No World Order (Japanese Import)
Todd Rundgren

Freudiana (British Import)

Alan Parsons, et al

By Allen Howie

In 1989, Todd Rundgren recorded Nearly Human, a live-in-the-studio pop masterpiece that practically leaped into cut-out bins. The follow-up, Second Wind, made the trip even more quickly. And so his surly new record, No World Order, comes from Japan, and is the polar opposite of his 1989 album, with all of the music digitally produced and performed by Rundgren alone. And while the artist has even gone so far as to number variations of songs as if they were software upgrades, only he could coax such warmth from cold technology.

Musically, the new record is masterful, and Rundgren's writing and singing are as melodic and assured as ever. His attempts at rap are another matter, his lacerating commentary undercut by the stilted stiffness of his delivery. This may just be the shock of the unfamiliar, though, as even these tracks begin to take on a charm of their own with repeated listenings.

More problematic are the lyrics themselves. Rundgren's musical isolation may signify a larger retreat from society, one that surfaces throughout the album. In the gorgeous "Property," he takes his disgust with materialism to an absurd extreme, asserting that even relationships are merely another form of ownership. Likewise, "Fascist Christ" stumbles over its own sweeping exaggerations, drawing unfairly broad generalizations about God and religion from the actions of a few misguided souls. The juvenile carelessness of his attacks and accusations erodes his credibility.

Odd perspectives and beautiful melodies, aging pop-star raps and shimmering melodies . . . together, they add up to an album full of quirky charm, and further proof of RundgrenÕs abundant gifts.

If you're an Alan Parsons fan, you'll want to check out Freudiana, his collaboration with longtime bandmate Eric Woolfson, whose brainchild this project is. Aided by a stellar cast of players including such "Where are they now?" candidates as Leo Sayer and Kiki Dee, this seventy-five minute collection is inspired by the writings and patient cases of Sigmund Freud, exploring the inner workings of the mind in various states of order and disorder.

If that sounds like a snore, just listen to Sayer's surprisingly tough vocals on the surging "I Am a Mirror," to the Beatlesque wink of "Little Hans," a charming tale of Freud's youngest patient, and to the way Kiki Dee kicks around the mother-son dynamic in the brooding "You're on Your Own." Equally good are 10cc's Eric Stewart in "The Ring" and "Upper Me," the minstrel beauty of the Flying Picket' "Far from Home," and the symphonic lushness of all of Woolfson's performances.

The record lapses into showtune staginess for a few cuts near the end (the project has evolved into a musical production, and made its stage debut in Vienna in 1990), but it's a forgivable and momentary detour. Sprinkled with bright performances and assembled with obvious affection, Freudiana is a treat, and is arguably the most energetic and inspired music Woolfson and Parsons have conjured up together.