Todd Rundgren long ago seized his status as a maverick, and his unpredictability can be as maddening as it is invigorating. State, by some counts his 20th proper solo album (the count gets a little confusing thanks to odd detours like the two he took in 2011; covering a blues legend on Todd Rundgren's Johnson and re-recording songs he produced for other artists), is maddening and invigorating in nearly equal measure, but ever so slightly favors the latter. Rundgren remains a devotee of D.I.Y. and there can be some audible hints that State may have been recorded at home and slightly on the cheap; it's never quite as chintzy as (Re)Production but there's certainly a thinness to the production, particularly the drum loops, that suggests Todd assembled this all directly onto iMac. Of course, this is part of the charm of State, as is how Rundgren seamlessly splices elements of his past together here, relying heavily on the expansive arena art rock of Utopia -- not surprising, given the group's recent reunion -- and the glossy AOR punch of Nearly Human, threading just a bit of the pop classicism of Liars into the mix but also some of the up-to-the-minute modernism of Tr-i, via the vaguely silly song titles "Angry Bird" and "Ping Me." Unlike the balls-out guitar rock of 2008's Arena, it doesn't feel like Rundgren is pushing too hard here, partially because he allows himself to slip into some of his favorite mild indulgences, letting the opening "Imagination" stretch out and shimmer for eight minutes and later throwing out a frenetic, impish novelty in "Party Liquor." Such quirks are endearing while others, like the stiff computerized funk of "Serious," are slightly baffling, but State never feels forced, either in its execution or concept. Rundgren is pushing the edges of his comfort zone just enough to keep himself stimulated while offering enough melody to satisfy those fans whose concentration usually drifts whenever he wanders, and the result is an imperfect but satisfying art-pop album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

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