Annette Brown, Lifetime The story of June Carter Cash comes to life in the…
- Posted on Dec 24th 2008 11:00AM by David Chiu
"The response to the stripped down guitar-oriented approach," he tells Spinner, "was so enthusiastic, that I continued to do it. When it came time to make another record I figured I should probably for once play along with expectations and to continue to focus on the guitar."
The result became 'Arena,' Rundgren's latest record, which is sort of a back-to-basics rock album from an artist known more for his avant-garde and uncommercial approach to music in the last 20 years. He references his former '70s progressive rock band Utopia in which he was its lead singer and guitar player. "Since Utopia broke up in the mid-'80s," he says. "I hadn't really assumed that role very often. It represents something of a return though we're not doing the same kind of music."
Rundgren, who is now 60, describes the album's theme as a call to action, and that sentiment is reflected in songs such as 'Manup' and 'Mountaintop.' He acknowledges that the idea of the concept album is his best form to work in, something that he had done previously on his 2004 album 'Liars.' "It's more about application of the ideals," he says of 'Arena,' "as opposed to simply rumination on what the issues are. So it's much less about 'Let's think about this,' and more like 'Let's act upon this.'"
One of 'Arena''s interesting cuts is 'Gun,' which features the lyric: "You better run/'Cause I'm young, dumb and I've got a gun." Asked if that song was a critique of gun culture, Rundgren explains: "What I was really focusing on was the sexual nature of the weapon and the way that men kind of respond to the gun. The song is rife with these double entendres. If it's directed all towards so-called 'gun nuts,' it's essentially 'Grab your own nuts and leave us out of it.'"
Fittingly, Rundgren first emerged in the arena rock era of the '70s at a time when he had pop hits such as 'I Saw the Light' and 'Hello, It's Me.' "Most acts that wound up in an arena," he says, "were based on a string of hits [from groups such as] Foreigner, Boston and even Led Zeppelin -- bands that played a fairly simple, easy to assimilate kind of music, but very much guitar-oriented. The direction of the guitar after that was more of the Eddie Van Halen thing, where it was gobs of technique and millions of notes at once."
In his eclectic music career, Rundgren never really followed a commercial pop direction since his 1972 hit album 'Something/Anything?' In between playing progressive rock with Utopia and creating PatroNet, an early Web music subscription service in the '90s, Rundgren has also produced records for Meatloaf, Cheap Trick, XTC and the New York Dolls. (He is slated to produce the Dolls' upcoming album.)
"It wasn't anything that self-conscious," he says about his career path. "I always feel that my future is best served if I totally believe in what I'm doing, and I'm not trying to outthink or out-calculate the marketplace. Whatever it is that I've done, I'm still here, whereas other people have had greater commercial success but their careers are over."