Todd Rundgren’s State ping pongs between electronica and full-on rock — sounding like a mash up of the synthesized experiments of 2011’s (re)Production and the grinding riffs of 2008’s Arena.
And so we have the purpled forebodings of “Imagination,” then the bark and strut of his scronky “Serious” — which, actually, took me back even further, all the way to 1983’s pop-focused The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect. — though it doesn’t that album’s underlying thread of humor.
More recently, at least since 2004’s Liars, Rundgren has been more often delving into a blunt and often frustrated, even vaguely nihilistic vibe that’s perhaps mirrors with his modern-day obsession with technology. Even his remix project (re)Production sometimes — certainly, on his rendition of XTC’s “Dear God” — sounded like someone furiously tearing apart his previous creations, rather than celebrating them. State (due April 9, 2013, from Esoteric/Antenna) ditches those more recent projects’ focus on a overarching theme, though, opening the album up to a variety of topics — though many of them remain either enigmatic, edgy … or both.
And so we also have “In My Mouth,” which pulses with a dangerous edge, while “Ping Me” arrives as a balled-up fist of mechanized loneliness. “Angry Bird,” a weirdly transfixing delight, finds Rundgren combining sheets of keyboards with a slashing guitar, and an appropriately twitchy vocal.
About that: For all of its blips and burps of sound, Rundgren has actually collected some of his most finely tuned recent performances at the mic here, recapturing the revealing depth — if not the wondrous romanticism — that marked 1970s-era hits like “Hello It’s Me.”
For instance, “Smoke,” though again enveloped in a wave of synthesizers, contains a deeply committed vocal. “Something from Nothing,” which to my ear is the highlight of State, finds him in a still quieter, rawer place — though Rundgren is joined, ironically enough, by the rare outside voice: Rachel Haden, who appeared on bass player during the Arena tour. “Collide-A-Scope,” as if on cue, blows that all to bits — with a guttural bassline, spine-tingling riff, and a deep-space vocal.
As with the best of his music, State — Bon Iver meets the Nazz? Or maybe Nine Inch Nails meets the Buggles? — is neither fish nor fowl, at once diverse and of a piece.
Rundgren closes with a similarly mind-bending combination of rave-style bombast, and frankly ardent singing. “Party Liquor,” at first, seems like it will be quickly sunk by its metronomic cadence, yet holds lasting intrigue in the layered way he handles the lyric. Rundgren then closes State with “Sir Reality,” a ruminative excursion that ultimately opens up into one final sweeping emotional vista.
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