Todd Rundgren, ‘Space Force': Album Review
Todd Rundgren's restless creativity has served him well over the years. Whether crafting solo masterpieces like Something/Anything? and A Wizard, a True Star, or producing albums for artists as diverse as Grand Funk Railroad and XTC, he's as precision-driven as he is indiscriminating.
Those personality traits make him an ideal collaborator as well as a possible nightmare in the studio. But there's also no denying his workmanlike attention to detail has yielded a long list of all-time-best albums by many of the artists he's worked with: Grand Funk Railroad (We're an American Band), Meat Loaf (Bat Out of Hell), New York Dolls (New York Dolls) and XTC (Skylarking), among them.
Space Force arrives as a hybrid work: part Rundgren solo album, part Rundgren sitting in the producer's chair. Like on 2017's White Knight, he collaborates with a range of artists whose resumes are as long and as varied as his. Guests this time include members of Cheap Trick, the Roots, Sparks and Weezer, and they help Rundgren satisfy his boundless curiosity in the dozen new songs collected here.
And like White Knight, Space Force is at its most interesting when the artists' sense of adventure matches Rundgren's or when Rundgren himself wades deep into studio-wizard waters. The more out there they get, the better the results. But Space Force is pretty conventional, as far as Rundgren albums go, so don't expect to find many reasons to revisit the record in the way his '70s catalog invited deeper dives.
Adrian Belew assists in the New Age/soft-rock homage "Puzzle," the Sparks collaboration "Your Fandango" is a summit of '70s outre artists and the novelty throwback with Rivers Cuomo, "Down With the Ship," comes and goes without a second thought. Only "Espionage" with rapper Narcy, "I'm Not Your Dog" with a game Thomas Dolby and the muscular "STFU" with Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen make an impression. More than two dozen albums into his solo career (plus LPs with the Nazz and Utopia), Rundgren is still steering toward unexpected destinations. Just don't expect to be engaged for the entire duration of the ride.