And almost as if it were a blueprint, "Todd" embodies the ups and downs, the dizzying highs and the stultifying lows of the era that it rather inauspiciously inaugurates. The lows? Well, both of the extended instrumentals overstay their welcome. Despite its rather "pretty" chord progression, "The Spark of Life" stops the album dead in its tracks and since "I Think You Know" serves as a somewhat musically mawkish and hackneyed opener, the album didn't exactly hit the ground running. "Everybody's Going to Heaven" has a funky-fresh groove that enticingly anticipates the upcoming Utopia album, but the lyrics, however well-intentioned, seem forced and not a little bit awkward.
The highs? Well, "Don't You Ever Learn?" and "Sons of 1984" are about as defeatist, as anti-Utopian, as anthems come, so they're not exactly EMOTIONAL highs. But in the face of "Just One Victory"'s somewhat naive optimism, these tunes seem a little more cynical, and, frankly, a little more REAL. (Apparantly the drugs were wearing off...) The former is a little obscure, but seems to be an emotional (and accusatory) plea against apathy. The latter passes the torch onto the next generation, telling them to take it not because of the hope that the future holds in store for them, but to "Take it because... because... well, just take it because it's YOURS, OK?" Not exactly the spriritual uplift we might expect from a technicolor hippie, but since when did Todd ever give us what we expected? Even when he does pull a typical "song" out of his magic hat, we get "A Dream Goes On Forever", which he'd been playing live for several years, and "Izzat Love?" which (despite its unavoidable appeal) has such blatantly godawful lyrics that it's hard to tell whether he's throwing his "old" fans a bone, or just thumbing his nose at them. That snarling, brilliant beast, "No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator" gives us a clue.
A curious strike against the album is its mystifyingly BAD sound. I'd always wondered if Rhino had botched the cd version, but upon acquiring the vinyl, I realized, "Nope, it REALLY does sound like that." Everything is so innapropriately distorted; the crash cymbals fade out prematurely as if they were miked wrongly. "AWATS" wasn't exactly a landmark in high fidelity, but its "bad" sound gave the music an appealingly off-kilter, otherworldly ambience. I don't know, maybe it was because this was the first solo album that Todd engineered himself, but the bad sound on "Todd" is, just, well, BAD SOUND.
So what we have is the Wizard expressing his muse with a little more self-consciousness and a little less inspiration. Sure, there are an embarrassing number of riches in this period, but sometimes, through overexuberance, or overextension, or carelessness, he's just plain embarrassing. Actually, if anything, "Todd" sounds a little tired. With an outside engineer (and an editor), the album could have stood a little more proudly in the "Canon". But, taken as it is, "Todd" sounds rather like a half-assed version of "AWATS", and it represents the first significant dent in OH's armor.