The Second Disc

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Ever the Individualist: Todd Rundgren Goes Esoteric

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By the time 1993 rolled around, devotees of the musical wizardry of Todd Rundgren only knew to expect the unexpected.  Warner Bros. Records had rescued 1985’s A Cappella after the album had been rejected by Rundgren’s longtime home, Bearsville.    The maverick artist followed that with two efforts recorded expressly for the label, Nearly Human (1989) and 2nd Wind (1991).  These two albums showed the artist as a supreme pop craftsman with would-be classics like “The Want of a Nail” and “Parallel Lines” on the former, and “Change Myself” on the latter.  (“Parallel Lines,” like a handful of other songs on these albums, came from a 1989 stab at musical theatre, Up Against It.  Based on an unproduced Joe Orton screenplay intended for The Beatles, Rundgren’s musical was produced at Joe Papp’s Public Theater.  Writing for the New York Times, Mel Gussow called “Parallel Lines” the show’s “one good song.”)  After the Warner Bros. contract drew to a close, though, Rundgren entered another highly experimental period, and one that might have been his most cutting-edge yet.

Todd Rundgren’s rich catalogue has been revisited lately by not one, but two, major U.K. labels.  The Edsel Records/Bearsville campaign, launched just last week, will soon continue with four more volumes, according to the booklets from the first wave: Back to the Bars (EDSD 2125), Hermit of Mink Hollow/Healing/The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect (EDSD 2126), Todd Rundgren’s Utopia/Another Live (EDSD 2127) and Adventures in Utopia/Deface the Music/Swing to the Right (EDSD 2129).  (Watch this space for the release date of that quartet once it’s revealed!)  Meanwhile, the Cherry Red affiliate Esoteric Recordings recently reissued three titles from the Utopia catalogue.  Redux 92: Live in Japan (ECLEC 22238) and Oblivion (ECLEC 22237) both added DVD content to the original albums, while POV (ECLEC 2255) appended previously-issued bonus tracks.

Esoteric’s next three Rundgren reissues span the period between 1993 and 2000 and find the ever popular tortured artist exploring his most radical avenues yet.  The first of the titles to be reissued by Esoteric, 1993’s No World Order, introduced “TR-i,” or “Todd Rundgren Interactive.”  The album was designed for Philips’ short-lived CD-i format, and here’s where the interactivity came in: listeners could control a number of elements of the music’s sequence, drawing on mixes prepared by Rundgren, Hal Willner, Bob Clearmountain and Jerry Harrison.  Your experience with No World Order could be altered by features like Program, Direction, Form, Tempo, Mood, Mix and Video; the music itself was roughly 990 four-bar musical segments, with each one a portion of a song and playable in multiple versions from instrumental to a cappella.  For those not equipped with CD-i, Rundgren offered his preferred mix of No World Order as a standard CD, which forms the core of Esoteric’s reissue.  A year later, he released No World Order Lite, an “accessible” version of the album with a more conventional song structure.  A Japanese-only release, NWO 1.01, included more distinct mixes.  Esoteric brings all three of these albums together, plus two tracks from a Japanese single and two more from a U.S. promotional single.  This 2-CD set, the centerpiece of Esoteric’s program, represents the most complete No World Order yet.

What’s next from Esoteric?  Hit the jump!

No World Order was followed in 1995 by another TR-i title, The Individualist.  The album is a collection of songs rather than fragments, and like its predecessor, it found the artist returning to his familiar DIY setting.  He played all of the instruments himself, though he was joined by other choral voices on the song “Family Values,” directed to none other than Dan Quayle!   The tone is a bit heavier than in the past, however, with pointed, barbed lyrics aimed at various targets.  Rundgren even raps on the album, a concession to the 1995 release date!  The original pressing of The Individualist was an enhanced CD with interactive capability for both Macs and PCs.  Esoteric’s reissue is remastered and contains new liner notes.

Two years later, Rundgren was pictured on the cover of With a Twist seated at a bar, surrounded by tropical drinks adorned with pineapples and pink umbrellas.  He introduced his latest album with a sleeve note: “Am I serious?  I’m always serious.  Bossa nova is serious music – not for the faint of heart.  It’s a music devoid of the histrionics that mask your true feelings.  It’s about the thoughtful study of emotions and conditions – of why we feel as much as what we feel.”  Serious or not, With a Twist featured eleven Rundgren favorites, served bossa nova style, some 33 years after Getz/Gilberto took America by storm.  Hits and favorites like “I Saw the Light,” “Hello It’s Me,” “Can We Still Be Friends” and “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” all got the refreshing – and refreshingly offbeat – light bossa treatment, with Todd joined by Jesse Gress (guitars), John Ferenzik (keyboards), Kasim Sulton (bass) and Prairie Prince (drums/percussion).  Esoteric’s reissue will mark the first such reappraisal of With a Twist as well as its follow-up, 2000’s One Long Year.

Even though the song was titled “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP,” the opening salvo on One Long Year sounded familiar to any fans of Rundgren’s pop/rock history, with bright, crunchy guitars and a hook-filled melody.    The album collected songs originally recorded for Rundgren’s Patronet online service, so it has a ragged, mixed-bag quality that actually works in its favor.  There’s a droll, live “Hawaiian war chant” version of “Bang on the Drum All Day” from 1999 retitled “Bang on the Ukelele Daily,” and a remake of “Love of the Common Man” from 1976’s Faithful, rendered in the bossa nova of With a Twist!  Best of all is “Where Does the Time Go,” an unbelievably catchy pop song written and recorded in demo form by Rundgren some years earlier.

Todd continues to surprise his fans and inspire musicians today; one admirer is Ben Folds, who recently discussed meeting Rundgren in our special Second Disc Interview!  (Folds’ Stems and Seeds interactive disc is a direct descendant of No World Order!)  Here’s your very own chance to revisit some of the artist’s more overlooked works.  No World Order and The Individualist will arrive on or around November 8 from Esoteric Recordings, while With a Twist and One Long Year are due on December 6.  Pre-order links and track listings follow!

Todd Rundgren, The Individualist (Alchemedia/Navarre DEE-6000, 1995 – reissued Esoteric ECLEC 2297, 2011)

  1. Tables Will Turn
  2. If Not Now, When?
  3. Family Values
  4. The Ultimate Crime
  5. Espresso (All Jacked Up)
  6. The Individualist
  7. Cast the First Stone
  8. Beloved Infidel
  9. Temporary Sanity
  10. Woman’s World

Todd Rundgren, No World Order: Expanded Edition (Esoteric ECLEC 22296, 2011)

CD 1: No World Order plus Bonus Tracks

  1. Worldwide Epiphany 1.0
  2. No World Order 1.0
  3. Worldwide Epiphany 1.1
  4. Day Job 1.0
  5. Property 1.0
  6. Fascist Christ 1.0
  7. Love Thing 1.0
  8. Time Stood Still 1.0
  9. Proactivity 1.0
  10. No World Order 1.1
  11. Worldwide Epiphany 1.2
  12. Time Stood Still 1.1
  13. Love Thing 1.1
  14. Time Stood Still 1.2
  15. Word Made Flesh 1.0
  16. Fever Broke 1.0
  17. Day Job (US Club Version)
  18. No World Order (Yokohama Morning Version)
  19. Day Job (US Radio Version)

CD 2: No World Order Lite and NWO 1.01 plus Bonus Tracks

  1. Worldwide Epiphany
  2. Love Thing
  3. Property
  4. Day Job
  5. Fascist Christ
  6. No World Order
  7. Time Stood Still
  8. Proactivity
  9. Word Made Flesh
  10. Fever Broke
  11. Fascist Christ (Fax Version) *
  12. Property (Video Version)
  13. Day Job (Radio Version)
  14. Fascist Christ (Radio Version)
  15. Fever Broke (Xaos Version)
  16. Property (Lost Version)
  17. Day Job (Club Version)
  18. Fascist Christ (Broken Version)
  19. No World Order (Yokohama Night Version)

Disc 1, Tracks 1-16 from No World Order, Alchemedia/Forward/Rhino R2 71266, 1993
Disc 1, Tracks 17 & 19 from Day Job promotional single, Alchemedia/Forward/Rhino PRCD 7008, 1993
Disc 1, Track 18 & Disc 2, Track 19 from No World Order CD-3 single, Pony Canyon (Japan) PCDY-00118, 1992
Disc 2, Tracks 1-10 from No World Order Lite, Alchemedia/Forward/Rhino R2 71744, 1994
Disc 2, Tracks 11-18 from NWO 1.01, Pony Canyon (Japan) PCCY-00457, 1993

* In place of this track on Esoteric’s official tracklisting is “NWO 1.01,” the name of the album itself.  This is most likely an error, as the complete album is promised, which would include “Fascist Christ (Fax Version).”

Todd Rundgren, One Long Year (Artemis/Sheridan Square 498775 2, 2000 – reissued Esoteric, 2011)

  1. I Hate My Frickin’ ISP
  2. Buffalo Grass
  3. Jerk
  4. Bang on the Ukelele Daily
  5. Where Does the Time Go?
  6. Love of the Common Man
  7. Mary and the Holy Ghost
  8. Yer Fast (And I Like It)
  9. Hit Me Like a Train
  10. The Surf Talks

Todd Rundgren, With a Twist (Guardian 7243 8 59866 2 8, 1997 – reissued Esoteric, 2011)

  1. I Saw the Light
  2. Influenza
  3. Can We Still be Friends
  4. Mated
  5. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference
  6. Love is the Answer
  7. Fidelity
  8. Never Never Land
  9. Hello It’s Me
  10. I Want You
  11. A Dream Goes On Forever

Written by Joe Marchese

October 17, 2011 at 14:17

4 Responses

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  1. I bought the first round of Utopia reissues on Esoteric and the Runt/Ballad 2-fer just released on Edsel. Though the Esoteric CDs claim “remastering,” the Edsel CDs do not. Furthermore, neither sound better than the original Japanese k2 releases. Can you or do you have any more info on what tapes were used? It’d be a pity to spend more money if the product is inferior. Thanks. Sal

    Sal Nunziato

    October 21, 2011 at 08:16

  2. Maybe I didn’t read it correctly because I’m uncertain. Is “With A Twist” remastered or remixed, one or the other, both or neither? It’s one of my favorite Rundgren albums.

    Ken Cheshire

    March 6, 2012 at 12:12

    • “With a Twist” is remastered, as are all of the other solo TR & Utopia titles in Esoteric’s new series. Todd must be happy with the label’s work, as he’s recently signed with Esoteric for a new album, as well. Good news!

      Joe Marchese

      March 6, 2012 at 23:11

  3. Esoteric’s remasters are excellent some of you people might what to invest in a DAC (Audio Alchemy) foe example with a High Power Amp (Adcom) and some speakers (Kef or B&W). Maybe then you could hear the difference because there is definitely is and worth the extra money to pick-up the remasters unless it’s for you car or some cheap stereo or MP3 player..

    S Shilling

    December 2, 2012 at 12:18

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