Hermit in a strange land: a Wizard gets off his high horse for a quixotic quest to save the day, with friends to the rescue.
Outside of occasional guest spots and his role as producer, Citizen Rundgren has rarely shared creative space with fellow artists, UTOPIA being a notable exception, but the current dystopian climate seems to have dictated an “all the king’s men” approach, and that’s what will stand out about this album rather than Todd’s attempt at donning shining armor. Lyrically, “White Knight” is full of platitudes, on a level lower than a common man would need to understand the veteran’s diatribes, up to the belligerent finale of “This Is Not A Drill” where the attack of Rundgren’s army, including bassist Kasim Sulton from the aforementioned band, is spearheaded with Joe Satriani’s axe. Yet while the listener’s attention may focus on a Trump-thumping “Tin Foil Hat” whose sarcastic swing is enhanced by another Donald, Fagen, the record’s melodic depth should open on the effervescent “Chance For Us” which finds Todd in the company of Daryl Hall whose “Is It A Star?” he covered a few years ago as if to hark back to the “True Star” canon. And that’s what he does here, picking up the emotional slack of the languid, albeit anxious in its almost orchestral call to arms, opener “Come” – because even KK Watson’s lazy rap of “I Got Your Back” can’t energize the main man’s experimentation.
The problem with it is rooted in Todd’s “been there, done that” history of his work’s genre-straddling variety, and while there’s cinematic clang in “Look At Me” featuring Michael Holman, it’s on the delicate “Sleep” which is caressed with Joe Walsh’s strings and on the soulful “Beginning (Of The End)” that the listener feels at home despite the unsettling romanticism of this duet with John Boutté. The friends help Rundgren play a disappearing game, the headliner’s vocals absent from the transparent “That Could Have Been Me” leaving Robyn in charge of delivering the message, and letting Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross spike “Deaf Ears” with electronic nails, yet the most incendiary incantation on offer is Bettye LaVette’s, on the “Naked & Afraid” dance. Throw in sarcastic, Prince-esque “Buy My T” – a comment on music-miasma commercialism in the era when songs don’t pay the bills – and “White Knight” would amount to a typical Todd album, the guest spots playing the role of instruments instead of adding characters to the record’s overall narrative. Still, mounting a high horse has always looked cool, and there’s no static of 2013’s "State" this time, so long may he charge, then.