Twentieth solo album and full-scale return to form from the artist formerly known as TR-I
Who’s Todd Rundgren calling a liar? Materialists. Bible-bashers. Dance artists who think they’re creating R&B. George Bush. Even former paramour Bebe Buell for writing a book about him (2001’s Rebel Heart) in which he’s portrayed as the worst serial philanderer this side of Warren Beatty (and she should know). Rundgren’s got them all in his sights on Liars, his first new LP proper since 1995’s The Individualist and his first to receive proper UK distribution since 1989’s Nearly Human. At the age of 55, the Runt has gotten angry.
Actually, Toddheads will be familiar with Rundgren as piqued ideologue. After perfecting the art of pop songwriting on his early albums, culminating in 1972’s Something/Anything?, he got first political then metaphysical on our ass with his unsurpassed series of mid-’70s records: A Wizard, A True Star, Todd, Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and Initiation, all zany melodies and zen mysticism. His mind expanded by psychedelic drugs and with the compassion of a true moralist, he explored the nature of consciousness and bewailed the collapse of ideals. Liars is his finest sustained assault on the corruption of all values since that heyday. “I watch society crumble and I just laugh,” he sang on 1974’s “Heavy Metal Kids”. He’s still laughing.
On the sleeve Todd’s wearing a toy rabbit’s ears and nose (although on the Japanese version you get a bisected brain). Why? Because the Easter Bunny, according to Rundgren, is the first myth promulgated by parents. And the lies keep coming. “We are raised to believe things that can’t be proven,” he told this writer, because at Uncut we can get cult superhero acid visionaries on the phone like that. “People are terrified of the truth.”
Rundgren sounds energised by the Liars concept, more so than he has for the longest time. The hermit of Hawaii, idol of the young Prince and the musician who has done more than any bar Stevie Wonder to glamorise the idea of the studio monomaniac, performed and produced every note here. With limited resources (those Bat Out Of Hell royalties don’t last forever) and employing a “rack of virtual synthesisers”, the doyen of DIY runs the gamut of electronic styles. Liars is futuristic machine-beat pop like they?specifically, Horn and Lipson at ZTT?used to make.
It’s not all ’80s techno-flash. Eclipsing Bowie, Rundgren gives good drum’n’bass on “Future” and “Wondering”, his knowledge of jungle gleaned from car commercials and Stereolab CDs. “God Said” is mellifluous, blasphemous chill-out. “Mammon” is a blast of symphonic thunder. Todd recaptures his white Philly-boy peak on “Past” and then “Afterlife”, etherised synth-soul every bit as luscious as “Can We Still Be Friends”. The quinquagenarian wunderkind, in astonishing voice throughout, sounds like Air on the Vocoderised verse and multi-tracked seraphim on the chorus.
“Living” is a revelatory six-minute synthburst that finds Rundgren at the edge of the universe, tears metaphorically streaming down his face, daring you to share the experience as he prepares to confront his mortality. Liars climaxes with the apocalyptic electro-funk of “Liar”, but it’s on “Flaw” that the contrast between heavy lyrics and heavenly music is most striking. “You could be my everything,” Todd croons over gorgeous digital doo wop. “So why you gotta be such a lyin’-ass motherfucker?”
The consummate pop craftsman, the rock’n’roll messiah, has returned. No one else would make a record as unfashionable and open to ridicule as this. Rundgren’s determination to say something meaningful about what the hell we’re all meant to be doing on this planet is, in this dismal age, nothing short of revolutionary. Liars is his best LP for over 25 years. Let him refute his existence. You want the truth? Todd is God. Again.