This album was quite a change from the very accessible and commercial Something/Anything? Todd Rundgren was a garage band wizard at home alone in a studio, it was his creative cocoon. A Wizard A True Star is a wild and disjointed kaleidoscope of song ideas and fragments swirling around in Rundgren’s never-resting mind.
In 56 minutes of music, there are a few gems and potential singles, although none were released. If you listen to this album from beginning to end, it is exhausting. A couple of years in the future, Rundgren would release Initiation which included one full side for experimental music even bolder than some of these song bursts. Rundgren uses the studio to funnel his instruments and vocals through a series of effects along with layering his ideas into a crazy-quilt of psychedelic sounds that might have been left over from Sgt. Pepper.
Sequenced between this psychedelia are short “normal” songs, Rundgren originals, along with cover songs including a medley of Motown R&B classics. Rundgren would return to Motown periodically in his career. I respect the scope of Rundgren’s ideas and his ability to construct his musical vision across various genres of music, but it does not quite fit together. The juxtaposition of styles is abrupt with no real narrative linking the songs together. The album was praised when it was released but buyers did not bite, in part by not having an embracing single for radio play. Critical response was more positive. This album is more a curiosity to me than one I invest much time. There are about half a dozen songs that I would lift from the album that I would listen to regularly, but this is a concept album in search of a concept. According to various sources, Rundgren was also experimenting with mind altering substances during this time, which offers a possible explanation, but I also believe that Rundgren did not want to rest on his commercial breakthrough of Something/Anything? and wanted to
If you like early 1970s synthesizers, and the wall of sound, this album is for you. Technically, it is an amazing album. You have to respect the creativity and effort. This would be true of several Rundgren efforts where the style was more impressive than the substance.
This year, post-pandemic, Rundgren takes to the road to play the entire album, along with hits, in concert. Since it is such a keyboard heavy and sound effects album, I wonder how he will pull it off.
Side one – “The International Feel (in 8)”
No. Title Writer(s) Length
“International Feel” 2:50 A solid music idea, an up-tempo, melodic song, unfortunately, it never quite goes anywhere. It sounds like an adventure about to take off, the creative engine starting up before the launch.
“Never Never Land” Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Jule Styne 1:34 The Peter Pan classic is sung in soft, dreaminess to match the trippy fairytale type dimension of this album. His piano is doused with echo and effects.
“Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off” 1:14 A bouncy electronic instrumental piece.
“You Need Your Head” 1:02 A noisy, distorted with Rundgren’s own call and response shouts.
“Rock and Roll Pussy” 1:08 A loud rocker written during Rundgren’s brief, verbal battle with John Lennon.
“Dogfight Giggle” 1:05 A bundle of studio sound effects rather than a real song.
“You Don’t Have to Camp Around” 1:03 The return to a gentle, bouncy melody.
“Flamingo” 2:34 Another instrumental, a musical thread that never quite seems to go anywhere.
“Zen Archer” 5:35 A very underrated song, well-produced. The song has an Eastern European feel to it. It has a shimmer and a haunting quality to it in places. The long fade out is quite nice with Rundgren on saxophone.
“Just Another Onionhead; Da Da Dali” 2:23 Another show tune-type song that for some reason segues into a completely different song.
“When the Shit Hits the Fan; Sunset Blvd.” 4:02 An intriguing piece that feels unfinished, it certainly has musical potential. The lyrics are nonsensical, but the music has possibilities. Rundgren spent a lot of time playing and engineering it, building it layer upon layer. This song has a theatrical feel to it, like it might have been written for a rock and roll fantasy film.
“Le Feel Internacionale” 1:51 A reprise of the opening song, shorter, grittier version.
Total length: 26:21
Side two – “A True Star”
No. Title Length
“Sometimes I Don’t Know What to Feel” 4:16 Another up-tempo song with an R&B feel. Lots of horns and blasts of synthesizers. A spacey version of a Motown flavored Rundgren original.
“Does Anybody Love You?” 1:31 A very short mid-tempo love song. This song had a lot of potential.
“I’m So Proud” (Curtis Mayfield)
“Ooh Baby Baby” (Smokey Robinson, Warren “Pete” Moore)
“La La Means I Love You” (William Hart, Thom Bell)
“Cool Jerk” (Donald Storball)”
10:34 This medley is a high point on the album. Rundgren has a high, silky voice that fits the spirit of these songs. He creates a dream-like sound quality in these arrangements. “Cool Jerk” a hip, upbeat calliope.
“Hungry for Love” 2:18 Another rousing show tune type song with tinkling piano.
“I Don’t Want to Tie You Down” 1:56 A somber love ballad, a sparse arrangement instead of burying the lovely melody.
“Is It My Name?” 4:01 Distorted guitars in this rocker. I’m not sure what this is about, but it is nice to have some electric guitars appear on the album.
“Just One Victory” 4:59 The song begins soulfully, then turns into a mid-tempo rocker with a strong melodic hook. Another of his “normal” songs without too much wizardry and studio sludge. An underrated Rundgren song. An excellent end to a busy album.
Total length: 29:35