Another Live

Utopia

Bearsville Records, 1975

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/01/1999

After reviewing Todd Rundgren's Utopia last year, declaring it "okay" and living with the serious backlash I got (rightfully so, on further review) from fans of Utopia and Todd Rundgren, I think I was a little gunshy about tackling Another Live, their 1975 release. For one thing, I hadn't heard the greatest things about it from some of the people I had been in contact with. Second, I really didn't want to spend my days answering polite but firm flame mails letting me know that I was completely wrong in my judgment.

I've spent (no joke) the better part of six months nursing this album on the turntables of the Pierce Memorial Archives. And I couldn't believe my reaction. What would the people on alt.music.todd-rundgren say when I admitted in my review that I - my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 gasp! - liked this album?

I've heard the horror stories about this album - the recording of the show was poor, the performances were poor, "you're gonna hate this album". Sorry, gang, but I didn't hear a lot of that in this record. There were a few moments I could have lived without, but there weren't a lot of them, and for the most part, the album does a good job of capturing Utopia at a turning point in their career.

After starting out life as a progressive rock outfit, you can begin to hear cracks forming in their armor. Sure, there's a lot of progressive music on this record ("Another Life," "The Seven Rays"), but you also hear the project stating to merge with Rundgren's solo artist mindframe.

Exhibit "A": "The Wheel," a song which blew me away the first time I heard it. It's a jazzy acoustic track that locks into a groove that refuses to let you go until its sudden, a capella ending. The interplay between Rundgren's guitar and vocals, John Siegler's bass, John Wilcox's percussion and Roger Powell's trumpet is a thing of beauty that must be heard to be appreciated.

Exhibit "B": Utopia's cover of The Move's "Do Ya," a version that is surprisingly close to the bone, and is a rollicking good time. It's not often I hear even the original version of this song, so having Utopia's take at my fingertips is a nice luxury.

Exhibit "C": Even the progressive numbers, for the most part, seem to have been toned down from just one album ago. (Note that I'm not making the same mistake twice and suggesting that the progressive angle is the wrong one.) If anything, the merging of progressive with a pop sensibility seems to work better for Utopia, even if it does water down the original intent of this musical experiment.

Sure, I would have cut back on Powell's keyboard solo on "Intro/Mister Triscuits," but everything did seem to fall into place once the full band kicked in. And I guess it would be fair to say that it does take a little time to get used to "Another Life," but after about three listens, it's just as natural as breathing.

So, the judgment is passed: Another Live is a better album than many people give it credit for... and probably better than some would have thought I would have given it credit for. The line for the complaint department forms to the left.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 1999 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.