Todd Rundgren - White Knight album review

Mainstream scene too dull? Rundgren (and son) to the rescue!

Todd Rundgren - White Knight album artwork

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Todd Rundgren is one of the most determinedly eclectic – not to say eccentric – musicians of our times. He can write and record the perfect pop song (shimmering 1972 smash I Saw The Light); produce a billion-selling album (Meat Loaf’s enduringly monstrous Bat Out Of Hell); singlehandedly invent the sci-fi-prog genre (remember his intergalactic supergroup, Utopia?); hell, he even composed the music for TV series Pee Wee’s Playhouse. All accomplished with the ease of Lionel Richie singing Easy while reclining in an easy chair.

A mesmerising mish-mash, spanning generations and genres.

That estimable publication The New Yorker got it bang on the button when it described Rundgren as “a restless presence, never willing to settle”. But even wayward geniuses make missteps, particularly when it comes to titling their offspring. So following in the footsteps of Zowie Bowie, Rolan Bolan, Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa, allow us to introduce you to… Rebop Rundgren. (Rumour has it his middle names are Bopshebop and Ramalamadingdong, although this couldn’t be confirmed at press time.) The reason we mention Rebop is that he is one of a host of special guests on his father’s latest offering White Knight, a mesmerising mish-mash of an album that spans generations and genres with the ease of… well, see above. A wizard, a true star – with an array of guest stars. What’s not to like?

Well, a word of warning. Of the 15 tracks here, several are collaborations with artists that are not from the world we know as ‘rock’. So let us skip the likes of Robyn, Bettye LaVette and John Boutte and go straight to the jugular with the album’s standout track This Is Not A Drill (with Joe Satriani, Prairie Prince and former Utopia man Kasim Sulton): a frantic, propulsive, all-out muso-fest that at just a shade over three minutes long is frustratingly brief. Other top stuff includes Tin Foil Hat (with Donald Fagan), a prime-time Steely Dan grooveathon; Deaf Ears (with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), which can only be described as Kraftwerk with crooning; and Sleep (with Joe Walsh), a lilting, lighthearted lullaby punctuated by Joe’s trademark stuttering guitar style. Oh, and the song featuring son Rebop is also a delight, straying as it does into trippy CSN&Y territory. Disappointing that there are no leading lights from the prog scene featured as guests but maybe that’s an idea for a future project. Can you imagine Todd tussling with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Steven Wilson or – wishful thinking, here – even a Pink Floyd alumnus? A mad, mouthwatering prospect for sure.

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.