It’s possible to view Runddans – a collaboration between Todd Rundgren, Serena-Maneesh’s Emil Nikolaisen and Lindstrøm – as a record that harks back to Rundgren’s mid-70s period, when the studio whizz formed the synth-prog group Utopia and filled his solo albums with four-part instrumental suites. It’s equally possible to accept that – like much of Rundgren’s back catalogue – this doesn’t really stand comparison with many things. Its 12 tracks essentially form just one sprawling 39-minute piece of music, featuring intermittent disco rhythms, blissed-out refrains and passages named things like Liquid Joy from the Womb of Infinity.
Now this is utopia: electronic dance music with exploratory dynamics and cosmic-R&B vocal glow. Todd Rundgren was already making records like this at the height of glam — his 1973 astro-rock suite, A Wizard, a True Star; the 1975 spiritual-prog epic, Initiation — so he sounds at home with his Norwegian collaborators in this space-soul trip, a 40-minute piece in 12 parts. The programming is intermittently suitable for boogaloo, but the breaking sunshine in the melodies and Rundgren's singing deliver on the promise in titles like "Liquid Joy in the Womb of Infinity" and "Wave of Heavy Red (Disko-Nektar)." .
Veteran rock maverick Todd Rundgren, wall-of-sound Serena-Maneesh shoegazer Emil Nikolaisen, and space disco cadet Hans-Peter Lindstrøm announced an album collaboration in early 2014 and intended to release it a few months later. Runddans, however, didn't surface until May 2015. It shortly followed the release of Rundgren's Global, as Rundgren was engaged in an extensive U.S.
I first heard about Runddans in 2012, when I was visiting the Norwegian city of Stavanger for a music conference. Emil Nikolaisen, of the alt-rock band Serena-Maneesh, was giving a presentation on his unconventional production style. Partway through the talk he excitedly announced that he and Lindstrøm, who was playing later in the week, had begun work on a project with none other than Todd Rundgren.
When Todd Rundgren dubbed his fourth solo album A Wizard, A True Star it seemed somewhat presumptuous at the time, given that he had only begun recording a scant five years before. Four decades later, that title has come to sum up one of the most remarkably prolific careers in rock’s vast lexicon. There’s practically nothing Rundgren hasn’t done, whether as a performer, producer, engineer or video pioneer since making his bow with his first band Woody’s Truck Stop in his native Philadelphia and then creeping into the national spotlight with the Nazz.
Todd Rundgren had mastered the art of writing the perfect pop song by the time he was 23—so he’s spent the next four decades trying out pretty much everything else. While his early-'70s chart success posited him as a stateside McCartney, his subsequent career more closely resembles that of an American Eno: a musician-cum-conceptualist who didn’t so much forsake rock stardom for the avant-garde as inhabit both worlds simultaneously. Rundgren is forever at the center of infinite extremes: proto-punk instigator and prog-rock architect, celebrity and cult hero, casino-circuit nostalgia act and remix-ready electronica enthusiast, autocratic auteur and promiscuous collaborator, bitter cynic and spiritual humanist, genius and jester.
Emil Nikolaisen comes from Norwegian shoegaze/psych band Sereena-Maneesh. Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is one of the same country’s best-known DJs/electronica producers. Todd Rundgren is Todd Rundgren. After remixing one of Lindstrøm’s tracks, Rundgren joined the duo in Oslo to produce Runddans, a 40-minute multi-part suite combining space disco, glitchy electronica and Rundgren’s patented soul/pop.