Todd Rundgren’s never been afraid to mix things up a little.
On the contrary, the Philadelphia-born songwriter / producer has made a career of being something of a musical chameleon, always changing—evolving—from one album to the next.
He played rock and roll with The Nazz in the late ‘60s, became a noted producer and solo balladeer in the early ‘70s, and embraced jazz fusion with Utopia. He’s performed with classical ensembles from the Netherlands’ Metropole Orkest to the Akron Symphonic (and Youth Symphonic) Orchestras, produced hits for established artists like Cheap Trick, The Tubes, Meat Loaf, Psychedelic Furs, and Hall & Oates, and even covered himself—Bossa nova-style—on 1997’s wacky With a Twist….
On Global, his 25th studio effort, Rundgren returns to the technology-enhanced kitsch he pioneered on 1993’s No World Order and indulged on 2013’s State.
Another quantum leap from his “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light” light rock radio days, Global finds Todd bringing his prodigious writing and arranging talents to bear upon modern digital software for a loose concept album whose lyrics explore human relationships on a grand scale. Thematically, the twelve new cuts explore Man’s attachments to—and disconnect from—the Earth (hence the title).
Musically, the dozen songs are all over the map. Not exactly an uncharacteristic exercise for the Hermit of Mink Hollow hooligan.
Tracked on computers at his home studio in Kilauea, Hawaii—and featuring A Wizard, A True Star Todd as its principal musician / engineer—Global veers from dubstep to epic anthems, from percolating pop to thought-provoking paeans to planetary interests (like communalism and conservationism). Opening cut “Evrybody” broils over an urgent dance beat while Rundgren extols listeners to clap their hands and reminds us what matters most in life: That we’re together—not wealth or fame, or whether we “get a twerk from Miley.”
Reminiscent of Howard Jones and Level 42 with its light synths and throbbing beat, “Flesh and Blood” scrutinizes the balance between free will and reptilian instinct. Another pulse-laden tune, the apathy-indicting “Rise,” packs mirthful keys, temporal lyrics, and urgent (but gently voiced) “If we don’t rise, then we will fall” caveat.
“Holy Land” borrows Native American rhythms and chanting to salute the sanctity of our planet—every drop of rain, each blade of grass, every drop of sand. The rambunctious “Earth Mother” sees Rundgren calling out to his “sisters” for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T for Mother Earth. Citing feminist pioneers (bus rider) Rosa Parks, (Brown v. Board of Education catalyst) Linda Brown, and (Pakistani activist) Malala Yousafzai, Todd praises the ladies while shattering glass ceilings and social norms.
“Skyscraper” dares Armani-sporting execs and Wall Street one-percenters to “join the party” at street level.” “Blind” tackles climate change—and chastises those who disbelieve in ozone depletion:
“God is a scientist,” sings Rundgren. “He doesn’t play dice with the universe.”
Rundgren dreams he’s Christopher Columbus exploring strange frontiers on “Terra Firma,” questions providence on “Fate,” and gives the entire human race one big bear hug on the trance-inducing “Global Nation.” Grand finale “This Island Earth” is the closing argument for Rundgren’s ecological thesis; supported by restrained keyboard chords and ambient sounds, Todd suggests humanity will only get one crack at survival—and it’s right here, on the third stone from the sun. And yet:
“We fantasize about depleting other worlds,” he laments.
Our favorite cut is the gospel-tinged jewel “Soothe,” whereon Rundgren temporarily couches his philosophical discussion in order to indulge the same type of heartfelt plea that introduced him to mainstream audiences.
“I can’t make the sky turn blue, but I can soothe you,” comes the soulful vibrato.