the land of original tunes. Some of the work here reminds the listener of Rundgren's masterpiece Something / Anything?, working everything from solid rock ("Black And White") to acoustic-based ballads ("Cliche") to '70s soul ("The Verb "To Love") into a seamless mixture. Also not lost is Rundgren's tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, as heard on "When I Pray": "If I should die before I wake / Somebody made a big mistake."

Faithful is best remembered for Rundgren's beatutiful number "Love Of The Common Man," a song which transcends any genre description one might try to pigeonhole the track into. It takes a listen or two to really appreciate the song, but it quickly shows itself to be one of Rundgren's most gentle pieces he's ever done.

The only song that I have not been able to get into is "Boogies (Hamburger Hell)," another song that works the dry Rundgren humor into the mix. Whether it's a slam against fast food or one particular restaurant in general I can't tell (the vocals are a bit distorted to the point that I can't decipher them that well), but the track as a whole is one that just falls a bit flat in comparison to the rest of the album.

Even though the mixture of covers and originals works on Faithful, one has to wonder why Rundgren and crew (the band was three-fourths of what would become the "classic" lineup for Utopia) didn't just stay in one vein. I have no doubt that Rundgren could have pulled off a whole album of covers and made it sound as fresh as the originals, and his skill at writing original numbers is well-known. Still, this is a mixture that works better than some might have expected it to. 

Rating: A-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Bearsville / Rhino Records, and is used for informational purposes only.