Review #396: Something/Anything?, Todd Rundgren

Karla Clifton
4 min readJun 5, 2023

#396: Something/Anything?, Todd Rundgren

When I put this record on, my boyfriend actually thought Rundgren was Ween. I agreed; this record had a Ween-like energy. Turns out Rundgren, like Ween, is a Philly native. So make what you will about that.

It’s funny that we get the self-described “whitest singer in the world” after listening to D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. But also, Rundgren is devaluing himself a little; he was a producer as well as an artist, and produced the New York Dolls’ debut, as well as underrated masterpiece Bat Out of Hell. Also he maybe acted as Liv Tyler’s father growing up, despite her paternity being Aerosmithian.

The process for this, his third album, is kind of fascinating in itself. He opted to eschew studio musicians and played most of the record himself, laying it down track by track. And he really built the songs like that, from the ground up, explaining, “I was never sure exactly where the song was going until we’d put down about four or five tracks.”

And guess what, it’s another double album in four parts. So let’s explore this Philly weirdo’s magnum opus.

Side 1: A Bouquet of Ear-Catching Melodies

I like pretty much anything described as a “bouquet,” even when it’s a joke. But on this side of the album, it isn’t clear that there is one. The songs are pretty straightforward. You have your Seventies lover songs (“I Saw the Light,” “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference,” “Cold Morning Light”). You have proof that Todd Rundgren can play the guitar and the keyboard (“Wolfman Jack” & “It Takes Two to Tango (This Is for the Girls)”). You have an ode to drugs that the liner notes assure you is not about drugs (“Sweeter Memories”).

In terms of which side title is the most accurate, I think it’s this one. Every melody is ear-catching, and I started smelling flowers.

Side 2: The Cerebral Side

A little spooky to me for some reason. I think the word “cerebral” makes me think of ghosts.

“Intro” is a brief skit, where Rundgren introduces listeners to studio sounds like hiss and hum, calling them examples of bad mixing. This is followed by “Breathless,” a swirling instrumental, which is mixed impeccably.

Then Rundgren gets horror movie. “The Night the Carousel Burned Down” a B-movie, “Saving Grace” a satirical one, and “I Went to the Mirror” a psychological one. Even the campy “Song of the Viking” kind of freaked me out.

There’s a love song on this side (“Marlene”), which doesn’t quite fit the theme, but if we ignore that I think that this side title is fairly apt, too. It’s a little surreal, and a little haunted.

Side 3: The Kid Gets Heavy

I’d been listening to Rundgren for forty minutes now, so I knew that his definition of “heavy” might differ from mine.

There are some conceptually heavy moments — I think “Black Maria” is about a demon, and “One More Day (No Word)” is mournful, regretful. Then there was the song about driving, “Little Red Lights,” which was heavy in the way I understood it.

But “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” and “Torch Song” are as toothless as they come. Since two songs don’t quite fit the theme here, I’m deeming this the least appropriate side title on the record. The kid doesn’t get that heavy.

Side 4: Baby Needs a New Pair of Snakeskin Boots (A Pop Operetta)

While Rundgren recorded all the instrumentation on the other three sides, this one was recorded with a band, and it is felt. This side is full of studio banter, and it’s clear that having the extra people worked in his favor.

On this side, Rundgren sounds like he’s actually having fun. He pokes fun at himself on “Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me” and “You Left Me Sore,” where he jokes that he’s going to name the album Throw Money. He sings a song called “Piss Aaron,” which is about a student who pees in the halls, which is a very Ween-like thing to do.

This is also the only opportunity for covers. There are two in “Overture — My Roots,” which includes “Money (That’s What I Want)”. Then there’s “Hello It’s Me,” where Rundgren covers himself. The song had previously been released with his band Nazz, but was rejiggered with a tempo change. (But don’t get it twisted, “Dust in the Wind” isn’t a cover.)

Weirdly, my favorite track on the whole album is closer “Slut.” S-L-U-T/ She may be a slut, but she looks good to me. Rundgren is shrieking like a New York Doll, and the backup singers are, too.

In some ways, this album is a social experiment — art in a vaccuum versus art in a brainstorm. I think I like them both.

Review #395: Black Messiah, D’Angelo and the Vanguard

Review #397: When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Billie Eilish