Hermit of Mink Hollow
|Hermit of Mink Hollow|
|Studio album by|
|Studio||Utopia Sound Studios, Lake Hill, New York|
|Todd Rundgren chronology|
|Singles from Hermit of Mink Hollow|
Hermit of Mink Hollow is the eighth album by American musician Todd Rundgren, released May 1978 on Bearsville Records. All of the instruments and vocals were performed solely by Rundgren. He intended the songs on the album to be performed on piano with minimal arrangements, apart from the bass, drums and voices, and for the material to showcase his newly refined singing ability.
Mink Hollow refers to a valley, and the road that runs through it, in Lake Hill, New York. Rundgren recorded this album while living in a house on Mink Hollow Road; he felt he was a "studio hermit", working in an "insular little 24-hour-a-day think tank", and declared that prior to this experience he was not aware that "too much social interaction [had] affected [his] overall creativity." Although the album's "confessional" songs are often attributed to his recent separation from the model Bebe Buell, Rundgren denied that the songs were necessarily autobiographical.
The album was well-received by critics and fans who viewed the record as a "return to form" and his most immediately accessible since Something/Anything? (1972). In the US, the album peaked at number 36, while single "Can We Still Be Friends" reached number 29. The song became Rundgren's most-covered, with versions by Robert Palmer, Rod Stewart, Colin Blunstone, and Mandy Moore.
Following the completion of Faithful (1976), Rundgren spent two months on an eastern spiritual retreat, visiting Iran, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bali, Thailand, Japan, and Hawaii. He also opened Utopia Sound Studios in Lake Hill, New York, just outside of Woodstock, and bought a home nearby, as well as an adjoining property to be taken over as accommodation for artists who used the studio. The Lake Hill complex on Mink Hollow Road remained Rundgren's base for the next six years. Between Faithful and Hermit of Mink Hollow, he also recorded three albums with his band Utopia. The first, Disco Jets, was a tongue-in-cheek collection of instrumental disco tracks left unreleased until 2001. Ra (February 1977) was a concept album based on Egyptian mythology, which prefaced a lavish tour involving an extravagant stage set with a giant pyramid and Sphynx head. Oops! Wrong Planet (September 1977), recorded immediately after the tour, signaled the start of a more pop-oriented direction for the group.
Production and style
By late 1977, Rundgren was in the midst of separating from then-girlfriend Bebe Buell and their infant daughter Liv. Rundgren recalled leaving his home in New York City and sequestering himself at Mink Hollow, "after I discovered that I didn't want to cohabit any longer with Bebe, in any sense of the word ... A fortunate by-product of being so out of everything all the time and always being the odd man out ... is that you have plenty of time for self-examination." With the exception of an occasional visit from engineer Mike Young, Rundgren recorded the album entirely by himself. He said that recording Hermit alone was a tedious experience, "because the control room was upstairs and the drums downstairs, so when trying to record drums, if I made a mistake, I had to run up and down the stairs just to rewind the machine. I didn't have a remote with a lead that ran long enough!"
Rundgren intended the songs on the album to be performed on piano with minimal arrangements, apart from the bass, drums and voices. In that sense, he stated that the songwriting process appeared to be "fairly conventional". Most of the songs on the record did not have lyrics until completed. The writing process typically started with a rhythm track. For individual parts, he said he adopted different "personas" to suit the playing styles, such as Paul McCartney on "Determination", "where I do some of that squiggly McCartney 'Paperback Writer' stuff in the outro."
He stated that whatever concept behind the album's sound was limited to showcasing both his piano-based compositions and his newly refined singing ability. Daryl Hall claimed credit for influencing Rundgren's singing style after the sessions for War Babies (1974), a view supported by Utopia's Ralph Schuckett, who said: "On our tour before that [record], he never could quite cut it as a live singer. ... I think Daryl's whole thing just rubbed off on him." Rundgren disagreed of the extent of Hall's influence, explaining "We're both still trying to emulate our common influences, the great soul singers who, in our mind, are better singers than either of us."
Hermit was divided into "The Easy Side" and "The Difficult Side" because a Bearsville executive felt that the original proposed running order lacked balance. Rundgren commented in a contemporary interview: "I don't know what the fuck they were talking about. So I did it, figuring it was their particular wank and they can think what they want." Although Hermit is often compared to "confessional" works such as Joni Mitchell's Blue (1971) or Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks (1975), Rundgren reflected that the album's songs were not necessarily autobiographical: "I wouldn't make that close a connection to my real life. Like 'Too Far Gone' wasn't directly about me leaving home as a teenager. Like most of my songs, they're only biographical to the point that other people can identify with them." The song "Onomotoapoiea" served as comic relief for the album, being a music-hall number in a similar vein to Rundgren's "Just Another Onionhead" from A Wizard, a True Star (1972) and "An Elpee's Worth of Tunes" from Todd (1974).
Release and reception
|Christgau's Record Guide||C+|
Hermit of Mink Hollow was released in May 1978 with a cover that depicts a blue-tinted video screen image of Rundgren alone in his garden. In the US, the LP peaked at number 36, while single "Can We Still Be Friends" reached number 29. At the urging of Bearsville executive Paul Fishkin, Rundgren supported the record with a run of "Greatest Hits" shows held at The Bottom Line in New York and The Roxy in Los Angeles, followed by an August 23 date at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland. The shows were recorded with select performances included for the double live album Back to the Bars (December 1978).
The album was generally well-received by critics and fans. Popularly viewed as his most immediately accessible work since Something/Anything?, it received more public attention and radio airplay than most of Rundgren's efforts since A Wizard, a True Star and was heralded as a "return to form" after a string of prog records with Utopia. On release, Rolling Stone's Michael Bloom reviewed that the songs "all stem from the universal library of luminous pop enjoyment that this curious artist carries around in his head. They condense the whole world into a three-minute capsule and promise eternal youth. They know the rules so well that it's almost a joy to conform. ... Neither simple nor always pleasant, Todd Rundgren is still an artist to be taken seriously." Conversely, Robert Christgau of The Village Voice wrote a single-sentence review that stated: "Only a weight as willfully light as Todd can be trusted to put his smartest song ('Onomatopeia') on 'the easy side' and his dumbest ('Bag Lady') on 'the difficult side.'"
"Can We Still Be Friends?" became Rundgren's most-covered song, with versions by Robert Palmer, Rod Stewart, Colin Blunstone, and Mandy Moore. Retrospectively, Sam Sodomsky of Pitchfork wrote that the album was the only record in Rundgren's discography that comes close to the "moments of enlightenment" heard on Something/Anything? or A Wizard, a True Star. He wrote: "The ballads [on Hermit] were heavier, and the moments of levity felt more compulsive, like a man punching himself in the head to get out of a funk. ... Rundgren understood all along that things would never be the same. There’s a reason why he sang 'I Saw the Light' in the past tense: his life’s work depended on knowing you can never get that first high again."
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic reviewed that Hermit was Rundgren's "most emotional record", and in comparison to Something/Anything? is "more cohesive. It also feels less brilliant, even if it is, in many ways, nearly as excellent as Rundgren's masterwork, mainly because it doesn't have such a wide scope." Writing in The Rough Guide to Rock (2003), Nicholas Olivier deemed Hermit "his best for a long while. Despite the clunker of 'Onomatopoeia', Rundgren reconfirmed his hit-making potential (the awesome hooks of 'Can We Still Be Friends?') and reeled off a string of typically great ballads, capping it all with the sublime chorus of 'You Cried Wolf'. Nothing Rundgren has done since has matched this late-70s peak."
All tracks are written by Todd Rundgren.
|1.||"All the Children Sing"||3:08|
|2.||"Can We Still Be Friends"||3:34|
|3.||"Hurting for You"||3:20|
|4.||"Too Far Gone"||2:38|
|3.||"You Cried Wolf"||2:20|
|5.||"Out of Control"||3:56|
Hermit of Mink Hollow
|Canada RPM Album Chart||27|
|UK Albums Chart||42|
|US Billboard Pop Albums||36|
"Can We Still Be Friends"
|Canada RPM Singles Chart||37|
|Billboard Pop Singles||29|
|Billboard Adult Contemporary||45|
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- Myers 2010, pp. 141–142.
- Myers 2010, p. 142.
- Myers 2010, pp. 131, 251.
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- Myers 2010, p. 169.
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- Myers 2010, p. 171.
- Myers 2010, p. 172.
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- Myers 2010, p. 174.
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