Todd Rundgren's ever-changing diversity is often hard to keep up with and difficult to follow and, with the birth of TR-i (Todd Rundgren interactive) in 1993, he reinvented himself yet again, this time as an artist wanting to share sound and vision with fans in an intimate fashion. His first venture into his TR-i persona, "No World Order", was mostly centered around producing a CD-i in which the listener could interact with the music in a non-linear fashion. It represented a chance for Todd to reinvent himself while providing an opportunity for the listener to talk back to the music. Todd basically used this moniker as a way to denote his more technologically innovative work. TR-i released three albums in as many years and "The Individualist", released in 1995, would prove to be the last of that era.
While "No World Order" was heavily influenced by electronica and rap, "The Individualist" settled into more of a somewhat accessible smooth groove assembled from many elements of diversity. His rap on this album is more like recitation that emphasizes the importance of his lyrics. From the power pop opener, "Tables Will Turn", to the call-to-arms rock of "If Not Now, When?" and "Cast The First Stone", to dance material like "Espresso (All Jacked Up)" and "Woman's World", to the Beatnick-Rap of the title track, this album could his best of the '90's. There's even the patented Rundgren soul-based ballads of "The Ultimate Crime" and "Beloved Infidel". This album seems to have it all.
Todd's production values always come into play on his releases and this could be one of his best once one gets past the use of computers instead of "real" instruments, an essential part of TR-i's DNA. Rundgren had played all instruments and sang all vocals on many of his classic albums, like Something/Anything? and Hermit of Mink Hollow, so this approach should come as no surprise to those familiar with this talented artist. The album's title also implies that it was created by one man. Clocking in at a bit over one hour, "The Individualist" boasts a sweetly clear sound with layers of subtle instruments, double-tracked vocals, and stacked harmonies spread about the stereo field with much of the punch coming from the sub-woofers. The listener is hypnotized with the arrangements and sound quality, evidence of Rundgren's seasoned production skills.
This fine album begins with a borrowed phrase that is adapted for the album's setting, "Water, water everywhere and not a place to stand. My foundation rests on bedrock but the bedrock rests on shifting sand." It seems that the message of his career has always been about individualism and getting to know one's self and taking responsibility. This record is a a call to arms and about taking action. "Tables Will Turn", the opening number, sets this tone, emphasized with changing verb usage like "Tables will turn...tables can turn...tables have turned...tables are turned." It is time for individualists in society to take notice and change the hands of power back to the people.
"If Not Now, When?" takes the call-to-arms to the next level by presenting changing mantras like "Too much effort, there's never time", "Change the system, and please arrange it to change some way that I feel no change", and "Leave the gun on the table loaded the first to grab it's as good as voted in." Each mantra gets more intensely urgent, with rocking guitars and a driving bassline, until it leads one to "the bullet or the ballot box." This song contains some of Todd's best rocking vocals of the album and asks "Are we good enough for us to care?"
"Family Values" is directed at high-powered politicians of the time like Dan Quayle, whose quotes are sampled here, that ask for people to implement family values. TR-i insists that "we already got them." The "Faux P-Funk Honky Chorale", the only voices other than TR-i on this album, brings the party home as "We gonna have a good time everybody, because the family is all in the house!" Quayle is even told to "Shut Up! 'Cause we got them, we already got them. We got family values." A hip drum beat and stellar keyboard bassline drive this hopeful sing-along tune while a unique keyboard riff takes one out near the end as we move back to the power, comfort, and shelter of our families.
The first of two beautiful ballads, "The Ultimate Crime", brings 'Philosopher Todd' to the forefront as he proves once again how he's in touch with the human condition, one of my favorite aspects of this timeless artist. This number builds tension as Rundgren continually teases the listener with the concept of "What is the ultimate crime?", pulling one into the lyrics until the secret is finally revealed, "The ultimate crime is not to care."
"Espresso (All Jacked Up)" is a slight, and perhaps needed, departure from the albums message of waking up and taking action. This song documents a fun trip around the globe while wired on caffeine. A frantic pace builds throughout this tune featuring a driving bassline underneath climbing key changes, climaxing in another sing-along by repeating "I'm all jacked up."
The title track follows with Popeye's "I am what I am" phrase coming to mind. Beginning with the spoken words, "Gather 'round children, I got a tale to tell", this bit of Beatnick-Rap delves into the background of this artist with lines like "There was a time when I couldn't bust a rhyme, had yet to hit my prime, 'cause my mind was such a young mind" and "Check my references. Wherever you are now you know I been there, done that Don't need to sling the scat 'cause my resume' is too fat Change my name to some funky fresh dingbat Like "the artist formerly known as TR-i" I got to laugh when they try to figure out what it's all about And they doubt that I'm so devout But it's something I can do without I got to know why I wanna know what I wanna know Why do I go where the others won't go? My eye is on the prize that's in disguise That you can only theorize, but I can utilize To rise above the lies about reality 'Cause you can't relive the hype don't ya see? 'Cause I got a special answer meant just for me Somewhere in my immediate vicinity"
The repeated chant of "Here comes the Individualist" builds to an ecstatic free-form jazz groove that leads to ecstatic wild applause and then brought down to a pin drop. "And if there's time enough to find it, then in time I'm gonna find it." He IS The Individualist!
"Cast The First Stone" is the seventh track and he borrows from the best again by placing a Biblical proverb in a heavy-industrial-punk setting with a 'hammer on anvil' snare sound and in-your-face kick drum propelling a thick bassline, nasty keyboard washes and swirls, and an out-of-this-world guitar solo. Again, the lyrics are in the listener's face, "Please do not complain to me of moral relativity The crimes of others you deplore But of yourself, you don't keep score... Like you never in your life cursed an evil god before... (and culminating with the repeated title words) Cast the first stone, cast the first stone Let the righteous among you cast the first stone." Some of Todd's best rocking vocals on the album can be felt here, reinforcing the albums main theme of taking action as an individual's responsibility.
This is followed by the contrast of the other gorgeous ballad, "Beloved Infidel", which features a thick bed of sparse keyboard tones and a sweetly simple clean-tone guitar solo along with Rundgren's production expertise. "Ring the liberation bell" as he will not be longing much more. "False gods they will erect offerings they will burn, I am lost in meditation and awaiting your return" show that his ballads can contain serious subjects yet still be one of the most beautiful songs he has ever created.
"Temporary Sanity" returns to the main theme of the album with another dark synth bass riff that features cutting Fagen-esque chords and an overdue screaming guitar solo with an end result for the situation we are in, "We must be crazy, we must be crazy There's no explanation so we must be crazy." Some rapping returns here as direct delivery of lyrics is in order. This divided some of the "TRoups", much like "No World Order", but the heavy lyrics like these MUST reach the listener,
"There's a chance that we would still get the picture If reality just came up and bit ya But the news team would never report it Because there's too much evidence to support it If we was stupider the problem would vanish But our brains are much more than we can manage We say we want something so bad we can taste it But once we get it, then we turn 'round and waste it We got a twisted fixation with the marketplace And every sufferin' soul is just another face We think we're bein' manipulated from outer space It's the collective guilty conscience of the human race We get joyful when we look upon a lesser man A specimen we can be sure that we're better than There is no shortage of supply of pride and vanity There is no explanation but INSANITY.
You're listening to Prozac while the message goes unheard It's the final word."
"Woman's World" is an excellent closer with an up-tempo big finish featured on many of his fine albums. (See "Just One Victory" on "A Wizard A True Star", "Fade Away" on "Hermit of Mink Hollow", or "2nd Wind"). This track puts men in their place by reinforcing that there's "No surprises, it's a woman's world...'cause it always was." This also contains a heavy bridge that reprises the heavy industrial guitar sound heard earlier in the album yet climaxes with a most upbeat positive ending featuring stacked harmony vocals atop an upbeat progression, providing hope for the future of (wo)mankind.
"The Individualist" shows that Rundgren still believes that society can be saved from its wallowing tumble and that human kind's compassion will prevail. It is up to the individual to make this happen.
TR-i's original release of "The Individualist" on Digital Entertainment in 1995 featured an enhanced CD which paired each song with its lyrics, graphics, and video. It was also one of the first CDs to be offered over the internet, where subscribers could download the music before it was released in stores.
The recent remastering of this album by Esoteric is fantastic, presenting the album in a new light by sounding better than when it was first released. It also includes an excellent booklet featuring interviews, photos, and lyrics. Sounds and colors flow out of the speakers with "surround sound effect." This remaster is not squashed or a victim of the loudness wars as it features lots of breath and dynamics. Close your eyes and inhale as it almost sounds like high-resolution audio, which Esoteric would be smart to offer. They do the remastering in high-res and I know I, and many others, would pay extra for it. In the meantime, be sure to seek out the remaster of this often over-looked mid-90s Rundgren Classic!
As the closing lyric gloriously emphasizes, "It's absolutely fabulous!"