Arena

Todd Rundgren

With the New Cars debacle fading in his rear view mirror, Todd Rundgren returns with Arena, his first studio album in four years. Recorded in Princeville, Hawaii (the singer's homebase where he and his band played the album live for a small audience on his birthday), Arena is a no-bones rocker, rich with crunchy guitar lines, user-friendly riffs and no nonsense lyrics. When you consider the magnitude of Rundgren's accomplishments — from producing world-class artists to writing computer software — making Arena must have felt like a cataclysmic cakewalk through a mine field of good intentions. One wrong step, everything blows up, but everyone lives.

Without a hint of irony, the record blasts off from the get-go with a very direct, in-your-face song called “Mad.” In these times of war, economic woes, doom, gloom, deception and widespread distrust of our leaders and authority figures, the punch and poetry behind “Mad” is something most anyone can relate to. But don’t worry — Rundgren doesn’t spend his time pissing and moaning about the affairs of the world (after all, he lives in paradise). Arena is a spirited hybrid, filled with a dizzying array of moods and modes — all with one-word titles — to keep you on the edge of your iPod. “Afraid” and “Today” may be multi-dimensional pecks on the cheek, but the artillery comes out and the Marshalls are turned up to 11 on “Mercenary,” “Gun” and “Strike.”

Between dashes of unnerving cacophony and dabs of effectual ingenuity are those melodic middle of the roadsters that reduce traction and lighten the payload. Who’d think songs like “Courage” and “Pissin’” could have such a calming effect. Or that the bluesy intonations of “Bardo” could so convincingly steer the entire record into an unknown cavern of destitution. But then Rundgren fuels up the jet and burns rubber on “Mountaintop,” “Panic” and “Manup.” So many of his peers have repaired to the cocktail lounge, but Rundgren is hedging his odds by boosting his chops to an Arena level. In an act of definace, he's trumping the naysayers and bean counters who are attempting to transform power pop into legitimate rock and roll. One listen and it's easy to see how Todd Rundgren could teach these punks a lesson or two.

~ Shawn Perry

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