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Initiation
Todd Rundgren

Bearsville BR 6957
Released: May 1975
Chart Peak: #86
Weeks Charted: 7

On first listen, Todd Rundgren's "Real Man," the opening track on his new album, Initiation, sounds promising: a soaring melody, sparkling production, an aching lead vocal and a Motown-ish rhythm track -- is short, the kind of details that once made him an imposing performer/producer -- add up to the most likable piece of pop Rundgren has cut in some time.

But that's on first listen. The second time around, the lyrics begin to intrude. "Don't take no crap from no one," warbles Todd, "Be a real man/ Get your trip together/ Be a real man."

Todd Rundgren - Initiation
Original album advertising art.
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Is it cosmic machismo, then, that has driven Todd to master every technique the modern recording studio has to offer? According to the next cut, "Born to Synthesize," "I was born to synthesize/ Energize and catalize... A handful of nothing is all that I need." True to such sentiments, Rundgren devotes the remainder of Initiation to an orgy of ostentatious expertise, producing a splashy garble of electronic flimflam.

It's a familiar scenario. Once one of pop's freshest voices, Rundgren now bids fair to become the medium's most spectacular casualty of technological overkill. Beginning with A Wizard/A True Star, each new Rundgren LP has gotten progressively more cumbersome, as Todd has ardently pursued his apparent ambition to leave no gadget unused.

He in fact has forfeited his mastery of the concise cut in favor of bigger game. A decent melody like "Real Man" is now flawed by a pompous lyric; and the instrumental playfulness that Rundgren once distilled (on Something/Anything's "Breathless") into a three-minute romp now sprawls over a whole album side, 36 minutes long. As its title suggests, "A Treatise on Cosmic Fire" is a trendy paniche of hand-me-down electric music, a foray into virtuosity for its own sake (with debts to Frank Zappa and the Mahavishnu Orchestra).

While technology has recently threatened to dominate rock in this way, groups like Emerson, Lake and Palmer have deliberately cultivated the unlimited bombast synthesizers and amplification mae feasible. Rundgren, on the other hand, originally relied on more traditional -- and modest -- forms of pop to focus his talent (just listen to The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, his masterpiece).

Unfortunately, Rundgren, unlike Stevie Wonder, hasn't yet learned to humanize his technology and limit it to a manageable means. Instead, he has let the available techniques dictate his musical strategy, a situation that has been exacerbated by his conversion to mealy-mouthed mysticism ("Love owns us all, Time owns us all, Life owns us all/ But the world doesn't own me").

But then, maybe Initiation is just another sign of the times and of one man's inability truly to master the machines at his disposal. Which leads one to wonder: Who's got what trip together?

- Jim Miller, Rolling Stone, 7/17/75.

Bonus Reviews!

As writer, performer, musician (several instruments), engineer, and producer, Todd Rundgren has won a not undeserved reputation as a rock whiz kid. But whither all this whiz? Rundgren is a master of teenage music, which today is much more sophisticated and has more recording-studio gimmickry available to it than at any other time. But I don't see any real difference between what he is doing and things from the early and middle Sixties like "Woo-Hoo" by the Rock-A-Teens and "Psychotic Reaction" by the Count Five.

Rundgren's showmanship camouflages the shallowness of most of his writing, but his sense of melody is fitful at best. It takes a while to catch on that there really isn't much going on here, since his style of sounding busy and dazzling the listener with his expertise keeps things going at a rush. He probably is a prodigy of some kind, and it will be interesting to see what he does when he ages a bit. Until then, I pass.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 11/75.

Rather a strange LP here (more than an hour of music is odd enough these days), as Rundgren seems torn between the soft, almost soul oriented rock he has always excelled at and more exotic, synthesizer styled material. Side one is a blend of the old and new Todd, while side two is strictly instrumental in the form of "A Treatise On Cosmic Fire." Vocals on side one are per usual, with the instrumentation the difference. Side two is the complete turnaround, with Rundgren playing a variety of guitars, synthesizers, sitars, keyboard computers, and so on. Effect on side two is symphonic and peaceful for the most part, and is exceptionally well done. Indian feel to some of the music, but sound on the whole is closer to the electronic feel that has come out of Europe over the past few years. Still, as with all Rundgren projects, highly original. Best cuts: "Real Man," "Eastern Intrigue," Initiation," "A Treatise On Cosmic Fire."

- Billboard, 1975.

Todd Rundgren returned to solo billing here, although his studio musicians included current and future members of Utopia, and he remained interested in dense, extended compositions like "A Treatise On Cosmic Fire," which takes up all of Side 2. The most memorable track on the album, however, was "Real Man," which hit #83 on the singles chart. * * *

- William Ruhlmann , The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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