City in My Head

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Even hardcore Todd Rundgren fans disagree on the merits of Utopia, his late-'70s/early-'80s band which fell halfway between vanity project and independent entity. Part of the problem is that the band were musically schizophrenic, embodying the extremes of both prog rock (in their earliest incarnation) and arena rock (in their latter-day phase). Rhino's 1989 collection Anthology (1974-1985) took a pop direction, which may have rewritten the group's history slightly, but it did an exceptional job of spotlighting the great majority of the group's best pop songs. Castle's double disc takes a different approach, somewhat out of necessity (it only covers the Bearsville years, meaning that such pop gems as "Crybaby" and "Feets Don't Fail Me Now" weren't even up for inclusion), but also out of purpose. The idea here is to emphasize Utopia's progressive nature. Much of the first disc is dedicated to the futuristic freak-outs of Todd Rundgren's Utopia and Another Live, and even when it moves toward pop on the second disc, it either emphasizes album-rock cuts like "Caravan" or arty moves like the Beatles parody of Deface the Music (nearly half of the album is featured here). Utopia beginners -- mainly fans of Rundgren's maverick solo records -- are advised to seek out Rhino's earlier disc first, because of its pop leanings. Once that's been absorbed, City in My Head is a good primer for the rest of the band's catalog. But for longtime followers, the comp's worth is marginal. There are no rarities, and Paul Lester's enthusiastic liner notes aren't as exhaustive as his work for the Rundgren compilations and reissues, but the remastered sound is very good. Of course, fans who care about that sort of thing may want to just get Castle's Utopia reissues instead.

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