4 out of 5 Stars!
After Utopia’s fantastic debut, as well as one live album of new material, guitarist/leader Todd Rundgren trimmed the band of two-thirds of its keyboard players, bringing Utopia to a quartet for its second studio release.
Thankfully, the shortage of keyboardists on Ra is unnoticeable, since Roger Powell (the lone survivor of the ivory-thinning) provides enough layers of synths, pianos, etc. to keep any Prog-Rock fan satisfied.
Picking up from where the previous albums left off, Ra is another splendid Prog-Rock foray, with some complex melodies, song arrangements, and inspired instrumentation.
On the first side of Ra, the band offers up some relatively shorter tracks where Rundgren’s Pop influences from his solo career shine through, especially on the amusing and fanciful “Magic Dragon Theatre,” (Utopia’s counterpart to Genesis’s “Harold The Barrel”), the rockier although somewhat bland “Jealousy,” and the Queen-ish ballad “Eternal Love,” somewhat predicting the major change in direction that would hit Utopia on its next release.
Meanwhile, the lengthier, more Prog-oriented tracks are either out-and-out masterpieces, or nearly so, depending on one’s tastes. “Overture/Communion With The Sun” and “Sunburst Finish” (the A Side’s opening and closing tracks) are both rather fun, with enough interesting bits to keep me on the edge of my seat.
But to me, the B Side is where the true magic happens—the dramatic “Hiroshima” is nothing short of brilliant, while the eighteen-plus minute epic “Singring and the Glass Guitar (An Electrified Fairy Tale)” is often jaw-dropping in its scope, instrumentation, and general creativity.
Sadly, this would be Utopia’s final Prog-Rock album as, later in 1977, the band dove headfirst into some Pop Rock/Power Pop/New Wave mixture I could never tolerate. Regardless, despite Utopia’s dismal future when it comes to Prog-Rock, lovers of the genre would be remiss not to have Ra in their collections, along with the wonderful debut album and the enjoyable Another Live.