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Album Review

If ever a title explained an album's intent, it's Todd Rundgren's Arena, an explicit return to the extravagantly theatrical guitar rock he abandoned, largely out of boredom, some 25 years ago. During that quarter century, Rundgren touched upon almost all of his other obsessions, spending a considerable amount of time fixated upon technology, but deliberately avoided anything resembling Utopia until he stepped in for an absent Ric Ocasek for the 2005 Cars reunion which followed on the heels of Liars, Todd's strongest and poppiest album in years. The New Cars — as the reunited band was wittily dubbed — returned Rundgren to arenas and reignited his interest in outsized rock & roll, so he threw himself into a project that gave him an excuse to sing skyscraper hooks and play too much guitar, which is exactly what Arena promises and delivers. Apart from an occasional glimpse of computer-stitched seams, the album is an uncanny recreation of Todd's late-'70s/early-'80s period, occasionally playing like a belated sequel to 1983's The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect. On a pure sonic level, this may be true — especially when he glides into a glimmering, quietly insistent pop tune like "Courage" — but the aesthetics are sharply different, as Rundgren never indulges in the impish humor that surfaced continually on Tortured Artist, preferring to stew in the outrage that fueled Liars. Opening with the outright threat "Mad," Arena roils with fear and frustration, manifesting in gnarled knots of guitars and cavernous drumbeats, not to mention staccato successions of blunt, one-word song titles. Just as it did on Liars, this fury ties Arena together but thanks to all the exaggerated gestures, this feels angrier as a whole, which makes it pretty bracing. Rundgren's deliberate dramatics also make the gentler songs seem sweeter, but also make his sardonic jokes and political protests — which do come hand in hand, as on the soldier-chant chorus of "Gun" — draw blood. And that may be the most curious thing about Arena: musically, it's an unabashed throwback, having nothing to do with what arena rock is in 2008, but Todd's songs are all about the conflicted, confused present. This seeming paradox doesn't turn Arena into a muddle but instead gives it some invigorating friction that makes the album seem urgent and captivating, if not necessarily vital.

Customer Reviews

Todd Rocks!

Finally, the new release from Todd has arrived...  Arena! Still pondering the meanings and message but it is certainly a powerfully angry statement, delivered in 13 blistering heavy rock tunes, about the lack of internal fortitude that our culture embodies.  How we let ourselves be led astray by the wimps that pass for our leaders.  How we can rise up past all the internal negativity and apathy and cynicism to lead the lives we were meant to, or maybe to stand with some strong new leader who can ask more of us than we've been willing to give ourselves credit for being able to do.  Wink wink, nudge nudge.  Of course Todd wouldn't write songs about specific people that would be gone in a few years, so you just have to extrapolate from the generalizations and you know exactly who he's pissed off about. What, exactly does the title Arena mean?  Most obviously it appears to be a return to stadium sized rock songs, anthems if you will.  Although one would think Mr. Rundgren's stadium filling days are way behind him.  Especially since the "New Cars" tour fizzled out after Elliot Easton broke his collarbone.  It could be the Arena of ideas, the pop culture arena, the media arena, or the ever popular political arena. Or it cold be the Sparta/Xerxes battle portrayed in the film “300”, from which Todd gets his skimpy cover art outfit. Anyway, on to the song-by-song review: The opener "Mad" is initially a toe-tapper that rapidly morphs into a fist-pumper and then becomes an outright head banger by the time we get to the chorus. "Now I'm mad This is more than upset It's as enraged as I get And you ain't seen me mad yet And now I'm mad" The second number is "Afraid" and it's theme is as much about us, as it is about them. "Because you're afraid, afraid to see To see the reason 'Cause you're afraid the tide has turned And you're afraid to learn" "Mercenary" friggin' rocks the house down and takes no prisoners.  Heavy edged guitar riffs in triplicate illustrate the hollow callousness that money can buy to perpetrate pure evil in our names. "Close your eyes and plug your ears and turn away I will execute the task without dismay" "I will lay a foe to waste For a grudge I've never had" The next song "Gun" carries on in a Texas-bluesy vein, sounds initially like a ZZ Top song, but eventually features a Wa-Wa pedal guitar solo that’s totally out of this world. Equating the love for guns with a certain cretinous mentality is the message here. "You better run 'Cause I'm young, dumb and I've got a gun Public idiot number one 'Cause I'm young, dumb and I've got a gun" "Courage" (as you can see if you've stuck with this review this far all the tunes have one word titles.  Effective.)  Is more of an introspective upbeat ballad, if there is such a thing, as only Todd can deliver.  Building through each verse a certain, um, courage... to face those things we'd like to change but regret having blown the chance too often.  It's modulations and key changes keep building up to a great lead guitar fade out.  It could be about one man's relationship to his faith, or to his youthful stridency.  Or it could just be about a girl.  We get to decide. "Weakness" is sweet Philly soul in three quarter time. It floats along, occasionally interrupted by a menacing effects-laden guitar riff.  What is it that makes us weak?  We all have our Achilles heel, our Kryptonite, as OH sings.  Or it could just be a song about a girl. "Strike"  This is obviously a power anthem, an arena rock homåge, a stadium filling, get up off your @ss and boogie, stomp up and down, make your throat hoarse by singing the chorus, and then collapse to your knees in a puddle of your own sweat and blood and swear your gonna live your life the way your were meant to.  TR's voice even sounds like AC/DC's Brian Jhonson in the chorus.  Raspy, raw, like a buzz saw. "Are you ready to rumble? Are you just gonna grumble? You might take a tumble But it's time to rumble" "Time to strike while the iron is hot" "Pissin"  is about a braggard, a guy nobody wants to talk to at a party, does not impress the ladies... a one man pissin' contest.  Yes that's right.  I never heard that phrase before either, but it's perfect. Probably about GW Bush, the clueless one. "Today"  It's all about the moment baby, today's the day.  Today, it's a day like no other.  Seize it or squander it. "Bardo"  A long, dreamy, Hendrix-like guitar meditation on Karma and the Tibetan description of the stages between death and our next incarnation.  Material life, what is it really?  Just a show.  And our thoughts, our beliefs; we treat them like they're so precious, but in the clear light of death we can be honest with ourselves and surrender, in freedom, to the truth.  We are just manifestations of loving energy.  Use it wisely. "Mountaintop"  A time-tested metaphor for the challenge of our lives. I'm going to climb that mountain, one step at a time.  Great call and response chorus in the live show for this classic rocker. "I'll take one step (Higher, higher) And another step (Higher, higher) ‘Til I reach that mountaintop" "Panic"  Speed metal with a social theme.  I'm really impressed with Todd's guitar chops on this disk.  I guess when you've been at it for over 40 years you get better and better.  Basically there's no need to panic.  And the one who keeps his head clear when all about them panic will come out on top. "Manup"  Need Our Hero say anything more?  It’s time to man up or shut up.  Excellent guitar work for the fiery finisher.  Wail on brother... "Somebody call the boys cause there's no men in here" Enjoy!       r

Todd is Godd!

What more can I say. Todd has assembled a great group of musicians for this album, as well as the Arena Tour. Had the pleasure of experiencing this tour in Woodstock New York, where some of Todds musical roots are. Also had the pleasure of meeting Todd, as well as Prairie Prince, and they are both class acts. This album will not disappoint, as parts of it have sort of a Utopia type sound. Keep up the good work Todd R. Seamus O'Flynn

we gotta get you a toga

Another great album from Mr. Rundgren. Just make sure Russel Crowe doesn't see the cover.

Biography

Born: June 22, 1948 in Upper Darby, PA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Todd Rundgren's best-known songs — the Carole King pastiche "I Saw the Light," the ballads "Hello, It's Me" and "Can We Still Be Friends," and the goofy novelty "Bang on the Drum All Day" — suggest that he is a talented pop craftsman, but nothing more than that. On one level, that perception is true since he is undoubtedly a gifted pop songwriter, but at his core, Rundgren is a rock & roll maverick. Once he had a taste of success with his 1972 masterwork Something/Anything?, Rundgren...
Full Bio

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