This is a paradigm of what a good live album should be with Rundgren and his...
Rob Webb 2003-06-10
Deleted since the mid Nineties, Todd Rundgren's 1989 album, Nearly Human, must be his most underheard and overlooked album. This is a shame: it was an extraordinary return to form, a soulful exercise recorded live in the studio with the usual luscious, but slightly pinched, production and featuring classic Rundgren tracks, such as ''The Want of a Nail'' and ''Hawking''.
In 1990 Todd took his 11-piece band out on the road, compete with a roster of backing singers and guest musicians, to promote the album and showcase his greatest hits, and this double CD set of the extravaganza was recorded at the Sun Plaza in Tokyo. This must have been some show. Rundgren came on in a Western-style costume, according to the liner notes, hamming it up and gyrating across the stage looking like Michael Jackson and sounding like Marvin Gaye.
All but two of the outstanding tracks from Nearly Human are featured. The stomp and groove of ''Unloved Children'' must have got the Japanese audience on their feet. Once up, ''Can't Stop Running'' keeps them pounding like a soundtrack to a workout. ''The Want of a Nail'', a powerful bone-shaker with its Bobby Womack-style opening, leaves you gasping for air. ''Hawking'', perhaps the strongest track on Nearly Human, is a beautiful, moving soul song, brilliantly recreated here with Todd in full flood. ''Parallel Lines'' is the greatest single he never had.
The collection also includes striking versions of some of Rundgren's greatest and best-loved songs from the Seventies: the ballad ''Compassion'', from Healing; ''Can We Still Be Friends'', from Hermit of Mink Hollow; ''Real Man'' and the much-cherished ''Hello, It's Me''. He also races through a couple of Utopia rockers: ''Love in Action'' from Oops! Wrong Planet and ''Rock Love'' from 1980s Adventures in Utopia. Add to this terrific interpretations of ''Secret Society'', with a soaring guitar from Todd, and the heartfelt ''Mated'', a hit for David Grant and Jaki Graham in the Eighties.
Rundgren brings it home on the gospel-tinged closing number, ''I Love My Life'', an energetic 13-minute wall-of-sound echoing the live performances of Bruce Springsteen. This is a paradigm of what a good live album should be with Rundgren and his soccer-team-sized band of musicians on top form. Until someone pulls their finger out and reissues a much-needed digitally remastered Nearly Human, this is a worthy substitute.