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Jethro Tull

 

I know my page is looking more and more like your generic classic rock-oriented review page (no offense to the classic rock-oriented people), but honestly, I like newer stuff too. It's just that this old stuff is way cheaper, thanks to the miracles of flea markets and $1 record bins. So here's Jethro Tull, a band I'm not overly fond of, but have a bunch of records by because I've paid about $20 at most for all of them.

lineup: too many to mention; only important members are Ian Anderson (vocals, guitars, flute, mandolin, whatever else he feels like playing, maniacal despot) and Martin Barre (lead electric guitar)

review index: Benefit / Aqualung / Thick as a Brick / A Passion Play / Warchild / Minstrel in the Gallery / Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die / Songs from the Wood / Heavy Horses / Live - Bursting Out / Stormwatch / The Broadsword and the Beast / Under Wraps / Original Masters / Roots to Branches

missing albums: This Was, Stand Up, Living in the Past, A, Crest of a Knave, Rock Island, Catfish Rising, J-Tull Dot Com, and numerous live albums and compilations of previously-unreleased material

apex: Aqualung
nadir: Roots to Branches
overlooked: The Broadsword and the Beast


Benefit - 1970

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Teacher, With You There to Help Me, Nothing to See
Worst songs: Son, To Cry You a Song, Sossity You're a Woman

 

Having futzed around with blues-rock on previous ventures, Ian and friends (scorecard: Glenn Cornick on bass, Clive Bunker on drums, and John Evans on piano and organ, though he's not pictured on the album cover) move into more hard-rock/folky territory here.

On side one, we have the excellent, though long, "With You There to Help Me", featuring some neat backwards flute, and "Nothing to See", with excellent Barre guitar work. Drawbacks to side one? "Son" is an awful attempt at rockin' out which fails to include anything pleasant, and the other two songs are kinda nondescript. Switching to side two, there be "To Cry You a Song" (nice riffing, but way too long), "Teacher" (kickass pop song!!!), "Sossity You're a Woman" (suuuuucks!), and II more generic songs. So that's what, three good songs, three bad ones and four nondescript ones? Not a very good ratio. Pick it up if you see it in a dollar bin, otherwise skip away.


Aqualung - 1971

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: Aqualung, Cross-Eyed Mary, Locomotive Breath, Mother Goose
Worst songs: erm, none, really

 

Rawk! Rawk! Kick arse!!! (Score card: Clive Bunker and John Evan from the previous record with new bassist Jeffrey Hammond)

Yeah, so they delve into more of the folky/hard-rock stuff. This time it's built around a concept album about how crappy organized religion is (I tend to agree), but more importantly, Ian actually writes a set of songs that are all good! Okay, the short folky linking tracks aren't anything to get worked up over, but there's a string of hard-rock classics here: "Aqualung", "Cross-Eyed Mary", "Hymn 43", and "Locomotive Breath", and some neat folk-rockers: "Mother Goose", "My God", and that one other song. No real point to deliniate the facts -- this is, after all, another one of those albums that most people are familiar with. An essential part of any music collection, except if you don't like it.


Thick as a Brick - 1972

Rating: ***
Best songs: there's only one track
Worst songs: and it's called Thick as a Brick

 

Oh, goody, another fan favorite. (Score card: new drummer Barriemore Barlow) This time the concept is...well...I really don't know what the concept is. The important thing is, this is a bunch of songs strung together with instrumental bits in between to make it one long track (well, two, since there's a break in the middle when you have to flip over the record). Y'know, there's a reason people put space between songs, Ian -- it's to give us poor listeners a chance to catch our breath before the next track starts. After one side of this, I'm so sick of it I don't ever want to hear it again.

That's too bad, because it's actually quite nice. Both the songs and instrumental bits are well-done (I can't name any specifics, really, since there aren't any bloody song titles). The opening acoustic part is my favorite, mainly because it's also found on Original Masters by itself, so I can enjoy it without having to hear the succeeding 41 minutes of music. Those with plenty of patience would do well to purchase this album (or download it from a file-sharing service -- admit it, that's what you were thinking), but for people like me, with a short attention span...nah.


A Passion Play - 1973

Rating: **
Best songs: this space for rent
Worst songs: low rates available

 

Well, the public just loved Thick as a Brick, so Ian decided to...yep...DO IT AGAIN! (wheels turnin' round and round)

Thus, this is another album with one long track. Unfortunately, this one's even more daunting to listen to -- instead of the guitarry/organy jamming in between the songs, there's some rather dumb pseudo-progressive riffing. Naturally, this wouldn't be a problem if the songs didn't suck, which they do. Despite the presence of a humorous story told by Jeffrey Hammond, and some actually neat riffing on the second half, this is just dull. Dull dull dull. Bla bla bla. Repetition. Don't buy this, unless of course you're a coprophile, or are a naive proghead.


Warchild - 1974

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day, Bungle in the Jungle, Warchild
Worst songs: Back-Door Angels, Ladies, Two Fingers

 

Perhaps realizing that the whole "one long track" idea was wearing thin, old Ian deigned it necessary to record an album with actual, real-life, separate SONGS on it! Hurrah!

So now instead of having to grab at vague generalizations, I can talk about the individual tracks again. Side one starts off admirably with the title track, featuring saxophone! Played by Ian! Incredible! Er... Then there's "Queen and Country", which ain't bad at all. It's got accordion. (I guess Ian picked up some new instruments while on tour or something) Then things start to stink. "Ladies" is dull generic acousticy balladeering, though it's got a totally-out-of-left-field 50's rock-type ending, "Back-door Angels" is just bla bla bla, and "Sealion" is okay, but the chorus is friggin' stupid sing-song jokey crap.

Turn the record over, though, and ooh! Look! Tull's biggest US hit, "Bungle in the Jungle" is on there, along with the radio favorite "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day"! Two great songs right next to each other? I can hardly believe it! After that, "Only Solitare" skips right by, being that it's only about a minute long, which is too bad because it's got some funny lyrics aimed at Ian's critics (though any bashing of A Passion Play was justified). After that comes "The Third Hoorah", which is nothing special, and then the album ends with "Two Fingers", a song that is nowhere near as explicit as the title might suggest. It's also not particularly good, either. Sounds like David Bowie on an off day (i.e. any day after 1985 or so).

Shall I make some sort of closing statement now? Okay. Don't buy this album. Please. Despite the rating, it's not worth hearing, especially since the two best songs are on Original Masters. Instead, buy something you don't have. Like Rumours. Or Boston. Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture "Titanic", perhaps?


Minstrel in the Gallery - 1975

Rating: **
Best songs: Minstrel in the Gallery, One White Duck / 0^10 = Nothing At All
Worst songs: er... the rest, pretty much

 

Oh, great. Apparently, commercial success wasn't good enough for ol' Ian. Nope, no bungling in the jungle here. Instead, we've got a couple of friggin' long songs again, balanced out by some more reasonably-lengthed compositions.

Side I starts out with one of those long tracks: the title track, in fact. Yeah, 8 minutes is stretching it, but the second half is just great! Kick arse, or something like that. After that there's "Cold Wind to Valhalla", which is...eh...after that there's "Black Satin Dancer", which is...um...okay, ending side one is "Requiem", which is...well, let's move on to side two. Hey! "One White Duck / 0^10 = Nothing At All" actually has something to it other than the humorous title. Unfortunately, the rest of side two is padded out with another dull multi-part "Passion Play"-type thing called "Baker St. Muse". Booooring. Once again, skippez-vous.


Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die - 1976

Rating: ***
Best songs: Too Old to Rock and Roll Too Young to Die, Quizz Kid, Salamander
Worst songs: whatever

 

Yet another album (scorecard: new bassist John Glascock). For some reason, back in the day you had to release one of these things pretty much every year. And it was even worse back in the 60s, when you had to make two each year! Of course, American record companies tended to cut the tracks up and release more albums than necessary, usually with redundant tracks or whatnot (can you say Flowers?).

Well, never mind the lecturing, this is slightly better than the previous crap. I'm not overly enthused about it, but the fact that it manages to pass the overwhelming monstrosity of Minstrel in the Gallery by and does not subject the listener to n minutes of mind-numbing boredom is enough to rate it higher. The highlights include the title track, the first song, and that acoustic thing on side one. As for the rest...whatever. Decent, un-great. At least this one has some weird comic strip in the gatefold ostensibly telling the story behind the album.


Songs from the Wood - 1977

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: Songs from the Wood, Hunting Girl, Ring Out Solstice Bells
Worst songs: Velvet Green, The Whistler

 

Well, another year, another crappy alb--

Hey, wait, I actually like this one!! (Scorecard: longtime orchestral arranger/keyboardist David Palmer is finally given full band member status) Ian gives up the silly concept album schtick (for the most part) and writes a set of folksy tunes that sometimes rock out nicely. Excellent example: the album opener and title track morphs from a medieval folk tune to hard rocker. Believeably! The rest of side one is pretty cool too: "Jack-in-the-Gren" and "Cup of Wonder" are lovely folked-up tunes (how many times can I use the word "folk" in this review?), "Ring Out, Solstice Bells" is a nice pagan carol (as opposed to Christmas carol... right?), and "Hunting Girl" is a slightly humorous poke at class divisions (luckily saved by that twiddly melody and some neat jamming).

Which brings us to side two. Which isn't as good. "Velvet Green" has a pleasant harpsichord intro, but the actual song is quite dull. It even has a dull instrumental middle section. It's that dull. "The Whistler" is slightly better, but this time there's some really bothersome flute playing (yes, I just said that Ian Anderson's flute work is annoying. deal with it). Thankfully, "Pibroch (Cap in Hand)" manages to not suck. It's got some Barre riffing and a pseudo-baroque section and stuff. And that's the end of the album.

WAIT, NO IT ISN'T!!! HOW COULD I FORGET TO TELL YOU ABOUT "FIRE AT MIDNIGHT"???????

Oh, I remember now, because "Fire at Midnight" is yet another of Ian's inconsequential "end-of-album" songs. At least it's short. Now we're finished.


Heavy Horses - 1978

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: One Brown Mouse, The Mouse Police Never Sleeps, Moths, Weathercock
Worst songs: No Lullaby

 

Yes, believe it or not, that's two, count 'em, TWO good albums in a row. Scratch that, actually -- it's one good and one great album in a row. Of the nine tracks, there's only one bad one, "No Lullaby" (a good song, but for some reason they repeat the entire thing), and one questionable one, "Journeyman" (I can't remember a thing about this song), but the rest ranges from good to great. I had a hard time choosing the best tracks for the listing at the top there, and for once that's because there's too many to choose from!

So let's see: you've got your "The Mouse Police Never Sleeps" (featuring a really freaky ending), your Robert Burns tribute "One Brown Mouse", your dark acoustic ballads "Moths" and "Weathercock", your obligatory epic "Heavy Horses" (a little overlong, in my opin, but still good), and uh, "The Rover", featuring the incredibly hooky line that includes the title. "Acres Wild" is also good, but you can hear for yourself. Ian's vocals are more ragged than usual on this album, so be ready for that. This album is excellent! Buy it?


Live - Bursting Out - 1978

Rating: ****
Best songs: A New Day Yesterday, No Lullaby, Sweet Dream, and of course the Aqualung tracks
Worst songs: none

 

A top-notch live album. Did I steal that line from someone else? It's embarassingly generic, I know that... I'm sure I took it from someone. If it's you, I heartily apologize.

Anyway, despite a string of lame-to-mediocre albums for, well, most of their career, Jethro Tull has always been a ass-kickingly cool live band. Martin Barre finally gets a chance to really shine on here -- despite the presence of two keyboard players, Mr. Barre is quite front-and-center for the majority of the recording.

The big thing about live albums (aside from the performance itself) is the song selection. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there's not a single bad selection on here. Amazingly, every album except for This Was, Benefit, and A Passion Play are represented here, and the songs chosen are unerringly good. Thankfully, Warchild is cut down to just "Skating Away", Minstrel just the title track (and shortened, at that), and Thick as a Brick has been edited to a more digestible length of 12 minutes. And amazingly, "No Lullaby" becomes an awfully great track, mostly because, uh, they DIDN'T REPEAT THE ENTIRE DAMN SONG!!!

So yes, this live album is amazingly good compared to the dreck that polluted mid-70s Jethro "Bodine" Tull. Buy it, preferably the original 2-LP edition, because Ian Anderson is a bitter, penniless old man*.

 

* Note heavy use of irony.


Stormwatch - 1979

Rating: **1/2
Best songs: North Sea Oil, Something's on the Move, Orion
Worst songs: Dark Ages, Dun Ringill, Flying Dutchman, Ghosts

 

The quality-control director and half of human resources get fired here (and bassist John Glascock tragically passes away), and Ian goes back to the Warchild level of creativity. In other words: a few really good songs, and the rest ranges from passable to lame.

So shall we begin with the good stuff? Sure! The B-52's suck. Er...sorry, that's Good Stuff. Anyway, both side openers, "North Sea Oil" and "Something's on the Move", are neat uptempo groovers, and "Orion" is nice and stately. "Home" is an okayish ballad, but ultimately rather forgettable, and there's a couple nice enough instrumentals closing off each side. Of the bad tracks, there's "Dark Ages" and "Flying Dutchman", the requisite long proggy dull tracks, "Ghosts", which contains a decent chorus but not much else, and "Dun Ringill", another unimpressive track.

In other words, there's a few good few bad and few okay tracks. Can we say Benefit II? Yep. If you're adventurous, spice up your life with Stormwatch, but if you know better, save your money.


Broadsword and the Beast - 1982

Rating: ****
Best songs: Broadsword, Fallen on Hard Times, Beastie, Clasp
Worst songs: Seal Driver, Slow Marching Band

 

Hold the amaretto, Candace, this one's good! Yeah, apparently new keyboardist Peter-John Vetesse (along with new bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Gerry Conway, both formerly of Fairport Convention) brought along some crazy new hi-tech synthesizers that re-defined Tull's sound into some sort of medieval Commodore 64 Uriah Heep-sounding beast (no pun intended). But more importantly, Ian actually wrote good songs again!

Okay, this time, instead of me talking about the songs, fill in the blanks MadLibs style. Here you go:

"Broadsword" is a (adjective) song, featuring a prominent (noun). "Fallen On Hard Times" is an excellent (noun), with lyrics poking fun at (famous person's name). "Broadsword" builds up (adverb), and "Watching Me Watching You" is nicely (adjective). The only two (adjective) tracks are "Seal Driver", which is as boring as (verb) the lawn, and "Slow Marching Band", a (adjective) ballad that accomplishes about as much as (famous person's name).

In conclusion, I'd like to say that this (noun) is a very (adjective) listening experience, and you should (verb) it as soon as possible.


Under Wraps - 1984

Rating: **
Best songs: Under Wraps, Lap of Luxury, European Legacy
Worst songs: Nobody's Car, Paparazzi, Apogee, Heat

 

Oops. So much for the possibility of releasing two good albums in a row. With the combination of Peter-John Vetesse's synthesizers and Ian Anderson's newfound love of drum machines (scorecard: no actual drummer on this one!), this album takes a turn towards genericsynthpopville (with a stop at 90125 street thanks to Martin Barre's metal guitar riffs). Thankfully, however, the vinyl issue of this album (which I have) omits about five songs from the tracklisting, and if this was the cream of the crop, man, that stuff musta stunk.

Truth be told, I enjoy the heck out of the first three songs on the album -- both the title track and "Lap of Luxury" are darned catchy little ditties, and "European Legacy" is also quite nice. After that, "Later That Same Evening" is decent, but then the side named one fizzles out with the irritatingly repetative tunes "Saboteur" and "Radio Free Moscow".

Side two, however, is the questionable one. "Nobody's Car"? Lame! "Heat"'s only saving grace is it has the exact same synth sound as the one in "Let's Go" by the Cars stuck in the mix (okay, the synth solo halfway through is kinda neat, but really...). "Under Wraps" is then reprised in a slow, acoustic version that a. sounds really out-of-place here, and b. isn't as fun as the first edition. Then we're back to dull synthblah with "Paparazzi", and the album-closer "Apogee" is even less interesting of a space shuttle launch song than Rush's "Countdown".

So, side two sucks. Side one is half-decent. I think I'll be nice and give it two stars, since I love those first few songs. Still, don't actually buy it...


Original Masters - 1985

Rating: ****
Best songs: err, quite a few, actually
Worst songs: Life's a Long Song

 

You notice how Jethro Tull isn't exactly the most consistent band out there? No, no, don't deny it, Ian Anderson has a little quality control problem. That's why this compilation comes in handy -- it's a good way to not have to buy crappy albums like Warchild or Minstrel in the Gallery. In fact, of all 12 tracks on this release, only one song sucks: "Life's a Long Song". The rest is great, though it's not overly comprehensive -- no "A New Day Yesterday", "Cross-Eyed Mary", anything from Horses or Broadsword, etc.


Roots to Branches - 1995

Rating: *
Best songs: Roots to Branches, Another Harry's Bar
Worst songs: most of the rest

 

Ya know, Tull may have put out some bad albums in the 70s, but they tended to at least have some good songs tucked away in there. This is not exactly the case here. Every track seems to go on listlessly for five minutes, repeating the same tired melody over and over until your head explodes in a big red-and-grey mess all over the sitting room and your wife comes home and she screams and screams and screams and

Sorry. But this is rather dull. Quite rather dull. Quite rather really dull indeed. Okay, the opener slash title track is kinda neat, as is the closer slash "Another Harry's Bar", and a couple bits here and there are okayish, but this album is like taking the worst bits of Calling All Stations and pinning them all together. Why the hell did I pay five bucks for this piece of trash?


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