Simply put, Todd's methods of songwriting, at times, can sound deceptively simple or seem undecipherably complex. Or both. The former is why, I must bashfully admit, I've often shied away from Todd's '80's catalogue, whether solo or with Utopia, and is the reason why I left aside this album the first time I had the chance to buy it. The latter could very well had been the reason why I'd shelfed my copy the second time around, when I actually bought it, had I not given it the proper time. With patience, though, both the progger and the pop-lover in me find gems within this album.
On the more popular side, "Real Man" sounds familiar in its mid-70's, Hall-and-Oates-style catchiness, and would not have sounded out of place on AM radio, somewhere in the bigger cities. "The Death of Rock and Roll" simply rocks, a critique on critics, actually, to whom Todd points the finger and accuses them of knowing nothing about music, yet working at their job to get their records for free. (The song does go deeper, reflecting Todd's views that rock music was getting formulaic. One can suppose the electronically-infused ideas he was developing on his albums did not suit the listeners in high places who wanted straight-ahead guitar (read: "classic") rock.)
On the progressive rock side, the whole side 2 is a treat. Titled "A Treatise on Cosmic Fire", 36 minutes (of which Rundgren plays all instruments, although Roger Powell is credited for help) are divided into four main sections (three "Fire" segments and the introductory piece), the last one in seven sections and twenty minutes in length. The listener is welcomed by the deliciously catchy "Intro-prana", in which electronics meld with guitar harmonies that treat the ear. The following sections explore different moods and feels, and sound like forerunners to RPG-type video game music. Mixing the emotional with flair and a dash of kitshiness, I'm left with the impression that it could make for some wicked game music. (Who knows? Maybe Todd will design his own video game someday.) True, side 2 gets more and more difficult to digest as it progresses (the rapid-fire drum-and-keyboard programming near the middle of the third "Fire" segment is not exactly easy to swallow for the, um, uninitiated, and "Nirvana Shakti"), but the reprise of the "Prana" theme at the end serves to entice the listener to put on the second side again. (I know it did it, several times, for myself.)
Needless to say, sometimes Todd couldn't seperate the two styles. Or maybe he didn't want to. "Eastern Intrigue" melds prog-rock-like, spiritualesque verses with a boppy chorus (check out the couple of lines leading up to "Will the real God please stand up?" zinger), and "Initiation" sounds remarkably like Santana with inner-conscientious lyrics, all with that Rundgren sheen.
In conclusion, I'm just happy to say that I toughed it out a few more rounds with this album, and can now appreciate it a great deal more than albums that I once thought to be my "favorites" (not necessarily specifying Rundgren's albums here). Sometimes the toughest cookies to crack make for the best treats.