The dreaded Side 1 is quite a ride - no bouquet of ear-catching melodies here - but like many great pieces of music, it needs repeated listening to fully take in what is happening. If it is true that Todd Rundgren grabbed the torch of eclecticism from the Beatles, then this is apparent on Side 1. He took the concept the Beatles had on Side 2 of their ABBEY ROAD album - pastiches of different songs added together to create a song cycle - and upped the ante by adding electronic wizardry, and an even more eclectic juxtapositon of songs. The tunes range from the sublime ("Never Never Land") to the ridiculous ("Dogfight Giggle"); the raucous ("You Need Your Head") to the refined ("Zen Archer"); the spiritual ("International Feel") to the streetwise ("Sunset Boulevard"). It's all here.
For all the talk about Side 1, people forget that Side 2 is quite accessible with more traditional melodic song structures. Todd brings his usual mix of winsome ballads and exuberant rockers to what could very well be called Side 5 of S/A?. Although there are not any obvious hits a la "Hello It's Me," there are still plenty of great songs:
"Zen Archer" was probably Todd's most mature song to that date, a mix of jazz and Eastern European rhythms, plus an intriguing, allegorical lyric. Then there's "Sometimes I Don't Know What To Feel" which is soulful and personal. And Todd proves his mettle as an R&B singer with faithful renditions of "I'm So Proud", "Ooh Baby Baby", and "La La Means I Love You." But he saved the best song for last: "Just One Victory" is a sing-song anthem, a call to arms, the hope of a generation, and a pretty good tune to boot.
AWATS is alternately weird, soulful, playful, melodic, satirical, and inspiring. In short, it is a musical rollercoaster that stands for much of what Todd is all about. As Todd says in "Just Another Onionhead" , you want the obvious, you'll get the obvious. But for those willing to take the ride, AWATS delivers on musical thrills.