I Want To Change The World – Part Two
If the prior year’s Runt
were to be Todd Rundgren’s dry run, its successor The Ballad of Todd Rundgren
was where its creator had found, for better or worse, his mojo. Runt
, while boasting a hit single with the classic “We Gotta Get You a Woman” found Rundgren with increasingly scarce compositions to work upon and even less time (and money) to properly let the Runt
material properly develop with his backing band, consisting of future Iggy Pop/Tin Machine alumni Hunt and Tony Sales on drums and bass respectively. Taking an alternative approach during the sessions for Ballad
, Rundgren took it upon himself to record a great deal of the instrumentation that would be found on the record, with very rare exceptions – although Tony Sales and drummer N.D. Smith would accompany Rundgren and other session players laying out rhythmic backing while Rundgren mostly took to a one-man band approach that would become the standard on other records, most notably the monumental Something/Anything?
What his audience, which was incredibly sparse and ever dwindling thanks in no part to a lack of promotion, were presented on Ballad
was not a shift in Runt
’s singer-songwriter/Nyroesque musicianship, but in the way Rundgren presented himself. In the short gap between Runt
, the ideas Rundgren put to tape were far more refined and mature than that of the so-so songcraft that his debut record put out on display, often obscuring brief flashes of pop brilliance. No, this time around, Todd went all out – no scattershot medlies, no Zappa pastiches or blatant moments of filler and offered instead forty-two minutes of no-frills piano rock goodness. It’s difficult to point out where exactly Ballad
fluctuates in quality because if I were to be honest, there’s very little to not like throughout this record; Ballad
from the very start outshines anything that came before it with ten straight magnificent cuts that any pop songwriter would be proud to call their own, most notably the clavinet-dominated lovelorn tale “Long Flowing Robe”, the standout ballad “Wailing Wall”, Todd’s humorous how-to on songwriting “Chain Letter” and the jazzy “Boat on the Charles”.
These ten songs all provide a window into Todd’s ever-growing capabilities as a multi-instrumentalist alongside his obvious lyrical prowess that often focus on down-to-earth topics; yet by track eleven, all momentum is cut off by the uninspired romp “Parole”, a song that would be right at home amidst the wealth of mediocre rockers on Runt
but not exactly in good company on the diverse pop rock triumph Something/Anything?
. Here on Ballad
however, “Parole” sticks out like a sore thumb among an album full of gentle ballads and slow tempo power pop, the bluesy “Bleeding” and “Chain Letter” being the exceptions. A bookend between the slab of pop artistry and a meager blemish of a song, “Remember Me” is an effective closer that would’ve been a wonderful two minute ballad, but instead is the fifty-two second epilogue to an album that would begin a run of incredible works of art throughout the decade and into the following as well; not to forget, it would also reappear two years later in an altered form as the fan-favorite Wizard
anthem “Just One Victory”, although in its original form, one would rarely be able to recognize it beyond its vague melody.