Rundgren formed Utopia as his live backing band, and to allow him to pursue more of a progressive rock direction. The original lineup even included three keyboard players, although in the face of punk, they scaled down into a slimmer and more pop-oriented outfit (Rundgren: “there just wasn’t that much of a market for players’ band…. we didn’t want to become baroque.”) The group became more of a democracy that you’d expect with something involving Rundgren, but this Anthology puts the spotlight on Rundgren’s compositions.
Most of Anthology tends towards the guilty pleasure category, even compared to Rundgren’s solo work; this is strictly pop geek territory, it’s often hollow and constantly dorky. Anthology is drawn from ten Utopia studio albums, which is amazing given how much solo work and production for other artists Rundgren released over the same period. Opener ‘Crybaby’, with its stacked, histrionic vocals, and the gentle sappy ‘Mated’ are both top grade Rundgren songs. ‘Love Is The Answer’ is strangely memorable with its over the top gospel bridge, while the goofy ‘Trapped’ also benefits from the group’s strong vocals, as all members in Utopia’s pop edition were competent singers. There are only a few representatives from the band’s progressive rock side, and they’re fine if somewhat monotonous: the gentle ‘The Wheel’ and the bombastic ‘Overture: Mountaintop and Sunrise/Communion With The Sun.’ The songs from 1980’s Beatles’ pastiche Deface The Music and 1980’s Adventures In Utopia are mostly irritating.
I’m not sure if I want to explore Utopia further, but there’s enough here to make it worthwhile for Rundgren fans.