Todd Rundgren: Faithful


Todd Rundgren: Faithful is released.
# allmusic 3.5/5
# Rolling Stone (see original review below)
Faithful is Todd Rundgren’s seventh album, released in April, 1976.
The first half of Faithful consists of dead-on, note-perfect recreations of six classic ’60s pop tunes: the Yardbirds’ freakout “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,” the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Rain,” Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” and Jimi Hendrix’s dreamy “If Six Was Nine.”
The second half of this set is made up of Rundgren originals in the style of the preceding batch of covers. (Think of the Rutles, though this pre-dates that loving parody.) Rundgren and the members of his fusion-oriented side project Utopia pull the feat off beautifully. The covers are perfect, and the originals include two of his best tunes, “The Verb ‘To Love'” and “Love of the Common Man.” Falling for this set depends on whether one thinks this conceit is worthwhile.
Also alluding to the name of the album in concept, it was released with virtually no advertising. Bearsville Records’ President Paul Fiskin theorized (and was essentially proven correct) Rundgren’s faithful listeners would purchase just as many albums as his previous releases based solely on word of mouth.
It’s 1967 and both Hendrix and the Yardbirds are busy evolving the electric guitar, the Beatles and the Beach Boys are revolutionizing the aesthetics of the studio and Dylan is burning in creative fever with a rock band and sad-eyed ladies. Todd Rundgren is a kid with his first band, the Nazz, and he’s listening hard.
Almost a decade later, he’s turned up with recitations of six of the most important songs of that year—”Good Vibrations,” “If Six Was Nine,” “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and “Rain.” Rundgren’s career has been that of a renaissance pop musician, sopping up influences like a sponge and employing them with clever calculation. The problem here isn’t Rundgren’s lack of the vocal and instrumental chops of his influences—he doesn’t have the voice of Brian Wilson, for example, but he’s mastered his style—but that as literal recreations, the tunes are little more than artifacts. Initially interesting and funny, they’re ultimately redundant. And if they’re designed for Rundgren’s teenage constituency, one is left hoping that the astute will pick up on the Runt’s hint and dig up the primary sources. Would even Rundgren himself listen to his versions in lieu of the originals?
The original material that fills side two is a more ambitious tribute to his influences and his strongest collection of pop tunes since his classic Something/Anything? Rundgren wrote of that album’s “I Saw the Light”: “If there’s a single on this album, this is it, so I put it first like at Motown.” The new “Love of the Common Man” certainly deserves the same accolade: its infectious melodies, endearing voice and sentiments and tasty mix of Beatles-esque guitars and harmonies make it irresistible. The simple chorus hook—”turn the world around”—carries more genuine power than all the cosmic proclamations that have cluttered much of his recent work.
“Cliche” is similarly effective, with a strong pop melody enlivened by Rundgren’s harmonies and the intricate weave of various keyboards. He explores his soul influences with a strong if somewhat overblown ballad, “The Verb ‘to Love.'” He pokes fanciful fun at rock’s recent infatuation with Caribbean rhythms on “When I Pray” (with its wonderful chorus, “singin’ om omigod, please be there”) and showcases his flashy guitar moves on the rockers, “Black and White” and “Boogies (Hamburger Hell).” Diverse, highly musical and, best of all, fun, these songs embody the influences that Rundgren puts under a microscope on his tributes.
Rundgren is very much a product of the Sixties and, specifically, the artists he has chosen to cover on Faithful. And with the help of Utopia (his band), he’s lived up to the album’s title. “Good Vibrations,” “Strawberry Fields Forever” and the rest are not interpretations but facsimiles, verbatim mimics of the riffs and ideas of the originals. Faithful’s failure to live up to the second side’s more ambitious definition of the term—that is, a new embodiment of his heroes’ energy and visions—is the tragic flaw in what is otherwise Rundgren’s strongest album in years. (RS 216)
~ JOHN MILWARD (July 1, 1976)
Side one
“Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” (Jeff Beck, Jim McCarty, Jimmy Page, Keith Relf) – 3:12
“Good Vibrations” (Mike Love, Brian Wilson) – 3:44
“Rain” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – 3:16
“Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” (Bob Dylan) – 3:24
“If 6 Was 9” (Jimi Hendrix) – 4:55
“Strawberry Fields Forever” (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) – 3:53
Side two
All songs written by Todd Rundgren
“Black and White” – 4:42
“Love of the Common Man” – 3:35
“When I Pray” – 2:58
“Cliché” – 4:00
“The Verb “To Love”” – 7:25
“Boogies (Hamburger Hell)” – 5:00

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