Erstwhile hermit calls his colleagues for a cosmic smorgasbord – and solidifies his own recipe for success and disaster.
Being a visionary, Todd Rundgren can’t be blamed for getting a bit self-indulgent sometimes, enjoying a totally solitary mode a tad too much, which is why his fans should eagerly embrace this collaborative effort as it shifts the veteran’s perspective by sharing his load with fellow travelers on various musical routes. Or, rather, could shift if Todd allowed other artists more space on “Space Force” – the record that may inadvertently reference a comedy series starring Steve Carell and switch from the cosmical to the comical discourse yet it strives for seriousness in the same way as “A Wizard, A True Star” did and quite often finds Rundgren overshadow his partners in rhyme and rhythm. Of course, it’s his album, after all; only such an approach can negate the very point of this platter.
Given the distinct sonic signatures of Adrian Belew and Steve Vai, the listener could expect their parts – respectively, on the record’s soulfully shimmering opener “Puzzle” and its ethereally simmering finale, “Eco Warrior Goddess” – to both stand out and complement Todd’s intense vocals, but one will be hard pressed to hear the former Zappa guitarists outside of the textural coating they provide here, short solo passages and shredding episodes notwithstanding. And while the “Your Fandango” single, where SPARKS shine ever so brightly, Russell Mael’s multiple voices contrasting Rundgren’s succulent baritone, seems impressive to say the least, this electrifyingly exhilarating, genre-hopping, continents-crossing mini-opera, an apex of collective imaginations, edges dangerously close to Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut” for histrionic comfort – the delight oozing out of “I’m Leaving” where THE LEMON TWIGS play around Rundgren’s sunlit psychedelia.
What does deliver a punch, in terms of groove and jovial belligerence, are “Down With The Ship” that pairs the ex-Hermit of Mink Hollow with WEEZER’s Rivers Cuomo and sees them skank in style, and the arrestingly irreverent “STFU” that adds Rick Nielsen’s sharp riffs to Todd’s catchy sloganeering – the pieces that show the platter’s true potential. However, there are wondrously airy “Artist In Residence” which lets Neil Finn and the Old Guard pick up at the point “I Saw the Light” left off five decades earlier, and the scintillatingly optimistic “Someday” featuring Davey Lane, another Down Under performer, as Rundgren’s duet partner, yet the transparently funky “Godiva Girl” is redolent of too many a classic Todd number, despite the sympathetic anchoring by THE ROOTS – unlike “I’m Not Your Dog” in which he and Thomas Dolby, two innovators, go for a gripping techno jive of bluesy kind in a menacing-cum-mellifluous manner.
Still, for all the variety on display here, “Space Force” sounds seamless, as integral as any Rundgren record, and though Todd’s self-indulgence is not too far away from the “Space Force” concept, its very existence must confirm his status as intrepid creator.