For all his deserved reputation as a technological pioneer, a studio wizard, a futurist and a playful, sometimes perverse manipulator of public image and identity, Todd Rundgren has never – not once – failed to maintain full, fleshy contact with his core pop values and pop ambitions. From the Nazz to his April 2013 release State, “Todd is God” has always been more about a distinctive, studio-enabled fusion of Britpop and slick American soul than all the temptations and trappings of art and prog/rock.
And that’s a good thing for Todd, because – due largely to his own efforts and those of other techno-visionaries like him – the technology envelope has gotten harder and harder to push. The alien and the extraordinary have become the norm. Our ears are more difficult to impress and arrest with sound manipulation alone.
State is a largely electronic effort, but not an especially groundbreaking or sonically novel one. Quite the contrary; it has an assured-but-almost-offhand “laptop journal” feel. Of course, it is a hell of a laptop, and its operator knows how to make machines sing like few others. But the point is that Rundgren is not trying to reassert his authority as a cutting-edge sound designer and producer here. He is not taking that particular bait here in the advanced electronica age.
The authority that he asserts on State has far more to do with mountaintop cultural commentary: the wizard surveying the current moment, describing the interactions of technology, media, identity and relationships like some kind of electro-Marshall McLuhan in songs like “Angry Bird” and the lovely “Ping Me.” If such titles reek of bandwagoning and forced novelty, fear not: Todd has interesting things to say about these subjects, and a perspective that seems equal parts digital and spiritual. The release falls on the “weird” side of his personal spectrum, but more for its sentiments than for its sounds.
Former Woodstock resident Todd Rundgren will be kicking off his State tour at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on Sunday and Monday, May 5 and 6. Sunday is sold out, but at the time of this writing, tickets for the added Monday show are still available.
Todd Rundgren, Monday, May 6, 8 p.m., $40, Bearsville Theater, 291 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-4406, www.bearsvilletheater.com.