Something / Anything?

Todd Rundgren

Bearsville Records, 1972

http://http://www.tr-i.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/26/1997

As vast as the Pierce Memorial Archives are, there often are times that I develop an urge to start learning about an artist whose work I either am not familiar with or don't own much of.

Todd Rundgren falls into this category - the last time he graced our pages was way back in January. For some time now, I've wanted to find out a little more about Rundgren the musician. So, off to the local used record emporium I went, in search of all things Rundgren (or anything else I could wrap my greedy little fingers around for 99 cents). Lo and behold, there was a battered copy of his 1972 double-album Something / Anything? staring me in the face... and for a dollar, no less. Jackpot!

Wanting to pay close attention to detail, I eschewed my modern turntable and dusted off an old Dual I've had lying around - you know, one of those with the spindle to play multiple records. I slapped the vinyl onto the spindle, cranked up the headphones, and let it rip.

What I learned is that Something / Anything? is not only a pop album with more bite than Marv Albert (no, no, wait... scratch that), it shows off the genius that is Rundgren for almost the entire album.

Something / Anything? had two hit singles - "Hello It's Me," which next to "Bang The Drum All Day" is the best-known Rundgren number; and the album-opening "I Saw The Light" (which I always thought was a Carole King song - boy, is my face red). But as good as these tracks are, they are not the best cuts on the album.

The first part of the album has Rundgren in "hit single" mode, firing off number after number that would sound great on the radio. "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" is the tale of love lost and the singer's attempt to reconcile the past with the present. It is a very moving song, and one I still don't get tired of hearing. "Cold Morning Light" falls into the same category, featuring some powerful acoustic guitar work. (With the exception of the last side, Rundgren plays all the instruments and provides all the voices - no mean feat on songs like "Wolfman Jack.")my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

In fact, if there were one record I wish I could superglue to the turntable, it would be side one of Something / Anything?. The highs and the lows are all captured here, and are nailed down perfectly.

Rundgren then moves on to the "cerebral" side, which slips a little in power, but not enough to ruin the listen. After a short aside where Rundgren demonstrates things that can go wrong in the studio, he kicks into the incredible instrumental "Breathless" (though I think he could have left the "La Bamba" riffs out).

Rundgren shows he is capable of painting a picture in the listener's mind, as on "The Night The Carousel Burnt Down" and "Marlene." One song which surprised me was "Song Of The Viking," which I expected to be done in melodramatic Gilbert-and-Sullivan style. Thank God it wasn't. Only the closing song of the first record, "I Went To The Mirror," disappoints. Described by Rundgren as an "experiment in mixed media," I fail to see what he was trying to accomplish with this track... and unless Todd himself is reading this review, I guess we'll never know.

The second disc starts off with Rundgren getting "heavy" - but don't let that scare you. In fact, Rundgren is one of the few songwriters I know who can deliver a message in a song without whacking you over the head with it. One song, "One More Day (No Word)," seems to be a challenge for those who idly let life pass them by to get off their asses and do something to shape their lives. (Had I not read the lyric sheet, I would have guessed the song was a controlled diatribe against the then-ongoing Vietnam War.) Other cuts like "Torch Song" and "Little Red Lights" continue to amaze me.

It is on side four that things go a little astray. Maybe it's because Rundgren tied the songs together with a mini-play. Maybe it's because the polish of the studio is thrown out for "live" recording. Maybe it's because Rundgren is no longer the only musician on the tracks. Whatever it is, the quality dips a little bit.

Besides "Hello It's Me," the track "Dust In The Wind" (no, not the same one that Kansas recorded) stands out as a solid effort that could have been a hit single. As for most of the remaining songs, it just seems like Rundgren got a little silly. "Piss Aaron," "Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me" and "Slut" just don't seem like the kind of material that Rundgren would normally record. Still, the side is listenable and isn't terrible - just disappointing.

In fact, one has to wonder how Rundgren was able to keep churning out solid effort after solid effort for as long as he did on Something / Anything?. There are bands I know that couldn't fill one side of a record with well-written songs. Rundgren fills up three-fourths of a two-record set with them. And one wonders why Rundgren didn't achieve greater success; he proved with this release he was worthy of it.

Something / Anything turned out to be a real lesson for me in Rundgren and his music, and has filled me with a desire to seek out more of his albums. For the fan who only knows the hits, I would dare to challenge them to pass up the "greatest hits" packages or the anthologies and pick up this album. It's as fine of an introduction to Rundgren that I can think of.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Bearsville Records, and is used for informational purposes only.