RNLP 70865 Todd Rundgren's Utopia
Produced by Todd Rundgren
Released on October 1974
US CHART POSITION #34
Find it at GEMM
RNLP 70865 cover
[high resolution scan]
 

N ot content to let Frank Zappa have all the fun, Todd Rundgren surrounded himself with a quintet of musicians (including three keyboardists!), dubbed the venture Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, and released an album of progressive rock that sought to let the singer/guitarist’s creativity run wild outside the confines of the short-form song. Over the course of the album, however, you’ll be reminded that Rundgren is at his best when he’s reined in--despite some fascinating moments, the instrumental sections just don’t captivate the way Zappa’s did. M. Frog Labat* does take center stage with some lovely results, creating oases of calm with his synthesizers, but Utopia sorely lacks a George Duke or Ruth Underwood to keep the intensity up when Rundgren steps back. What listeners can take from this are isolated moments that sound like they could have been made into good four-minute songs, most of which occur on “Freak Parade” and “The Ikon.” Honestly, Todd’s voice has never been suited to progressive rock, and at times he seems outmatched by progressive rock’s potential for epic songwriting. For example, “Freedom Fighters” finds Rundgren retreating into the comfort of the short song. Compared to the music of Yes, ELP and Zappa, Utopia is little more than a truck stop between pop and pomp. As much as individual sections show that Utopia might have some claim to art rock, there are moments like the off-key vocals on “Utopia’s Theme” or the trite keyboard solos on “The Ikon” that’ll send you running for the real stuff.

*   I had originally confused M. Frog Labat as a nom du plume for Roger Powell. I was wrong. I am sorry. Here for your edification is a note from Mr. Geoffrey Feldman that sets the record straight:

M. Frog Labat was Jean Yves Labat; Powell joined the group with the next album. I worked with both men and they are extremely different people and very different as artists. I think this will also be evident if you listened to that first Utopia album and then to the rest. Labat had a much wilder style then.

Labat used the Synthi AKS by EMS of England and Powell used Arp synthesizers by Arp instruments. The large console of synth equipment in the back album picture was Synthi units integrated into a custom frame. I built that while employed by EMS of America. The Voltage controlled filters of devices in the day gave them a distinctive character and you can hear the differences too. The Synthi line were also used extensively by Pink Floyd.

RNLP 70865 back cover
RNLP 70865 back cover

TRACK LISTING

  1. UTOPIA THEME    (Todd Rundgren/Mason)    14:18
  2. FREAK PARADE    (Moogy Klingman/John Siegler/Todd Rundgren)    10:14
  3. FREEDOM FIGHTERS    (Todd Rundgren)    4:01
  4. THE IKON    (Todd Rundgren/Ralph Schuckett/Moogy Klingman/John Siegler, arr. by Utopia)    30:22

CREDITS

KEVIN ELLIMAN -- percussion
MOOGY KLINGMAN -- keyboards
M. FROG LABAT -- synthesizers
TODD RUNDGREN -- guitar, engineer
RALPH SCHUCKETT -- keyboards
JOHN SIEGLER -- bass and cello

return to UTOPIA discography

REGION RELEASE DATE LABEL MEDIA ID NUMBER FEATURES
US/CAN October 1974 Bearsville LP/CS BR 6954  
UK October 1974 Bearsville LP/CS K55501  
US August 24, 1988 Bearsville/Rhino LP/CD/CS RNLP/RNCD/RNC 70865  
JPN   Bearsville CD VICP-60271 digital remaster
EEC   Essential CD ESMCD 755 digital remaster

 

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