Todd Rundgren: Hermit of Mink Hollow (1978)

The next edition in the tour of 1970s albums by Todd Rundgren.

Todd Rundgren was a busy musician in the 1970s. He was prolific in recording his own albums and touring, and was a producer for hire. Rundgren alternated between spacey, progressive rock and sweet-sounding, accessible pop-rock.

Something/Anything? was his breakthrough album featuring AM radio ballads with more experimental and sometimes campy rock. Over the next few album, Rundgren would give you slices of Something/Anything?, but never a complete album worth of accessible pop-rock, until Hermit of Mink Hollow.

Once again, Rundgren wrote, performed and engineered (with help from engineer Mike Young) all of the songs on Hermit himself, using mostly keyboards as his main instrument. He relocated from NYC to update New York where he established a studio and bought a house to live. Mink Hollow Road was where the studio was located. Rundgren was a studio nerd, he loved gadgetry and playing all the instruments and doing all the vocals. Some of his albums are guitar-driven, others, like this one, are mostly keyboard productions.

In contrast to Initiation, an album stretching the technology with its over-sized length, Hermit of Mink Hollow is about half the length. These are slick, melodic and sometimes goofy songs. Initiation was also focused on serious issues and equally serious musical production. Hermit was generally more relationship-focused by comparison. Rundgren is a master of songwriting hooks and sophisticated arrangements. He can find a keyboard sound for any type of instrument or sound in his head, which brings me to his production style.

I can usually tell a Todd Rundgren song before he even sings a note. Certainly his songwriting has a few recognizable patterns, but it is more about the production sound. I’m no expert on equalization, compression and limiting as recording technology, but my ears are experienced by thousands of hours of album listening. Rundgren cuts the bottom from his sounds, at least he did during the 1970s. There is no bass or mid frequency; his music sounds like it was recorded in a tin can to be played from a 1950s AM car radio. That is an exaggeration of course, but his sound style is quite obvious, at least to me. After awhile, it is annoying, because he is a fine arranger and he buries the beauty of his songs instead of letting them resonate. This is still a very fine piece of work, my criticism aside.

Side one – “The Easy Side”

1.   “All the Children Sing”  3:08 Ever hopeful and spiritual, Rundgren’s songs sometimes sound like jingles for products. Like Paul McCartney, he can write pleasing, generic sounding pop, like this one.

2.   “Can We Still Be Friends”   3:34 A certified classic, Rundgren’s version cracked the Top 40 and achieved success for other artists. A mellow ballad to the end of a romantic relationship, something Rundgren was experiencing at the time. Features Rundgren’s talent for writing lovely melodies and heartfelt lyrics, when he wants to.

3.  “Hurting for You”  3:20 Another very gentle, melodic song that has some soaring moments. Very strong effort.

4.   “Too Far Gone” 2:38 An intricate song with an abundance of melodic hooks. A different production style and this song might have caught on as radio success. Great writing effort.

5.   “Onomatopoeia”  1:34 A silly, carnival type song.

6.   “Determination”   3:11 A rocker with guitars, although there is not bottom to the sound. A decent song, just highly compressed.

Side two – “The Difficult Side”

1.  “Bread” 2:48 One of the better songs, well-written and produced. Less handmade sounding, a higher quality effort.

2.   “Bag Lady”  3:13 A gentle ballad, Rundgren style.

3.   “You Cried Wolf”  2:20 Upbeat, beat heavy rebel-rouser.

4.   “Lucky Guy”   2:04 A piano ballad, simpler is better.

5.   “Out of Control”  3:56 A rocker with guitars, really a garage band gritty song. My complaint of Rundgren’s work is the highly compressed, metallic sound quality. If the intent is to reproduce the mid 1960s sound quality of low tech recording, he hit the mark.

6.   “Fade Away”   3:04 A great song to end the album, full of sparkling harmony vocals.

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