This album is more compact in terms of personnel than the debut Utopia LP, but not so when it comes to song arrangements, Todd is still prone to dishing out lengthy tunes and he doesn’t disappoint here.
Written by: gdmonline
SERIAL: BR 6965
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA
LINEUP: Todd Rundgren – lead vocals, guitars * Roger Powell – keyboards, vocals * Kasim Sulton – bass, vocals * John ‘Willie’ Wilcox – drums, percussion, vocals
TRACK LISTING: 01 Mountain Top And Sunrise – Communication With The Sun * 02 Magic Dragon Theatre * 03 Jealousy * 04 Eternal Love * 05 Sunburst Finish * 06 Hiroshima * 07 Singring And The Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairy Tail)
WEBLINKS: Site Link
During my youth, I would occasionally add the odd ‘unusual’ LP into my collection. One of those would be the very first Utopia album from Todd Rundgren. Released in 1974 and featuring the Utopia Electric Orchestra with a multitude of players, it is an album I often I revert to for a nostalgia blast.
Equally satisfying is their 1977 album ‘Ra’. Seen as a follow-up to the debut (though technically Utopia’s unreleased 1976 set ‘Disco Jets’ takes the sophomore tag), this album is more compact in terms of personnel but not so when it comes to song arrangements. Todd is still prone to dishing out lengthy tunes and he doesn’t disappoint here.
‘Ra’ isn’t pure prog as such, there are moments of pop inspired silliness – but tell me what Rundgren album doesn’t contain moments of zany and spoof? With this line-up of Utopia, Rundgren would trademark the four-part vocal harmonies that would be heard on albums to come. As with the title, ‘Ra’ is an album with a theme all about our Sun. The band dressing up in Egyptian garb on the album jacket adds to the flavour.
Loved the intro work of ‘Mountain Top And Sunrise’ which incidentally is based on the theme music to the movie ‘Journey To The Center Of The Earth’. This opening segues into ‘Communication With The Sun’ – a bombastic guitar/key workout. A great way to open the album. ‘Magic Dragon Theatre’ is the odd track out here. It’s akin to Aviary in the quirkiness department, and mimics a theatre performance/play. The characters who perform the voice dialog on this track is a hoot!
‘Jealousy’ as one of the shorter tracks here is perhaps the hardest rockin’. ‘Eternal Love’ is one of those moments of silliness, or perhaps is it studio silliness? The backwards masking segment in the song is certainly different, but overall the melodies do their best to melt.
‘Sunburnt Finish’ features Todd, Roger and Kasim sharing lead vocals – it’s a hard rock tune that fuses prog, not the other way around. Wilcox’s drumming is also a feature here. ‘Hiroshima’ is an ode to that horrific moment in 1945 which changed the world forever. It’s dark, angst ridden, and the pain is reflected in the lyrics.. Hiroshima, Nagasaki.. don’t you ever forget.. don’t you ever fuckin’ forget.
The finale is the 18 minute epic ‘Singring And The Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairy Tale)’. Try to get a handle on this track would be impossible. A Leprechaun sounding narrator brings together on this tale of four individuals tasked with the mission of finding four keys and then freeing Singring, an imprisoned spirit trapped within a glass guitar. Off the wall concept? Ah ha! How about making a movie out of it and give it to Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema?
Rhino and Bearsville did release this on CD some years later, a copy I shouldn’t think is too difficult to find. Utopia would then move to other releases (some reviewed here) such as ‘Oops Wrong Planet’, ‘Adventures In Utopia’, ‘Deface The Music’ which was essentially a Beatles tribute, plus 1985’s ‘POV’. There is much good music to be found within Utopia’s back catalogue, not discounting Rundgren’s other avenues of music away from Utopia.