After the duets-heavy White Knight of 2017, and a recent season of live events that included playing Daryl Hall’s solo songs with the Oates-less singer and essaying the work of David Bowie with fellow chicken-choking guitarist Adrien Belew, Todd Rundgren’s new solo album isn’t exactly that at all. Instead, confusing expectations again—surely a hobby and a way of life after 60 years of confounding listeners—Space Force seems to outstretch its long arms to accommodate guests rather than interacting in a duet setting. And that’s mighty neighborly of Rundgren, who’s famously performed production duties for artists like Patti Smith, New York Dolls, Hall & Oates, and Meat Loaf.
While the open-faced ambience and delicate reverberation of “Puzzle” (with the aforementioned Belew) and “Head in the Ocean” (with alt-R&B vocalist Alfie Templeman) are dreamy and spacious, the synth-slabbed “I’m Not Your Dog” (with Thomas Dolby) is cluttered, overly masculine neo-funk with a woozily psychedelic middle and classic Dolby vocal tics. Although I’m not certain that getting Rivers Cuomo to tackle ska on “Down with the Ship” is the best use of the Weezer frontman’s time, the circus-y “Your Fandango” with his old friends the Mael brothers of Sparks and the trippy “I’m Leaving” with his new friends in The Lemon Twigs are up each collaborator’s alley, energetically and uniquely so.
Pairing Runt off with fellow guitar-wanking wonks such as Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen (“STFU”) and shredder Steve Vai (“Eco Warrior Goddess”) makes perfect sense when it comes to grimacing solos and bold six-string figures. Weirdly, Rundgren’s famous pairing with The Roots—boiled down to this one releasable item, “Godiva Girl”—doesn’t truly jive or jibe, despite Rundgren’s rep as one of the original elastic executors of blue-eyed soul. All in all, Space Force does the space-synth-prog of some of his best Utopia-like instrumental fare and early Money Nazz–esque psychedelia proud—sonically—while leaving fans of Todd’s vocal frippery and emotional prowess in the cold.