Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Song #198 of 9999 - Zen Archer by Todd Rundgren

Song #198 of 9999

Title: Zen Archer
Artist: Todd Rundgren
Year: 1973
Album: A Wizard, A True Star

In 1972, Todd Rundgren released Something/Anything?, the record generally heralded as his masterpiece and featuring the singles "I Saw the Light" and "Hello, It's Me." It was an artistic and commercial success, establishing Rundgren as one of the reigning singer-songwriters of his generation. It was also a significant achievement in studio multi-tracking, as Rundgren played every instrument and sang every vocal on the first three sides of the double LP!

Curiously, Rundgren chose to follow his best-selling album to date with an experimental, often noisy, collection of odd vignettes woven together in stream-of-consciousness fashion and presented under the name A Wizard, A True Star. While there are hints of the sweet melodies that captivated listeners on Something/Anything? (see "Sometimes I Don't Know How to Feel" and "I Don't Want to Tie You Down"), the album is dominated by a 26-minute medley of twelve songs squeezed onto the A side without regard for the loss in sound quality that resulted from pushing the physical limitations of 12" vinyl.

The record received mixed reviews even among the Todd faithful, but has recently garnered renewed enthusiasm from legions of young fans, especially in the UK, who embraced its quirky attributes. Rundgren responded by taking the record on tour in 2009-2010, playing it in its entirety for the first time. 

I personally love this record and am proud to have an original copy of the vinyl release in a beat up die-cut record jacket. Although there are more listenable tracks on the record, I chose "Zen Archer" to give you a sense of what the more adventurous tracks sound like (really, it's one of the more cohesive songs on the record). "Zen Archer" is the longest of the songs included in the side A medley, clocking in at 5:35. The song alternates between a French cabaret two-step and a slushy organ-drenched chorus of major and minor 7th chords as it tells the story of "another pretty thing dead on the end of the shaft of the Zen Archer." I'm sure there's a metaphor in there somewhere but Rundgren isn't about to clarify anything on this enigmatic effort.

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