Todd Rundgren Arena Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Proof positive that age means little to Upper Darby's finest son.

Chris Jones 2008

As every seasoned Todd watcher knows, the man has many sides, and those fond of the proggy, spiritual explorer may be a little shocked by Arena. For, like Peter Finch in Network, it appears that Rundgren is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. Whereas on 2000's One Long Year he hated his ''frickin' ISP'', in these serious times things have been upped a notch.

The reasons for his ire are manifold. Current foreign and domestic affairs for starters. Gun is an hilarious boogie that proves once and for all that Todd is not about to become a member of the NRA. Meanwhile Mercenary and Today obviously stem from his disappointment at worldwide hypocrisy and trauma. At other times it's unnamed individuals that get the polymath's goat. Mad and Pissin' both confront people who get too close for comfort and cause him to ponder "How does one vent one's sense of sickness/At skull and skin of such vast thickness?". Turning 60 has not quenched his fire one iota.

After a 'guerrilla' tour of the States with a four-piece guitar outfit he's been inspired to make what the title confirms is widescreen arena rock. Of course this is Todd's version so while there's more metal in the mix than usual (Mercenary is as close to Metallica as he'll ever get, and Strike could actually BE AC/DC) it's still leavened with those swooning, soul-inflected harmonies.

Aside from the anger there's the usual subjects that TR fans will recognise. The constant re-evaluation of what it means to be a modern male (Courage), the belief in the power of love (Weakness) and the constant striving for self-improvement (Afraid Mountaintop). But fans of guitar god-Todd will be most happy. Bardo and Weakness are numbers that approach the bluesy, Hendrix-style lope of classics like Black Maria or Number 1 Lowest Common Denominator, where his axe lazily goes from woozy psychedelia to turned-to-11 histrionics. And just about every other track is riddled with axe frenzy. Hurrah.

If there's a downside it's the lack of a real band. ironically for the man who wrote the book on doing it all yourself (inspiring Prince among others) the modern digital process is slightly too clinical. You long for the glorious imperfections that marked his early work, where ambition overstepped technology.

But this is a minor drawback, and Arena is 13 songs of pepped-up, pop metal: intelligent, masterful and proof positive that age means little to Upper Darby's finest son. Invigorating stuff...

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