Swing to the Right

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Utopia wandered into the wilderness with Deface the Music, losing much of the audience they won with Adventures in Utopia. If its follow-up Swing to the Right is any indication, the band didn't really care, since they doggedly pursue a weird fusion of new wave pop, arena rock, and soul, all spiked with social commentary. According to some reports, Bearsville didn't want to release the album, relenting only after considerable pressure from Rundgren, who defended it as the group effort it certainly is. In fact, Swing to the Right marks the beginning of Utopia Mach III, when each member pulled equal weight as composers and frontmen -- at times, it's hard to tell who contributed what, or even who takes lead vocals. Admittedly, Rundgren's efforts are the strongest -- "Lysistrata" condenses a Greek play into a three-minute pop gem, and "One World," a silly but catchy "love is all you need" chant. Both songs accentuate the anti-Reagan theme of Swing to the Right, which is clearly telegraphed by the album's title. True, the message can be a little fuzzy, yet each song has a loose anti-conservative theme, including their cover of the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money," which also provides a musical keynote for this new wave-soul-inflected record. Unfortunately, this all reads better than it plays. Apart from the aforementioned Rundgren numbers and (possibly) the title track, no songs make a lasting impression, as Utopia's pop instincts fail them for the first time since Oops! Wrong Planet. As a Reagan-era curiosity, however, it's intermittently fascinating.

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