After two albums, Todd Rundgren had one hit and a burgeoning cult following, plus growing respect as a hitmaking record producer. There's no question he was busy, but as it turns out, all this work only scratched the surface of his ambition….
Billed as the first official collection of live bootleg recordings, the triple-disc For Lack of Honest Work is a live anthology stretching back to live-in-the-studio recordings of “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and “Broke Down and Busted” in Philadelphia from 1971 and running all the way to 2006, when Todd belts out “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP” in Toronto. In between these extremes are many other extremes – Todd indulging in the early days of Utopia, cuts from his A Cappella tour, a doo wop arrangement of “Real Man,” a synthesized piss-take of “Bang on the Drum,” a solo electric “Hammer in Your Heart,” slickly accomplished on-stage jamming – all loosely arranged so the first disc contains the poppiest material, the second the proggiest, the third his mature phase. It’s not quite a straight-on realist portrait but a hazy abstract impression of Todd’s multifaceted abilities, with the overall range being somewhat more impressive than individual moments.
Todd Rundgren considered 1966 the beginning of his professional musical career, largely because the Nazz formed around that time. As a celebration, he recorded Faithful. Presumably, Faithful celebrates the past and the future by juxtaposing a side of original pop material with a side of covers. Actually, "covers" isn't accurate – the six oldies that comprise the entirety of side one are re-creations, with Rundgren "faithfully" replicating the sound and feel of the Yardbirds ("Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"), Bob Dylan ("Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine"), Jimi Hendrix ("If Six Was Nine"), the Beach Boys ("Good Vibrations") and the Beatles "("Rain," "Strawberry Fields Forever"). All of this is entertaining, to a certain extent, especially since it's remarkable how close Rundgren comes to duplicating the very feel of the originals.
Healing is Todd Rundgren's ninth studio album, released in 1981. Spirituality and the human condition is Healing's theme; something Rundgren had touched on many times in earlier works but never with the consistency exhibited here as every track explores a different aspect. The back cover image of the album (artwork by Prairie Prince) shows the caduceus overlaid by a treble clef and a Qabalistic Tree of Life overlaid by a bass clef, reflecting Rundgren's linking of his spirituality and music.
Out of all the releases issued thus far in the Todd Rundgren/Utopia Official Bootleg series, it turns out that Vol. 5 – Oops! Wrong Planet Tour – is one of the most "bootleg sounding" of the bunch, as it's less than stellar audio quality suggests it is an audience recording. Despite not possessing as clear a sound as the other volumes (which appear to be mostly soundboard recordings), Oops! Wrong Planet Tour does a good job of capturing the group during one of the most transitional periods of its career. Beginning the year (1977) as a prog rock band (RA) and ending it as a new wave-ish arena rock outfit (Oops! Wrong Planet), both sides of the group are showcased on this double-disc set, while a generous helping of solo Rundgren material is included as well, given a Utopia makeover.
Easily, 1980 could have gone down as the year that Utopia broke through to the mainstream. With the commercial success achieved with the album Adventures in Utopia and its single, "Set Me Free," it appeared as though Rundgren and company were well on their way with their next release. But instead of issuing another album of new wave-esque pop, the group completely switched gears and released a twisted Beatles parody, Deface the Music. While longtime fans loved it, the release obviously confused and alienated their newfound mainstream following, as it failed to follow its predecessor's strong chart showing (and with John Lennon's death just two months after its release, a Beatles parody wasn't exactly what many rock fans wanted to hear at that point in time). As a result, the group only performed selections from the Deface album during its short supporting tour. Now fans can finally hear what the songs sounded like on the concert stage, with Vol. 6 of Rundgren's bootleg series, Deface the Music Tour.
By the release of 1984's Oblivion, Utopia was inching its way toward a sound that was very popular with the mainstream pop bands of the time – glossy production and electronic drums (a sound popularized by the likes of the Cars and Def Leppard). While the aforementioned groups benefited from this musical approach, Utopia did not – especially due to the fact that drummer Willie Wilcox helped propel many of the group's tracks before this "electronic makeover." It turns out that on the album's supporting tour, Wilcox merged both traditional drums with electronic ones (which improved many of the cold-sounding Oblivion tracks), as evidenced from Vol. 9 of the ongoing Todd Rundgren/Utopia Official Bootleg series, Oblivion Tour. Although its days as a band were drawing rapidly to a close (Utopia would only issue one more album, 1985's POV), the group sounds in fine form here, as such new tracks as "Cry Baby," "Itch in My Brain," and "Love With a Thinker" turn out to be highlights, as well as such older nuggets as "You Make Me Crazy," "Caravan," and "Last of the New Wave Riders".