Early in Todd Rundgren’s career, he decided essentially that being unique musically was more important and satisfying than being popular.
“I came to a point where I realized it was fruitless for me to make music that other people could make just as well,” Rundgren remarked during a recent phone interview. “I had to make music that other people weren’t making in order to justify my musical existence. It’s kind of been that way ever since.”
Rundgren has followed that philosophy since the early 1970s, when his third solo effort, the landmark double album “Something/Anything?” put him on the cusp of major stardom. Songs like the hit singles “Hello It’s Me,” “I Saw The Light,” “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” reaffirmed Rundgren’s gift for writing concise and indelible pop gems.
Rundgren, who in April released his 25th solo album, “Global,” realized in the wake of that initial success that he could continue in the vein of “Something/Anything?” and very possibly become one of the biggest stars of that era. But he had a different kind of career in mind, which dovetailed with his natural tendency to explore and reinvent himself musically.
“It (sticking to a successful musical blueprint) will build you an audience of a certain kind, but I don’t know if it builds the loyalty that being a little bit more bold does,” said Rundgren, 67. “What happened was it looked like I was building up a giant … but shallow fan base through ‘Something/Anything?’ and the hit singles on the radio. And then when I pull a stunt like ‘A Wizard, A True Star’ after that, it essentially culls out all of the shallowest part of the audience and leaves you with the really committed listener. And so all of my fans, a lot of them, have been following what I’ve done for decades. It’s the reason why I still have a career.”
Rundgren turned away from the three-minute pop song format and created an album that stylistically was all over the pop/psychedelic map, and at times eccentric and sonically dense enough that it took multiple listens to absorb.
Rundgren has made more accessible albums since, but he has remained a relentlessly adventurous and frequently innovative artist.
“Global” finds Rundgren continuing to explore an electronic music vein that he first tapped with the 1993 interactive release “New World Order,” and has featured on several subsequent albums, including “Liars” (2004) and “State” (2013). Guitars are almost entirely absent on “Global,” as Rundgren uses synthesizers, sequencers, computers and programmed rhythms to create the musical backdrop for what, ironically, might feel like a collection of fairly conventional and equally appealing pop songs in a guitar/bass/drums setting.
As on many of recent albums, Rundgren plays all the instruments on “Global,” and he’s found that the tools of electronic dance music suit his methods as well as his music.
“It’s partly because you have broader control over sonic palate,” Rundgren said, explaining his attraction to a synthesized sound. “It’s kind of satisfying. In the old days, we used to kind of struggle to achieve some of the sounds that you kind of imagined hearing. Now it’s kind of a riot of possibilities out there.”
But if Rundgren uses a modern EDM musical palate on “Global,” he actually thinks the album has more in common with ’80s synth-pop acts like Depeche Mode.
On his “Global” tour Rundgren is presenting a musical format that’s unconventional, but also suits the music on new album.
“The last time I went out (on tour) … I had drummer and guitar player to soften up the sound a bit. I tried to deejay myself,” Rundgren said, providing context for the new tour. “But the responsibilities of singing and fronting were kind of greater than I expected. So this time, I’m just taking a DJ, me and two background singers, and I’ll be essentially fronting the whole time. I won’t be attempting to run the music at all.
“We’re putting a big emphasis on the production as well. We’re taking a lot of lights and stuff. So it will be a very visual show, a lot of emphasis, of course, on the new record and the last record, but also we’ll be going back and digging up some material from the past to present in a somewhat modernized format.”