Runt (1970) ***
Rundgren's first solo LP after disembarking from his teenage garage band the Nazz is either a stylistically confused, directionless mess or an eclectic taster sample of greater treats to come, depending upon your perspective. As usual, Todd shines particularly well on the sensitive ballads and tunefully mid-tempo pop songs that are his melodic bread and butter: "Believe in Me," showcasing the former, while "We Gotta Get You a Woman," his first bonafide hit, winsomely and bouncily parading his exquisite mastery of the latter. Rocking out, however, is clearly not one of Rundgren's purposes in this world, try as he might, and the rockers are hidebound to the early '70s, rocking on with a bell-bottom mustache that is plodding and irrelevant to any listener weaned on punk. There's no reason for anyone born after 1970 to willingly entertain a slow, bloozy thudder such as "Broke Down and Busted," as anything other than a curio artifact of an era when white hippies smoked marijuana through Sherlock Holmes pipes and went through the motions of heavy bluesmen in imitation of Eric Crapton. "I'm in the Clique," is Zappa-esque social parody with proggy vocoderized vocalizations but is too one-idea repetitive to hold much interest; much better is another pretty piano ballad, "Once Burned" - stick to what you're good at, Todd. But then he wouldn't be so fascinatingly inconsistent, would he? If Rundgren only stuck to doing things that he did well, he'd maybe for once cobble together an actually consistently good album, instead of a half-assed album full of filler and half-baked experimentation as constitutes 95% of his recorded output? (I'm not sure about that 5% figure, but with such a voluminous catologue you never know.) Speaking of half-baked experimentation, a quick one while he's away: the album ends with not one but two multi-part suites, the first being the medley "Baby Let's Swing"/"The Last Thing You Said"/"Don't Tie My Hands" that ties three unexceptional pop numbers into a grand whole that's better than its parts. The real treat is the nine-minute epic, "Birthday Carol," dedicated presumably to Rundgren's vocal doppelganger Carol King (actually, it's other way round, Todd doppelganging Carol), which also namechecks Laura Nyro and swings from big band jazzy hornage to pretty piano balladeering to guitar rockin' to mini-Brian Wilsonisms. Speaking of which, "There Are No Words," isn't particularly amusing or well done, the sort of Gregorian chant goof that the Beach Boys performed to better effect a few years earlier. About half of this album is worth hearing, and the other half isn't, which is a fairly typical Rundgren ratio.