Saturday, April 7, 2018

Through Hell Together

Todd Rundgren : Can We Still Be Friends

It was almost like when a tribal elder in some culture says "You have to go out there to this far desert and take this drug, and just be stuck with yourself for awhile. And if you can survive being stuck with yourself then you can live with the rest of us.
-Todd Rundgren

On April 7, 1978 Todd Rundgren released Hermit of Mink Hollow, which signaled a return to the pop music form that made Something/Anything? a favorite album for fans.  We're not heading off into some kind of Utopia-n jazz fusion land here. Rundgren repeats his Something/Anything? trick by writing, producing and playing every instrument in a 24 track studio on Mink Hollow Road in Lake Hill, NY.

Rundgren had broken up with Bebe Buell and come to the realization that it was very possible Liv, his presumptive daughter was actually fathered by someone else. He spent this time in isolation, with a 24/7 studio in his home, wondering why his life had turned out the way it had and what changes he needed to make.

While many fans believe his top 30 hit "Can We Still Be Friends" is a message to Buell, Rundgren says it's a formulaic Tin Pan Alley song written to convey an emotion of sadness.

From Michael Bloom, writing for Rolling Stone:

Six years displaced in time, here is the follow-up to Something/Anything? Todd Rundgren's unalloyed pop craft motivates every moment of Hermit of Mink Hollow. While there are some concessions to modernity -- the synthesizers that thicken a few Phil Spector-like productions, a lavish use of the shivery suspended chords Rundgren's always loved (but that Steely Dan made commercial) -- Hermit of Mink Hollow's dozen songs all stem from the universal library of luminous pop enjoyment that this curious artist carries around in his head. They condense the whole world into a three-minute capsule and promise eternal youth. They know the rules so well that it's almost a joy to conform.

Rundgren understands pop as a vehicle of genuine communication perhaps better than anyone: he never trifles and rarely gets silly. Hardly the "gloriously cheap displays of human emotion" that rock writer Cameron Crowe once claimed of Something/Anything?, these pieces are concise but careful observations of anything Rundgren confronts. He offers a couple of conventional love songs, but be careful: "All the Children Sing," which begins as such, soon expands into an analysis of Rundgren's reputation as a utopian philosopher and guru. "Too Far Gone" sympathetically depicts his family and friends passing judgement on his quirky career. 

 These examples are all on "The Easy Side," where the pitches tend to be higher and the subjects less severe. "The Difficult Side" is difficult only because the emotions are purer and more wrenching. "Bread" is a protest song, but it doesn't preach. The protagonists -- people in this country who are starving -- tell their own story and bite their own bullets as the energetic, minor-key music builds from Byrds-like angularity to full roar. "Bag Lady" is quite subtle and absolutely chilling: sprung rhythms and inconclusive, airy chords paint the portrait of an old, tattered subway denizen until "One day it gets a bit too cold/ Maybe a bit too wet, maybe a little too lonely/ Lifelessly she lies amidst her bag world/ But maybe she's only sleeping." Neither simple nor always pleasant, Todd Rundgren is still an artist to be taken seriously.

From Robert Christgau who gave the album a C+ rating: 

 Only a weight as willfully light as Todd can be trusted to put his smartest song ("Onomatopeia") on "the easy side" and his dumbest ("Bag Lady") on "the difficult side."

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