Because there's Ian Anderson...and then there's everyone else
The Lineup Card 1968-2003
Ian Anderson (vocals, flute, guitar, saxophone, harmonica, etc.)
Martin Barre (guitar) after 1969
Mick Abrahams (guitar) 1968
Ian Anderson is not like the rest of us. He's Jethro Tull. Just call him that. Dare you. Anyone who calls him Ian is a walking example of the vacuity of modern thought. You just don't get the man or his Art, so just hang your head and relies you're an uncultured, unwashed buffoon. May as well just put on a pair of blue jeans and blow weed smoke in the man's face, for all the respect you've shown him. He's Jethro! 35 years of it, in fact! He's the only one left, he's the survivor, he's the only one worth mentioning. Worship him! Call him Jethro! JETH-RO!! Or just 'Ro, if you're not into the whole levity thing. But you cannot deny the man, at least not unless you're one of the 6-odd billion people for whom Ian Anderson and his muddled, sexist, dated whining is not the be-all and end-all of human existence. Mr. Tull has been making records since 'round about the time of the Cream and now, in the time of the Korn, he's still crankin' 'em out, if only to help support his numerous fish farms and horse stables and harems of Bulgarian wenches and motorcycles and stuff.
It bears mentioning that Ian Anderson is not without followers, and that most followers of bands like Ian's tend to take on the worst qualities of their respective cult idols, in this case an extreme narcissism and self-importance masquerading as philosophy. Because Tull is a cult band, more cult than band, in fact, and it's followers betray many of the same qualities that filled those Heaven's Gate bunkbeds with cheap Nike running shoes and the children of Jonestown with neuroactive Kool-Aid. Jethro Tull fans are some of the most virulent, trivia-obsessed blowhards this side of a Magic convention, and their argumentative nature and fierce defense of Jethro Tull's doubtable importance are nearly comical. Ian himself is usually fairly pleasant and at least shows cartain human qualities unlike, say, Robert Fripp, a man who is probably hiding a good 3 or 4 tons of purebred evil in his brain stem. Ian just says what he thinks and thinks what he says is very, very important, so he says it a lot.
Now, it's not like Ian Anderson is some sort of a singularity in rock music. I mean, the subtitle of this page is probably, wrong, but I'll be arsed if I'm going to change it now. (You understand how many keystrokes that takes? What, are you mad?) There's enough egotists in the music world to fill, oh, probably three or four space shuttle cargo bays shot on a course for the surface of the sun (hey now...don't get any ideas. I just report the facts, y'all) and Ian Anderson is by far not the worst one of the group (that's gotta be a tossup between fucking Bob Geldof with his fucking charity and B.B. King, the ass. Just kidding. It's really Charlie Watts.) Nah, stuff's just worked out that Anderson has got himself a group he can boss around, and he happens to want them to play music no one's much cared about since 1973, which seems pretty stupidly funny to me. But, and this is Ian's biggest problem...I don't think Ian comprehends why anyone would take him less than seriously, much less outwardly criticize his work. Ian's saved his most sour spews of bile for critics who he sees as undermining the public's right to choose what it likes and doesn't like. Fair enough, which is one reason why I like to review really old albums. The public has already had their say, the critics have all calmed down to go and write a bazillion words about the fucking Kings of Leon or whatever happens to be the cute indie-rock band of the week, and the only people who are left are those who truly care about good music, who want as much of it as possible. Does Ian Anderson think anything he wrote 30 seconds or 30 days ago is wonderful fantastic philosophic gorgeous magic super? Yes, he does. Does Ian Anderson think everything he did 30 years ago is just as wonderful? Hell no. But he did at the time....and he hated anyone who thought otherwise, hated it so much he broke up his band at one time (in 1972, following the critical and popular, non-fanatic dismissal of his Passion Play album and stage show) to protest. Is this the action of someone who is somehow in touch with a higher philosophy, or just an egotistical brat who wants everyone to play the game he chooses? I vote for the second. Ian Anderson is someone to listen to but not hear, and reading through one of his lyric sheets makes me want to put him into a locked brick room with Roger Waters, a 1000 watt light that doesn't turn off, and lots of sharp instruments, just to see what would happen.
I know it's unfair to lump a band in with its supporters, and possibly unfair to lump it in with its singer, so I'll now be discussing Jethro Tull 'the band' rather than Jethro Tull 'the irritating blabbermouth singer'. Jethro Tull started out as a Cream-derived heavy blooze band with the added dimension of a Roland Kirk-derived flute that lent a certain jazz flavor at times. The band caught the arty bug around 1970, and by 1972 had stripped off it's primordial heavy-rock swimsuit and jumped naked into the razor-blade filled swimming pool that was progressive rock. After swimming sportingly for one album (or, rather, one song) they quickly got lost in the undertow of overcooked songwriting and an overconfidence in their (ironically, quite limited) instrumental abilities. They were still money on the big stage, but even their core audience found it hard to follow along past the Passions and Minstrels and the hilariously naïvely titled Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll, Too Young to Die (never too early for you to be kicking off, Ian). Non-fans simply found them sad and ridiculous as they continued to play out the string until sometime in the mid-80's when they finally disbanded. At least, until Ian once again needed money...then it was back into the studio and back out on the umpteenth tour of increasingly miniscule performing halls. They're still out there somewhere, no doubt touring right now, in case you'd still like to catch them. I'm sure most everyone should at least once.
This band is more interesting to me for what they didn't achieve than what they did, because allegedly they were at one time one of the highest potential bands of the late-60's. The band does have undeniably high points. For all his faults, Ian Anderson can be electrifying, even on record, and his flute playing was as frequently fascinating as it was illiterate and simply distracting. The band flirted with jazz-tinged, Zeppelin-esque heaviness, pretty successfully in fact, before veering off that particular highway and joining the burgeoning prog movement in '70-'71. And that's where they've stayed, pretty much right up until today, cramming as much complication into their lyrics and as many allusions to English folk music into their sound as it can handle, and sometimes more. They've gone through their Album-Length Song Concept Album era (Thick As A Brick and Passion Play), their extra-folkie period (Songs From the Wood and Heavy Horses), a short electronic era (A), lame metal pandering (their 80's albums) and now finally have entered a soft-headed nostalgia trip, 90's style.
Ian Anderson is the only constant throughout the 35-odd years this band's been kicking around, and the progression of Jethro Tull from band to person can be seen as far back as the second album, as he and original guitarist Mick Abrahams came to a head over whether Tull was meant to be bluesy or progressively heavy. Abrahams chose the first and left to from Blodwyn Pig (I've got their album! It's extremely, fervently, effervescently just okay!) while Ian chose the second. Ian's since surrounded himself with old school chums and various eccentrics (including a few members of the old Fairport Convention) to replace members that didn't share his vision, and has only kept Martin Barre around for most of the past 30 years. I'd also like to mention bassist Jeffrey 'Hammond' Hammond, the subject of at least 3 early song titles, who joined in 1971 and left in 1975, who was pretty good at being heavy, and orchestrator/multi-instrumentalist David Palmer, who joined in the late 70's. Oh yeah, Tony Iommi, who has kept his own band around a little past the due date as well, was in this band for 5 minutes in 1969, just long enough to mime at the Rolling Stone's Rock 'n' Roll Circus performance before leaving in disgust to form Black Sabbath. .
I'll say it right now...though I really like some of what Jethro Tull's done, I'm not a Tull 'fan' and really don't find a lot of pleasure at all in what they've been doing for, say, at least the last 20 years. I really don't much think they have, either, considering how they pretty much run down the same old warhorses in their live shows. Of course, you give the people what they want, and the people want it to be 1972. Sometimes I do, too, then I could get fucking stoned out of my gourd at a Dead show and then go catch the Stones '72 show the next night. And maybe go and have a nap at a Tull show.
Oh, and I'm going to probably do this page in two big parts, too. I'll his the band's first decade or so, and then return sometime in a bazillion years to review the, umm....less tasty of the pastry. Just sit tight.
This Was - Chrysalis 1968
Blooze being, in 1969, a dime a dozen, the Tull really only had one thing to differentiate them in the early days, and that's Ian Anderson's flute playing. When Ian's on, the leaden and predictable becomes jazzy and fluid, and we've begun to understand what all the hopping around and typing of superlatives was all about. Otherwise, I suppose I enjoy Mick Abraham's particular riffage style, hovering somewhere on the heavy side of Cream, remaining refreshingly dexterous as it mines the depths of heavy. Tull never made many claims towards authenticity....This Was quite obviously a band of British pub-knobs who'd never said they were from the Bayou, never rehearsed with Howlin' Wolf, and never bought a pedal slide for use on their country blues tunes. The Tull played blues for the same reason as Cream did...it was easy to riff on, it was fashionable, and it was easy to solo over. The only two things that the Tull did better than most anyone were laying down an impressive swing and having Ian blow flutebubbles across the top of it. And that's not even as wild as it would soon become, a moaning, snorting tornado of snot and key oil that defines all that's vulgar about Ian Anderson, and all that's a lot of fun. Nope, just some fairly tasteful, airy beat flute that sounds just like what would come from some black-clad nihilist from the Village, 1962 blowing cool over some bongos and pot smoke. Everything else, drums, guitar, harmonica, and butt-trombone is ripped off wholesale from Cream and the rest of the paisley mafia. Never again would the Tull sound so hilariously 'hip' as they do here, a finger poppin', indistinctly jazzy outfit of British kids looking for good times. Taken as such, this album is entertaining...it's innocent Sixties rock, scares no one, and you might just get a kick out of one of the solos Mick or Ian rip off every few minutes or so.
If that's not enough to satisfy your hungry soul, I don't blame ya. As pretentious and inconsistent as Cream were, they had more pure power in one cubic foot of Ginger Baker's enormous chin than this entire band has on a good Saturday at the Marquee. The band sounds tentative and shy throughout, and downright pale when compared to the jawbreaking Martin Barre band of just a few months later. Ian is left to provide the interest, and he keeps the boat afloat most of the time. I must say I like the Procum Harum-isms of 'Move On Alone' and I'm almost not bored at all by Ian's cover of fellow flute-abusing spiritual granddaddy Roland Kirk's bebop 'Serenade for a Cuckoo', which was supposedly the first thing Ian learned on the flute. Great. A flute solo is nice, the accompanying fumbly jazz guitar solo that follows it is sorta okay, but the drum solo, dear sirs, is just wankery. Yet another drum solo created in the form and mold of Ginger Bakers' 'Turd', yet another series of yawns brought on by the fact that a drum solo is able to do, like, two things: keep the beat or make a fuckload of racket. If you're not doing the first, you're guilty of the second and should relinquish your throne to Charlie Watts immediately. Anyway, 'Dharma For One' is especially irritating because the introductory riff is the best one on the record, an immediate and psychotic blast that almost seems a mistake when compared to the laid-back grooving that makes up 90% of everything else. I guess the only competition riff-wise is 'Cat's Squirrel' (yeah, also one of those songs Cream did), but they didn't write that one. Mick Abrahams was an adequate player, but put this on and follow it up with any selection of your choice off of Stand Up and the difference is clear: Martin Barre makes Mick Abrahams look like a derivative pussy. Hard rock fans, take note...your story begins with Stand Up. Shit, I bet just about anyone would agree with that.
Capn's Final Word: Blues with flutes. Cream Wannabes with Woodwinds. Ian Anderson with Mick Abrahams. Me with Stand Up.
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Stand Up - Chrysalis 1969.
This particular era of Jethro is the only one, in my opinion, that need be considered as competition for the Kinghood of Hard Rock quickly claimed by Led Zeppelin that same year. Few bands could compete with the Zep's uncontrolled levels of heaviness...other bands (The Who) could rival in terms of volume, but as riff-monsters circa-1969 all I see is Zeppelin and Jethro Tull. The addition of Martin Barre changed their sound profoundly - his riffage is memorable, his guitar sounds massive, and he can even keep up with some of Ian's brand new Brit-folksy leanings with some tasteful picking, acoustic and otherwise. While Zeppelin sounded like a 747 wallowing in Mississippi Mud, Tull just sounds alien, a Renaissance Faire band fronted by a distempered Mastodon blowing Kirk out his snout. And while Tull is less immediate than Zeppelin, taking longer to sink in, a similar level of kickass squeezes out of it's pores.
I really can't overstate how great each of these songs is....I really can't pull one disappointing track from the hat. I'd say they don't all light my poopbucket ablaze quite as well as, say, 'A New Day Yesterday' does, but each one has a very well-developed identity, a unique sound, something that makes it special. 'Fat Man' sounds like a bluegrass band doing voodoo breakdown, 'Bouree' is a winking, witty take on classical music like the way Thelonious Monk used to do it, 'Reasons For Waiting' is pensive and sweet (quite a rarirty in the unrelenting cynicism of the Tull catalogue). In short, Tull does things (is willing to do things, and is able to do things) on Stand Up that it does nowhere else. Those of you looking for 'the Tull sound' might be disappointed, but those of you looking for an excellent hard rock record that can compete with any hard rock album from the late 60's you care to name will be in heaven because you uncovered a lost gem jealously guarded by some pointy-headed guardians of prog.
One of the more interesting points about Stand Up in relation to other Tull albums is that Martin Barre is so upfront and powerful that Ian Anderson almost (almost) takes second banana to the stringslinger. Ian's voice is still not like we're familiar...he literally sounds congested all the time, though it's not as bad as that might sound. When he's not nasally, he's covered in tremolo and related assorted vocal glop...it's cool, but after hearing Anderson poke his nose right up your arse in the mix every album, it's interesting to hear him as part of the band. His flute playing has improved to the point that nothing he plays sounds wrong...it's integrated perfectly, and if it's not nearly as electrifying as Barre's sky-charring solos, that's probably just a matter of pure volume. Mostly, Ian is just plain human here, just another dude in the band trying hard to make a great album...no sermons, no concepts, nothin'. Oh, those refreshing Sixties...
The quieter interludes are like a good whore - they come often and leave as soon as they're no longer interesting. I appreciate the unpretentious manner of great light songs like 'Look Into The Sun' very much...this was a skill that Ian would quickly lose, the ability to make clear points in less than 20 fucking minutes, and to fully develop pretty melodies into distinct units rather than just tiny passages, little bits of a monstrous whole. And the good old, efficient, charging hard rock stuff? Well, apparently they never realized how great this stuff was, because they almost never did it this way again. It was never only rock 'n' roll, which is exactly what this album is and exactly all it ever needs to be. Why Jethro Tull had to jack their pretentions up into the clouds so frigging high when they already had a sound and an approach nailed the second time out is somewhat beyond me. Of course, at the time, it probably seemed great that they kept expanding beyond being merely great hard rockers into, you know, being fairly okay proggers, but in retrospect, I think I'll vote for Hubert Humphrey.
Capn's Final Word: The concept is in the music. Each song has a different one. They're all great. What's so hard about that?
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An odd flippin' bird in the Tull catalog...a transitional album. For a band that was able to flip 180's on a dime the rest of the time was stuck as to how to move on from the ute-slappin good heavy rock times of Stand Up to the preachin' 'n' riffin' proggy college lecture series that is Aqualung...so they came up with Benefit, which seems to really do neither one very well. For one thing, it doesn't riff like the Debbil's Own Dirt Pedal, for those hard-rocker fans of the surrounding ...it's way too messy, droning, and fuzzed-over to rock as hard as they did on the last record, not to mention depressing as all hell. It's also got about as much concept as the zit on my butt...being gloomy and barbiturate-cracked as all frig is about all the concept you get outta this black plastic Frisbee. But it's still great....I love this album darn near as much as Stand Up, and I certainly like it more than that Donkeyhung thing. Jethro uses a certain groggy tone that speaks to my inner glue-sniffer, Barre's guitars are still full of more zip than the Glad-Loc aisle, and Ian is still just a singer. Thank Christ! Not every fucking album has to be A Short History of Time, for dystrophy's sake! Or make me feel like I'm sitting through the entire 6 billion year birthing period of the universe. Ian had his times that made me want to take ice pick to eyelid, but Benefit really isn't one of them. He's muted, but he'son tune and bearable throughout, and his tricked-out echoflute is just about as cool as it would ever get. So many folks like to slag this album, but I just wonder if any of them are good ol' 70's sludge-metal fans or not. Put this stuff in the ears of your average Sabbath fan and, after waking up, cursing at his mother, and scratching a few of the lice out of his eyebrows, would probably wonder when Ozzie started using a pitch-shifter on his voice. Prog fans? Eh...I don't know if you need anything from Tull prior to like 1972, when they got all jerky and high-nosed for real. But dunder/metalheads like myself really could use a jump into the swimming pool of bongsmoke like Benefit from time to time.
Now, Benefit has some draggy-ass material, that's admitted, and some of the songs stretch on a minute or two overlong, but am I the only person who finds this album pretty much strong from beginning to (well, nearly the) end? The opening duo of 'With You There To Help Me' and 'Nothing To Say' are both quite strong, and though 'Alive And Well And Living In...' them lets my mind wander again, keep me pretty much rapt through their combined 12 minutes. 'Nothing To Say' is a grunge angst anthem 20 years early, a blissful place to go when your world keeps tapping at the door asking what that smell is and Why Don't You Take The Fucking Trash Out Already? It's a meditation, a chant in favor of boredom and apathy, two things that have gotten me everything I don't have in this world, but have served me well since, oh, whatever. 'Son' goes and makes a mockery of this delightful adherence to sloth, though, as it has like 2 different parts, both of which remind me of Roxy Music. A pretty neat trick I'd like to hear the fucking Cocteau Twins try to do...cunts. Just kidding. All I know is that the Cocteau Twins make me want to go to sleep, and there's so many things that do that to me nowadays (work, sunsets, sunrises, Coca Cola, 500 ML horse syringes of 75% phenobarbitol solution) that I have to turn to things like Jethro Tull to keep me awake.
Okay, now, 'For Michael Collins, Jeffrey, and Me' (there's that dirty Albanian Jeffrey again) is boss, the melody is groovy, and...and I've got an early-era hippie crawled into my inner ear....slllllluuurrrrppppp! JOIN THE BE-IN ON THURSDAY THE 19th! GOLDEN GATE PARK!...blurp!! Gaah!
Okay, 'Michael Collins' and 'Cry You A Song' are a fucking ace mid-album peak, the first being a nicely optimistic folkie tune with the best melody on the record, and if I can't follow the lyrics past the first turn 'round the Cape of Good Hope, I really appreciate the groove on the chorus, a Beatlesque, anthemic crash of the oceans that brings sailors to their lovers and tears to my eyes. Or maybe no tears (George cries enough for the whole of the WRC, so it seems), but definitely a sympathetic sniffle or two. 'Cry You A Song', shockingly (not really...again, just another example of literary overstatement which saves me from saying 'it rocks when you think a song with that title would be a slow ballad') features the best set of riffs to be found on the record, a sneaky, not-too-complicated thing that belies the crushing cynicism and sarcasm of Ian's vocals. The album takes a step down on the remaining three songs, but I still like everything except for 'Sossity, You're An Asspipe! Give me back my girlfriend!', which just seems endless. Hell, the jam on 'Play In Time'? Love that too. Do I pass some sort of Jethro Tull entrance exam now? Do I get to come in and hit on all the women and drink all the beer in the clubhouse before I turn around and bash the shit out of Passion Play and get thrown out and my membership card ripped into pieces? I'd much rather have Jethro the hard-rockin bunch of English hicks with their jazzy tweets and twiddles than Jethro the Pulpit Punchers, the writers of 40 minute songs, the lovers of other people's mothers....the Jethro Tull of 30 years and counting, in other words. Okay, so maybe it's not Stand Up, but Benefit still yanks my creamsickle, if you 'do not use while sleeping', and I think you do.
Capn's Final Word: Sludgy, dull downer, which is exactly how I like them.
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Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Finally, someone else who appreciates this album! And especially "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey, and Me" - that song does have an awesome melody (the little piano break, etc). I think Benefit is the second-best Tull album, next to Aqualung.
Aqualung- Chrysalis 1971
Ian's coming of age, and I don't mean that in a charitable way. This is the album which showed good ol' A that he could mix his voice up just that fucking high, string out his lyrics just that fucking far, and bitch just that fucking much and people would eat it right up, come back for seconds, and ask you to cater next week's Bar Mitzvah. My theory is that, despite anything some old stoner might say differently, pretty much everyone in the band other than Ian is the star on this record. Ian is the classic scene-chewing overacting ham, he's Milton Berle on Saturday Night Live, he's Al Pacino in Scent of A Woman, he's cataract surgery with a Bowie knife. The band, however, is at a peak, especially the rhythm section, which seems to thrive on the airy production that brings the drums to the fore for the first time. Martin Barre's riffs were never better, and he uses his guitar not as a bludgeoning tool, but as a precision laser, a cauterizing-hot riffage machine. John Evan's piano is the perfect prankster accompaniment, just light and buoyant enough to keep the riffs from faltering into the Benefit sludge. Aqualung is, for many folks, the very definition of Jethro Tull, and I can even probably count myself among that group of proles, as I pretty much immediately think of 'Aqualung' and 'Locomotive Breath' whenever I hear the word Jethro not applied to that faggot on Beverly Hillbillies that kept stealing all of Buddy Ebsen's best screen-time. As I said, I think that Ian had a different interpretation of what the massive success of Aqualung meant than the fans did. Let's investigate, shall we?
Ian has said that Benefit was 'compromised' by the band's desire to keep their hard-rockin' Zeppelin-oid core audience happy, that if he'd had his druthers (had complete and utter submission of his sidemen, is what he means), the album would've turned out a lot more progressive than it was. Of course, that assumes that Aqualung is prog, which is about as accurate as a Fox News exit poll. Aqualung is hard rock mixed liberally with acoustic salad, and the only things that even vaguely resemble progressive rock are the lyrics and the concepts. That's right...two of them. One which gets lost halfway through Side A and the other which keeps getting rubbed in like limejuice into a papercut, again and again, all through Side B. Well, the 'Aqualung' suite, consisting of the first two songs (I really don't hear how 'Cheap Day Return' or 'Mother Goose' have anything to do with good ol Awk, any way I look at it), is at least interesting...how to set back the Homeless Rights movement a few hundred years. Aqualung is, yup, the dude on the cover, named that by Ian because of his hacking cough. I suppose the 'hard' and 'soft' sections represent two different sides of Ian's perception of the homeless dude, one which likes to poke fun at his congestion and greasy clothes, the other which, ummm, sympathises with his snot and greasy clothes. Whatever. What's most impressive is Ian and the band's ability to shift moods clearly, even if the point of the song isn't. Oh, and it rocks. 'Cross-Eyed Mary' is, umm, about a slutty girl that Aqualung likes to gawk at, and while lyrically it's even more repulsive than 'Aqualung' ('snot is running down his nose!'), the riff is one of the best the band ever formulated...a heaving chest full of electric brains and malodorous trains, and also marks the only time the organ/fuzz guitar doubling of a line has worked ever in the history of Tull. Passion Play is chock-full of the shit, but this time fucking rocks...Martin's guitar buzzes like a fridge, and they don't forget that excellent piano bounce that makes all the difference. Hell, even the solos are perfectly short.
The rest of Side A...hell, it's all acoustic tunes, and they're all unimpressive to me. Oh, melodic, maybe, but they bore me as Benefit and Stand Up never really did. What kind of pandering slop is 'Wondring Aloud', anyway? What kind of a Moody Blues/Pink Floyd sellout is Ian trying to be, anyway? The Tull when plugged in is a force to be reckoned with, but acoustically it's pretty chords and TOO MUCH IAN, who has all the reign he wishes to have to indulge all of his incomprehensibilities and vocal ticks. This stretch of three similar-sounding Meddle knock-offs (and no, I'm not referring to 'Careful With That Axe, Eugene') is too much lame in one place, and nearly kills the album for me completely. Only 'Up To Me', which is pretty much 'Cross-Eyed Mary' without electricity, perks up the ears again. 'My God' continues the woody, folkie-pickin' acoustic-fest, albeit in a darker, more brooding light. And here we first really come into contact with the God side of this album. Now, I'm as against organized religion as Ian is, moreso in fact, but Ian spews so much acid all over himself that he merely looks silly. 'My God' in particular seems to take out 20 years of whining in a few short minutes (little did we know that Ian had a whole lot more where that came from, a double-meat, sub the onion rings, Supersize amount of it), all delivered in the most irritated, peeved sounding voice that Ian had in him. The rest of the song is all devoted to Ian's whims, from a lengthy classical flute suite that's about as interesting as listening to a cage of horny bluejays for four minutes could ever be, and a whole lot of the kind of DAMN THAT FUCKING CHURCH OF ENGLISH protest-cliches that only a Brit can come up with (plastic crucifixes, polythesim). The fucking thing is endless. If it's effectiveness of message you're after, I'd look no further than the awesome piano banging that accompany the simply savage rocking of 'Hymn 43'. There's more God in a few bars from them 10 fingers than in a whole chapter of Ian's verses. Same goes for the chugalug 'Locomotive Breath', if possibly less so. The band imitates a train pretty impressively, and Evan's piano does a great jazz turn on the intro, but this song sounds like it took about a third of the effort of the other great rockers. Aww hell, Tull wouldn't be Tull without a little 'Locomotive Breath', but I still look forward to hearing the piano and the way Ian says 'God' at the end of that one line more than the riff or...Gawd!...the ridiculous flute solo. Did Ian just puke in that thing? 'Wind Up', umm, winds things up with the weirdest backpedal of all. After several bile-stained songs of unadulterated hate and disgust of all things religious, Ian somehow acquits himself by telling a sobby story about his schoolboy days (wah!) and claiming that his 'God doesn't need to be wound up on Sundays'. That's nice! So now you're the fucking prophet? Wait, wait, I can see it now...The Book Of Pompous Asshole! I'd rather hear Ian claim he's somehow got a Hotline to God than hear Roger Waters lecture me on how to live my life, I guess, but what is it about British arty guys who can rub my fur so badly the wrong way with their preachy, finger-waggling 'messages'? It's not like they're being anything other than what they really are, which is egotists who order their bands around like little children and think they've got a little advice for everyone. And, SHIT! I don't even disagree with the guy! Religion is shit, and I'm sure they really screwed up Ian good back in school, like they do with a lot of kids, but I'd still rather Ian keep his mouth shut than go spitting in everyone's face this way. Perhaps I'm overreacting, considering how many people actually pay attention to Ian's points at all (not fucking many!) but I'd still rather my philosophy be kept to Dylan and books, than you very much.
Anyway, to sum up, Aqualung has the best and worst of Jethro Tull...if you can buy it all, sign up for the whole term, because you're a hardcore motherfucker. Me? I like the rock and leave the rest. There's too much acoustic nothingness, enough blathering froth to drown Manute Bol, and concepts that fall apart under the weight of a second listen. But, boy...those riffs, man. And Evans deserves a medal.
Capn's Final Word: A maddeningly inconsistent tour of all things Tull. If it weren't for the piano and electric guitar, it'd be fit for the trashbin.
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Ryan Austin Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Not quite sure I understand.... having read your entire Aqualung review start to finish, there is far far more negativity on the whole than there are positives, and even the positives are often given conditionally. Given all the vitriol you direct towards the acoustic material (which, let's face it, is half the album), along with some strong questioning about the lyrics and subject matter (comments about snot, etc.)... I read the review a second time and just could not figure out where you came up with an A- for this LP. At best, your review should lead to a conclusion of C+. What gives?
Thick As A
Brick - Chrysalis 1972.
Thick as a Brick and Long As My Penis, Ian and company sprout all kinds of hip prog-extremities here, falling face-first into a big pile of jerky rhythms, organ/guitar jams, jingle-bell melodies, and, umm...endless running times. It's a prog cliché heaven, and after two albums that almost sounded as if Tull could trump the prevailing deathmarch of the wildly soloing Hammond Organ of Hell with it's own introspective riffrocking. Thick as a Brick is structured as one song split over two sides, a 40 minute conglomeration of what sounds like a dozen smaller, unformed ideas. As a 12 song album, it'd suck Bam Morris' greasy toupee, but as a single song...well, sheeeit. It's got at least twice as many decent melodic ideas as Close to the Edge, and probably four times as many as Tales From Topographic Oceans, which is also twice as long and therefore eight times less good than Thick as a Brick or something, but I don't buy that. It's still a 40-minute song with lots of endless flute soloing over time-signature challenged herky-jerk background, and around these parts that kind of knobby stuff just can't get praised too little. Ian's firm hold over the band grows ever larger with this album...not only is he pretty much responsible for conceiving the entire thing, his solos are featured most often, his voice and flute are jacked up in the mix, and his smirk that color every inch of it. Martin Barre is reduced to a sort of First Chair Lead Guitar in the orchestral maelstrom backing up the band, John Evan is relegated to corny Keith Emerson organ, and the lightning focus of the Aqualung band is lost completely.
Thick has one thing going for it, and that's the packaging. Not only has Anderson created a fictional kid (Gerald Bostock) who lives in a fictional town (St. Cleve...I'm assuming the place is fictional, by the way, since I've just happened to have unfortunately misplaced my Rand McNally Atlas Of The British Isles.) and who won a fictional prize in a fictional contest by writing a fictional poem that's not interesting. And that comprises the lyrics of Thick. The cool part, though, is the whole newspaper that comes along with the CD (well, not mine, since I bought my copy of Thick in a St. Petersburg Metro along with all the other Tull albums crammed onto a single MP3 disc, but I can imagine, can't I?) that not only relates the sad story of Mr. Bostock having his prize revoked for being underage, but also involves lots of other characters we'll later meet in the album in local-paper type news articles. I've never read it, sure, and unless you have the LP, you probably won't ever either, but the idea is neato. The newspaper refers to the album and vice versa. At least, that's what I've been told, since I also can't understand a lick of the lyrics, which seem to range from stories of Christhood and martyrdom to poo poo and pee pee. Ian is just fucking with us lyrically, and I challenge anyone who defends this as poetry to call Ian himself up on the phone and ask him as much. Ian wrote under a pseudonym because he knew this shit was a put-on, and you can either sit back and smirk at his Monty Python-meets-James Joyceisms or take it seriously and sell your soul to the Anderson.
At any rate, there are several cool snippets to enjoy on Brick, and while I'd be retarded to try and describe them without song titles or, umm, time landmarks I guess (i.e., 'at 8:47 the cymbal crashes sound just smashing as they play against the scraping of Anderson's codpiece against the microphone as he fellates his flute and moans Mozart's ninth piano concerto in D minor.') But fuck it, I'm just going to say that the intro and outro sections (meaning, where he actually says the title of the song) are probably the most interesting. There's a long stretch of nasty ugliness at the beginning of Side B, and that side as a whole seems to be more devoted to boring the fuck out of us than the first one, which at least covers all them prog bases in one go. There's some nice King Crimsonisms right before the break, and then the mean, noisy King Crimsonisms afterwards. The second side continues to deteriorate in the draggy march segment but picks up as the main theme is repeated. Sort of pointless, but at least it goes somewhere...even if it takes 40 minutes to do it. But what, indeed, is the point? I sure can't find one, and I've been through this thing probably a dozen times trying to find the answer. My attention never fails to wane after the first side, and a lot of it just goes by as proggy wallpaper. So the guys could play, but Ian sure couldn't write. Unfortunately, the story that follows is a familiar one. Ian saw the huge sales as yet another mandate from the people to keep cranking out these sorts of Rube Goldberg clockwork-prog albums, and he'd do a lot worse the next time around. But still, Thick as a Brick definitely has impressive moments, and as a whole seems to have some substance. But some substance of a sort that hasn't yet been identified as useful to mankind.
Capn's Final Word: A colossal project, and unfortunately they cut some corners getting it together. Enough melodies to make it worthwhile, though.
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Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Then why must you give it a mere B+? The sheer concept was, to my knowledge pretty alien to the most lethal rock acts at the time, and I'm sure even the mere mention of the words '43 minute song'is bound to arouse some sort of interest even of the most ignorant schmoozie. I mean when I first put the cd in my player, I kept repeating to myself "I'll try not to get bored, I'll try not to get bored.." But to my pleasant surprise, I needed no effort to go through the album. In fact I was so smitten by it, I hungrily punched the play button again after it was over. It was a brilliant album, I didn't even realise it was actually 43 minutes. I especially loved the part in the middle when the whole thing went off and then started again with bells and suddenly the bass and drums pick up where they left off... sheer adrenaline. The thing is this is not just one song, its many songs connected up with good bits of music.
Anyway, I think it deserves at least an A. Forget about all the psychotic blabber and idiosyncratic ramblings about visions in his head. Simply put, this is good, enjoyable, bold and new music.
Alan Brooks Your Rating: A-
Any Short Comments?: It may be one song, but it's a good one.
firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: It is not difficult to identify the different parts of Thick as a Brick. You just have to refer to each section by the first line of the first verse or the chorus..
First part - Ride yourself over the fields
Second part - See There! A son is born
Third Part - The Poet and the Painter
Fourth part - I've come down from the upper class
Fifth Part - You Curl your toes in Fun
Sixth Part - Where the hell was biggles
Seventh part - Zappa type sounds
Eigth part - See There! A man is born
nineth part - Spoken words
tenth part - In the clear white circles
eleventh part - Do you believe in the day
twelfth part - instrumental section
thirteenth part - So come all ye young men
fourteenth part - where the hell was biggles/ride yourself over the fields.. reprise
Brick contains incredibly catchy melodies joined together by instrumental sections which are different but just as incredible (check out Barre's wild solo between the two halves of Poet and Painter). Evan's organ work on the rocker, 'See there a Son is born' is fantastic. Barlows drumming is superb. I enjoy both Barlow's drum solos. They are short and to the point.
Brick contains nursery rhymes (you curl your toes in fun) and war marches (I've come down from the upper class) and rockers (see there a son is born) and ballads (Do you believe in the day), guitar shuffles (where the hell was biggles) and charming acoustic numbers (Really Don't mind if you sit this one out/The Clear white circles of morning wonder)
There is no letdown between the first side and the second side. For me this is one of the easiest A+ to award.
The Past - Chrysalis 1972.
Hell, I'd live in the past too if my early music kicked this much Phil Donahue all over the drugstore. This collection of singles, EP tracks, and album shiznit rules so darn much as long as it stays in the band's '69-'70 heyday....I really respect and enjoy this hard-rockin' version of the group. Most of these songs are unfamiliar from the other releases (and most of those that are repeated are welcome in my beach house at any time. 'Locomotive Breath'? Sho nuff! I even got a brand new respect for 'Song for Jeffrey' from this album...thar's one cool slide part on that song, shuredigger!) In fact, Past would be an A+ if it only contained the first half and didn't force upon us the useless live jams that pollute an entire side of the album and the dull Aqualung-era acoustic outtakes that fill another. My particular copy of this album seems to be a little confused in the songlisting, but don't let that bother you none...I've got all the good stuff, and have enough of the original song to know that if this may not be the best place to enter dry into your Tull collection (the distinction for that still has to be Aqualung, overrated, acoustic-contaminated filler and frighteningly pretentious concepts or no) it's definitely the next stop on the journey.
Jethro Tull wasn't only great at rocking out in those early days, they could also be achingly subtle, as delicate tracks like 'Singing All Day' and the solid, superb single 'Living In The Past' show. Stand Up was all about the thrashing riff, and Benefit all about the downer moan, but Living gladly provides us with more of the snappy pop/folk stuff that would later plague us as the filler that made Aqualung less than meaty all the way through, and is featured on Side 4, which shows a definite dropoff from the classics that populate Sides 1 and 2. And like I've said before...the lower Ian is buried in the mix, the better he sounds. As the album progresses, he gets louder and less easy to hide from, until on 'Life's a Long Song', he begins to repulse, and he's not even doing his boogieman high-bile sort of freakout singing, he's just relaying the words. There's definitely such a thing as too much Ian, and by the time we're on the nine billionth straight acoustic rock song on side 4, I'm ready to chug the Drano and fall on the rake, dig?
The live excursions on 'By Kind Permission Of...' and 'Dharma For One' are really inexcusable, though. 'Kind Permission' is simply 10 minutes of John Evans performing Bach with occasional jazzy interludes with Ian's flute. I don't personally need this in my life, though the jazzbos and classiques in the audience may really be impressed. Piano solos are unfortunately akin to drum solos....there's rhythmic banging, and there's simply noisy banging, and John Evans is no Rachmaninov last time I checked. Bang bang....clink! Hey, reminds me of the interminably boring drum solo that makes up most of 'Dharma for One', a real trip down memory lane as it reminds me of all the toilets I've visited during drum solos gone by.
So the second half of Past shows the inevitable decline of a great band, the degeneration of it's good taste until the band turned into something Tom Arnold would refuse to hang out with. But that first half....fantastic business, Mister Kotter, fantastic business. And not all of Side 4 is duller than bellybutton lint, they just tried to make it that way. Jethro Tull very rarely gave you a rose that didn't have a wasp hidden inside, and Past is no exception. About half of this is the best you'll ever hear from the band, and the other half is nearly worthless. With Tull, you have to take the good with the bad, as Ian is not a good judge of which is which, just take it as a good opportunity for honing your fast-forward pushing skills.
Capn's Final Word: As a career retrospective, it's excellent. Tells the straight poop. Unfortunately there's still the poop.
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Ridiculous, intentionally complicated wanka wanka song (yup, another 40-minute fuckfest) that takes everything bad from Thick As A Brick and takes none of its publicly redeeming factors - no melodies, no interesting background stories, umm...I guess that was about it for Brick anyway. Passion Play is music for prog suckers, people who like their music as jerky as a used car salesman convention and as needlessly complex as the tax laws. And about as interesting to sit and digest. I've heard that Passion Play takes several listens to 'get into', but that sounds like desensitization therapy to me, that if you watch a thousand children being murdered in horrifyingly despicable ways, the thousandth murder won't feel as awful as the first. Right. Most human beings can't stand any of it, and want to get as far away as possible. Listen, if I want to hear this kind of playing, I'll put on modern jazz so that at least I won't have to listen to Ian's pointless blathering all the time. This is not the first time I've grown to hate the sound of his voice over the course of a record, but I will say it's the first time I've never been redeemed by the cool music the band is playing. Because they're not. They're fucking about, a 10-armed monster of saxes, synths, flutes, and tippity-tappity snare drumming that fucking pollutes each and every prog rock song when they run out of anything else to do.
I can reliably say that this album lacks anything memorable, no melodies, no nice intro and outro sections, just a bunch of mumbling and bumbling about with just the barest strands of jamming to connect the 'movements' together. And the whole hare-lost-his-spectacles story thing in the middle, the one that's about as English as a liver pudding stain on a blackened incisor...I can't deign the purpose of this thing, except that it admits, out loud, that the album surrounding it is so boring and impenetrable that we need 'comic relief' to brighten the corners a bit. I don't find the story funny at all when compared to Ian's ludicrous singing when the Passion Play proper starts back up again. I really just don't follow this record in the least bit, have no desire to more specifically. I just wish it would hurry up and write it's own review so I can take it off my hard drive for ever and ever, and then feel gypped when it actually does finish and I realize what a colossal waste of time and resources it's all been. URGH!!!
What prompted Ian Anderson to make a record so deeply enmeshed in all things typically, sadly Prog and not include any of the lessons he'd learned in the four years prior about melody, power, and space is the biggest mystery of all. He'd decided he wanted to say something, hadn't figured out what the fuck that would be, and went into the studio convinced he'd figure it out on the way. Is it Biblical? Fuck if I know, and again, I invite you to confer with Mr. Anderson himself if you claim to know exactly what he was getting at. Are you sure he's not writing the story of a Hare who lost his Spectacles? Or what about a particularly stubborn bodily fluid stain on Anderson's favorite tight trousers? Why not? I seriously doubt he himself knows, as I believe the band would probably claim they were just following orders when confronted by this mess of an album 30 years later.
Interestingly enough, A Passion Play sold well but sent Ian Anderson to the gallows as far as critics were concerned. He'd committed too many crimes against Chuck Berry, and never again would be respected by anybody but his close fans. He'd taken his status as one of the most interesting rock artists of the late 60's (or, rather, part of one of the most interesting late-60's rock bands) and squandered it on his stupid single-song concept albums. Now he found himself holed up, the band on temporary hiatus (remember back in the 70's, when taking a year off had everyone biting their fingernails about whether you'd broken up? Now band take a year off merely to restring their instruments.) and his hatred for 'Those Damned Critics!!' reaching a fevered pitch. If no one wanted to watch with rapt attention him performing his Play, well, then he'd pack up his toys and go home to brood!
Some people call that bratty and childish. I call it predictable.
Capn's Final Word: 40 odd minutes of grunting, soloing, and assorted arcana that means nothing. An uber-bummer.
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email@example.com Your Rating: A+
Any Short Comments?: Everyone either loves this one or hates it. There's nothing in between. This is the first surreal work from Tull. All the earlier work sounds like their day to day lives or life experiences.
If you like Paradise Lost, Dante's Inferno (or Pournelle/Niven's), or Bulgakov's 'Master and Margarita', you'll like Passion Play. Otherwise... you'll probably find it a disappointment (as did many critics when it was first released).
(Capn's Response: Let me translate the above comment - 'If you are intellectually inclined enough to pick up (much less understand) Dante, Milton, or Bulgakov, you may be qualified to enjoy this 'surreal' album.' I've read all those, bub, and enjoyed two of the three, and lemme tell you....there is NOTHING in common between them and this messy, ridiculous shitplatter. And fuck you very much for your 'minimum requirements' test.)
firstname.lastname@example.org Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I liked Tull as a young teen b/c they were pleasant in many ways to all that 70's Plod-Rock, like 70's "Grunge", that didn't move me (think "Stones"). Punk was annoying. I guess I just had a different outlook & preferred the escapism Ian offered me prior to his horrible "A". Ian broke from his rock-like origins & you, Capn, simply refuse to forgive him, but it's not like the U.S. was starving for more electric guitar bands! Why not accept that Ian got rich on "rock" then turned to things more meaningful to him? And SO WHAT if no part of Passion is "memorable?" Each listen, for me, was kinda different FOR that reason, so it never grew stale. Memorable doesn't equal pleasant
anyways. And if I want rock NOW, give me the HyperRock of the 80's & 90's, Slayer & Kreator, bands that blasted the 70's plodders like Zepp, Sabbath, & Skynard AND THAT WHOLE DECADE away! Passion was a long
story-song, & who else was doing albums like that then? All that said!, you DO rate Tull albums sorta in the order I would, with this exception being unfair. Yes, right around "Broadsword" the medieval stuff got old, but that didn't make me renounce Thick or Passion or even Horses, & "A" told me to stop buying Tull. You're rating Tull as a 30-year trainwreck & not rating albums individually. Fine, but much of the 70's was boring & canned while Tull offered departures from the routine. I am NOT a CULTIST DEVOTEE of Tull, Thanks, but back THEN I liked Ian's 70's albums, had no idea there was hatred for his idiosyncrasies, & wouldn't have cared. I cared about music, & based on what I knew was out
there, Tull's 70's albums entertained me for several years. Lastly, Passion is the least dated Tull album I can name so it gets an "A" for its timeless feel. I do enjoy your writing; cool site!
War Child - Chrysalis 1974
Not a return to form, but at least a return to humanity. Anderson tones down the highfalootin' concepts a coupla notches, spends a few minutes on developing an interesting melody or three, bands the record into tracks, and comes out smelling a whole lot more acceptable than he was on the last record. If anything, we're now entering Tull Phase IV (Blues, Heavy, Prog, and now, ummm....Folkie Prog!) which would continue on until the band pulled a Columbia shuttle and blew into a billion pieces at the beginning of the Eighties. The new band had their problems producing great songs, but at least you could pick and choose. The idea that I have to sit through 40 minutes of music with the only respite being that I have to turn the LP over, take a whiz, and spend a few minutes cursing Ian's soul to the abyss sounds pretty attractive, don't it? War Child remembers the joys inherent in pauses, points in time where the band refrains from playing for just a few seconds while we wash down the last prog 'n' pickle sandwich he whipped up for us.
And, hell, I'll say that War Child has at least two great songs ('Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day' and 'Bungle In The Jungle'), which is two more than the last two albums had combined (heh), two or three more pretty good ones ('Third Hoorah', 'Sealion'), and only a couple of true Trips to the Tull Torture Chamber, and even those seem short and easily ignored. All of the best material is lumped in the middle of the record, starting with 'Back Door Angels', about girls who'll take it up the butt, Bob and the cock rock hoot 'Sealion' that return electricity into the hands of Martin Barre with the hopes he'll remember what in the fuck to do with it (he doesn't really) and introduces some of the most preposterously hokey noises to come from a set of microchips since my Apple //c committed processor suicide back in 1988. They're at least dumb and charming, though, reminding me of similarly goony stuff on Yes's Tormato album. 'Skating Away' is by far the best song on here, and probably the best acoustic Tull song since, well, a long fucking time, anyway. Ian's nostalgic and gentle, cracking a little warmth through his hardshell exterior just long enough to remind us of 1969 before yanking back into character on 'Bungle'. I also love the instrumental choices - the burbling tambla drums, the accordion, the xylophone...it's not often the full charm of the Jethro Tull band is revealed, and the light is impressive...'Bungle In The Jungle', in contrast, is just a strong, sub-Aqualung riff rocker, simply put. But when you've been starved of any strong songs at all, it sounds like the Second Cumming.
So there's definite classics on War Child, but the overall effect is somewhat lukewarm. There's a cool Roxy Music sax vibe on the first side, but the title song can't back it up with a good melody before betraying us with the awful 'Queen and Country' and 'Ladies', which follow. 'Third Horrah' brings this War Child person back up again, and by God, I'm still perplexed as to who the fuck he's supposed to be. Aw well, I'd rather have Ian pursue a half-digested concept for two songs and proceed to leave it alone than to drill it into our cerebral cortexes for 10 straight songs. Apparently there was a movie that went along with this album, or a comic book, or a sugary fruit-flavored refreshing soft drink, or something, but it never materialized. You can't blame me that no one understands what Ian's on about...all I can say is that a darn high percentage of these tracks are pretty frigging okay, and you gotta grab your good mid-70's Tull where you can find it. Believe me, it gets worse.
Capn's Final Word: A Jethro Tull album with songs, and a fair amount of good ones....what, is it Bizarro world or something?
- Chrysalis 1975
Right, like we needed more acoustic aimlessness helmed by Mr. Anderson at his longest-winded, as if years of this stuff hadn't been enough already. Probably one of the most innocuously uninteresting Tull releases, Minstrel is an odd one coming after War Child, which, you know, I thought reestablished at least a shred of good taste into the Tull canon. Not a chance...Minstrel blows all that away with some of the most aimless folk-prog rambling in a career defined by such nasty excesses. It's for sure the worst for its superficial resemblance to Passion Play...it's got a shamefully similar black and white cover that always causes me to get confused as I flip past the Tull albums as quickly as possible while trying to find a good album to buy. And, of course, in my mind they're both equally crap...review 'em 'cos you feel you have to and then move on to something more decent. Sitting through this record is definitely a chore, not because it's necessarily unpleasant, because it's not at all...it just rivals Oxycodone in its ability to deaden the nerves and drive your eyelids to a slit while you attempt to fight off the sleepy effects of the strumming/opiates. Except dope feels good, and all this does is surround you with chords, chords chords chords, never once forming themselves into a recognizable melody.
Outside of the title track and 'Cold Wind to Valhalla', not surprisingly the two best songs within a hand grenade's distance of this beige-fest, the rest of the band is conspicuously absent. They don't even sound like they showed up half the time, and when they do their talents are absolutely wasted. At least the title track resembles some sort of proto hair-metal (?)(!) and has some cocky-rocky electric guitar to liven things up. The rest of this album revolves around two things, and that's Ian's voice and fucking acoustic guitar, neither of which set my American Embassy ablaze if you 'ridicule' my 'foreign policy initiatives', and I think you do. As it is, the title track is merely boring hair metal (yeah! ten years early, too!) and 'Valhalla' a pretty silly sit-in with the Demons of Mordor or whatever Gollum-fellating Tolkien referencing spew you wish to name. At least those tracks have an identity...the rest of this stuff is just faceless, culminating in 'Baker St. Muse', which is as embarrassing as it gets for our Bard. After bumbling about on the song for what seems like at least 68 hours (what? Why does everyone recognize this song? Is this a showtune or something? I left my gay in my other pants, so I'm afraid I don't know.) he finally lets the thing die in its tracks before getting up, audibly walking across the studio floor crooning the main melody of the song, banging on the door and saying pompously 'I can't get out!'
Now you know how we feel, Ian.
Capn's Final Word: Ian strums, we yawn. Ian strums, his bandmates leave him. Ian strums, his audience goes home and buys Aerosmith albums...Ian continues strumming.
Your Rating: B-
Any Short Comments?: You have made one of the more interesting observations on this record: The title track is proto-hair metal....and you're absolutely right! At first I thought you were on some sort of narcotic, but upon further examination I realized how accurate this observation was. After the acoustic intro, the song blasts into a riff that, indeed, sounds positively hair-metallish! It's got that dumb hard rock party vibe to it that doesn't sound all that far removed from Twisted Sister or Poison or Warrant or whoever. Just add some huge fake drums, louder guitars, synths, an Eddie Van Halen copycat guitar solo, and a shitload of reverb, and you have a hair metal song! Clever observation Ryan, thumbs up for that one.
Oh yeah, it's also by far the best track on the album, though I do also like "One White Duck/0^10=Nothing At All." The rest of the album? Blech. There's absolutely NOTHING interesting about "Black Satin Dancer" or the other "suite" "Baker St. Muse," and the other tracks are decent but nothing really worth mentioning. But man, the title track just kicks! I actually don't mind hair metal, so fuck it: for the title track and One White Duck alone, this album gets a B-.
Still, it's probably the worst of Tull's 70s albums other than Passion Play.
And what the hell is with Songs From The Wood getting a C+? That record rules! I'd put it on the same level as Heavy Horses, but hey, to each his own I guess.
Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll, Too Young To Die - Chrysalis 1976.
A brief respite from the progressive rock monstrosities that Tull had taken to trundling out year after year in the mid-70's, Too Old is about as close as Tull was willing to come to accessibility at this time. Beginning as a soundtrack of some sort, Too Old has Ian putting on his Ray Davies face and making an album about an unfashionable aging rocker who, well, does a bunch of aging rocker crap like scoring with underage girls, picking and eating juicy snot boogers, and releasing extremely boring concept albums after winning on a quiz show, or some such bullshit. The story is tired and pointless, going absolutely nowhere, but the music...hey, boy! It's all right! Rock 'n' Roll, you know? Or some reasonable facsimile of it, anyway, featuring lots of Martin Barre's patented zipgun guitar and some considerably fat-free arrangements. For Jethro Tull, anyway...to the unaided ear this is going to sound mighty corny, but it's sure easier to get into than the last several Tull albums have been. Too Old, again, isn't a return to the sorts of mondo heights the band was scaling not five years earlier, but every song is surprisingly strong. This Tull band can sure pull some fast ones...just when you think they're unable to tell a good melody from Edwin Newman, they go and put together an album of some impressive mid-level rock that at least acknowledges that members of the band other than Ian Anderson have something to contribute.
Too Old is sort of akin to Pete Townshend's roughly concurrent Who By Numbers album (which is actually a lot better than this one, but...hey). Both are obsessed with growing old and losing the fashion, both betraying deep tiny-penis insecurities about not being able to act like hornball teenage hormone-junkies for the rest of their lives, both are comprised of (relatively) stripped down guitar rock, and neither one sold dick. But while Pete Townshend was obviously, painfully sincere about Numbers being autobiographical, Ian's never been able to come to terms with Too Old, perhaps because he actually doesn't feel it's about him. He said he put the title on to provoke derision by the press, who at that time were quickly latching on to the Kill All Hippies punk movement, which is pretty typical for Ian. Why ignore when you can provoke? Why live above your critics when you can devote album titles and song lyrics to poking at them? Whatever...I think it's fucking unwise, and I for sure cringe whenever I see the cartoon leather-jacketed Ian on the cover flipping a fingerless bird at me with that hilariously clueless scowl on his face. What a fucking fraud. Besides the fact that the album titles and color used on the cover look like they're advertising cottage cheese rather than a (formerly) kickass rock 'n' roll band.
Whatever, I listen to the album and I forget the cover. How can I describe my love for a song like 'Taxi Grab', a completely ridiculous toss off about hailing taxis, but one in which MARTIN BARRE PLAYS SLIDE GUITAR!! And Ian the harmonica! And it frigging rocks! How many moons has it been since Tull has given us this sort of cheesy, prog-free balls rock that actually rocks? Their own tongues might be in cheek, but my fist is in the air...more rock from TULL!
The acoustic ballads are better, too. Still as aimless as Stephen Hawking's wheelchair at a radio controlled car race, but certainly more focused. The good ideas come and go without overstaying their welcome by running long, and the bad ideas make their exit quickly. They ape Floyd on 'From A Deadbeat to an Old Greaser' and John Lennon on 'Pied Piper', and purvey an unimaginative blues on 'Bad-Eyed and Loveless', but 'Crazed Institution' is anthemic and 'Salamander' is as urgent as anything Bob Dylan did on his debut folkie record I love so darn much. The best track, however, is the title track, a mid-tempo light rocker with as much ABBA influence as King Crimson and one of the best melodies since 'Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day', a fresh, positive set of pastiches about life not taking you where you think you should be. But it's great, definitely one of Tull's best, even if it's a relatively out-of-character.
I like it when Tull's out of character, mainly because I feel like when Ian does his 'prog thing' like he's been indulging in for the past several albums, he's compromising some inner desire to make great, catchy rock songs like the ones here, on War Child, and on Aqualung. He hasn't yet found his balance, which is why the rock fans out there love this record and most hard-core Tullers (you know, the ones who swear by Minstrel In The Gallery as the Word of the Prophet and the $500 packets of rare Magic cards they bought on Ebay tucked warmly in their crotch pockets) dismiss it. It's rock 'n' roll, it's not progressive, and if you think that makes Ian a sell-out, well why don't you just pick up any of the records I've rated below a C and have a grand time with it. I'll keep my Tull catchy, simple, and stupid, thank you.
Capn's Final Word: Ian Anderson puts on his rocker guise and everyone blushes. More of a solo album than ever, but some great songs.
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Your Rating: C-
Any Short Comments?: The title says it all.
You should really try to find and check out the interview Lester Bangs did with Ian Anderson around this time - it is probably one of the funniest, most brilliantly profane pieces of writing I have ever seen. Hint: Anderson comes off as a man with his head farther up his own ass than Robert Fripp.
Songs From The Wood - Chrysalis 1977
In the Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll review, I mentioned that Ian Anderson has a problem balancing his progressive tendencies that tend to lead him off the edge of cliffs (Passion Play, Minstrel) and the basic, catchy rock tendencies (the parts that I like) that he feels places him in the middle of the road. Well, with Songs From The Wood, he's finally been able to balance the two sides by tempering both of them with his obscure British folkie side, the side that's always been burbling around beneath the surface, but here makes a full entrance complete with fanfares, Berber eunuchs, and gold-encrusted elephants. Yup, no more Ian the prog-goblin, no more Ian the glammy War Child or Ian the leathery rocker...the cover of Wood shows us a very normal, aging Ian tending a fire with his dogs. And he looks good, looks like a human being. And while Wood may not be particularly interesting as a Tull album from a prog-rock side or a hard rock side, it sounds as if Ian's made the album he was supposed to make. Wood mended a fence or two with the critics (why critics liked this and not Too Old or the clearly superior Heavy Horses is just one of those inexplicable anomalies you'll come across in the world, like the Bermuda Triangle, how girls pee, and the uncommon glorious comedic genius of one Bronson Pinchot) and gained a reprieve in the Year of the Punk, which may have otherwise destroyed his band's chances in Britain, anyway....and if anything, Songs From The Wood is meant for a British audience.
The problem with Wood is that while the album is listenable, it's also completely forgettable. This one even lacks the one clincher Tull classic that earns the album a right on the singles album. While Minstrel, Too Old, and Heavy Horses all have excellent title tracks, 'Songs From The Wood' is about as plain as mayonnaise on saltines, no different than any of the other songs here. The other single, 'Ring Out, Solstice Bells', is better (the vocal harmonies oddly remind me of Blur). Ironically, 'Ring Out...' was originally planned as the title of the record, which would've kept the title-track streak alive, even though 'Ring Out' would still be the weakest track in the bunch.
Wood is also so scarily consistent, it all sounds like itself. Try out the title track...if you like it, dig in, for there's 2,197 more seconds of it just waiting to be taken off the shelf and taken for a cruise up the Neva. Everyone talks about this as the 'folk rock record', but that's really just code for 'Martin Barre plays almost no electric guitar and Ian Anderson plays more with his vocal modulations'. The folkie element is almost exclusively kept to the singing, and if you were to spin me around, kick me in the nuts, and steal my wallet, I would never once identify this as 'British Folk', or be able to pick Wood tracks out from a random sample of Tull acoustic obscurities. Not that I'd want to considering I would be dizzy, broke, and clutching my poor, broken nuts, but that's sort of what buying and reviewing Jethro Tull albums is like, heh heh. 'Velvet Green' conjures up ideas of pale, poxy women milking cattle in the foggy rain, maybe, and 'The Whistler' is just darned pretty folk-rock, synths or no, but what the hell is 'Pibroch (Cap In Hand)' other than just Another Progressive Attempt? Or what about side one? Am I supposed to remember this stuff? When I can't even remember my own favorite Beatles album half the time? Come on, now...you gotta make it easier on us!
Okay, so Wood isn't quite right. It's not outrightly offensive, a bit more folk like 'The Whistler' would be welcome, and it's nice to see than Ian Anderson isn't out to destroy us with 16/9 time signatures and 13 minute flute/sax duets anymore. But the day that Songs From the Wood is anything more than a nice bit of complex, acousticy background music is the day I lay my Cheap Trick albums to rest. Wood is coldhearted and monolithic in its woodsy down-homeyness, and leaves a hollow feeling behind. You can take Ian from the cynicism, but you can't take the cynicism from Ian.
Capn's Final Word: Ian attempts folkie respectability with ice-cold hands, goes through the ritual but gets very little rain.
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A wee album for the four-legged furries of the world, Heavy Horses takes the folkie leanings of Songs From The Wood, chews them up, washes them down with a swig of beer, strips off their fats and sugars using strong acid solution, and extrudes them out into firm little song sausages which are then lovingly shrink-wrapped and inserted into your Heavy Horses CD case. Jethro Tull often sounds like they don't much care about making really good records, but the key isn't the fact that they aren't any good, it's that they kept forcing out 40-odd minutes of music each and every year and never gave themselves one nanosecond of rest to possibly recharge the batteries. Or should I say 'his'? Because as good as Horses is, and it's pretty okay, there's really no need for them to have released two dead similar albums in both 1977 and 1978 when they could've released only one darned good one. I'm all for Ian's trip to the forests and rolling hills of the fictional British countryside, I think it fits the band's demeanor as 30-year old senior citizens darn well, but as I sit through Very 'eavy, Very 'orses, all I can think of is how much better this could've been done. As much as I love the melodies on 'Acres Wild' and, especially, 'Heavy Horses', and even a few other places here, I think they lay back on their 'Tullitude' too much and keep within their comfortable space that meets the expectations of their core audience. Why create some interesting twist in the lyrics when you can just fill the space with endless flute/synth/guitar scalar runs like we've heard since the beginning of time from this group? Apparently they're just giving the audience what they wanted, but I'm disappointed that their muse wasn't followed further...what if Tull had really made a folk rock record instead of a prog record with folkie ornamentation? I think it would've been excellent, and I hope that shows that my faith in Ian Anderson's abilities as a songwriter hasn't been totally ripped to shreds over a decade full of failures and half-comebacks.
I wouldn't be sitting here talking about it if I didn't like Heavy Horses, and I do. Not a helluva lot, but at least as much as I like War Child and Too Old, which received identical grades. Most of the music here is warm and sincere, a great improvement over Wood, which sounded forced in comparison. The problem with Horses is not the same with Child (great songs mixed indiscriminately with crap) or Too Old (refreshingly out of character rock music that doesn't always work). The problem with Horses is a reliance on the old formula when the new one works just great. There's certain songs here I think fit in about as well as Keanu Reeves at a MENSA convention, like the dull prog flogger 'No Lullaby' (a baldfaced lie if I've ever heard one) or 'Journey Man', which is about as boringly, unimaginatively, typically Tull as a cynical scowl and a one-legged flute solo. Not to say that sometimes this approach doesn't work...there wouldn't be any 'One Brown Mouse' or 'Heavy Horses' without a half a cup of Thick As A Brick, 50 mL of Aqualung, and a dash (but NO MORE) of Passion Play. But the best parts of this record, and the best part of 'Heavy Horses' don't have much to do with anything but pure Tull doing what they're best at, which is making a beautiful mess of a noise, quick and tight, a winding staircase of acoustic guitar, organ, and flute. No pretense, no attacks, just ultimately the same things that worked way back when on Stand Up and still worked 10 years later. Anderson's vision became clouded, is all, and Wood is one of the first sincere albums from Jethro Tull in quite some time. I just wish they'd trusted themselves to go all the way with it...
Capn's Final Word: An charming, animalist take on Wood-style musings that could've pushed the folkie note a lot further. Flesh and blood Tull rock that faltered on the edge of greatness.
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Live - Bursting Out - Chrysalis 1978
The last possible moment Ian could've released a double live album and not have it ridiculed and denounced like a cheap Cuban Ritalin smuggler, 1978 was pretty much prime time for double live sets in the late 70's. The problem being, and this has been diagnosed by Mr. 'Dirty' Dave Marsh in the 1982 version of the Rolling Stone Album Guide (right, the one where the Doors receive a particularly vicious hatchet job at the nasty, malicious Springsteen-groping hands of Mr. Marsh), that most 70's supergroups had absolutely nothing new to contribute following the release of their double live sets. Oddly enough, it holds true more often than not - think Song Remains the Same and In Through The Out Door if you're not quite convinced. And the same with Jethro, every last bit of it. Following Bursting Out came the mediocre Stormwatch, then the band broke up, then A, then the mess that was the 80's followed. Dude! I'm glad he didn't release Live 1973 or something equally rash...then we not only would've had to hear that bastard Passion Play again in its disgusting entirety, but we'd have had to hear him come up with albums worse than Minstrel and Songs From the Wood. Ugh.
Anyway, for a band that rests more than half of its reputation on its live show, it sure took them a long time to cough up the live document. I mean, 1978? I guess they counted that shit-fuck live side on Living In The Past as a live release, which is not only cheating, but just plain wrong. When you put on Bursting Out and hear all these wild-ass chugging-metal guitar rips out of their back catalogue, you too will probably demand to know why it took so frigging long. Jethro Tull live is simply not the same band that puts together these intricate and usually deadly dull studio albums. That's Ian Anderson. The live band is run by the massive guitar barrage of Martin Barre alone, and Ian just tries desperately not to get ripped apart in the fray. And you thought Songs From The Wood was a folkie album. Pshaaa! Fool....Republican!! It's a fucking heavy metal song, motherfucker, and we're gonna let 'No Lullaby' remind you by bashing your brains in for awhile. 'Kay?
The heavy metal (and this is almost exclusively metal in my view...at least in the 70's Judas Priest/Deep Purple definition of the term) is so surprisingly energetic and mean as to completely wipe clean whatever opinions I may have had of these songs previous to my encounter with Bursting Out. I mean, I may never have paid attention to 'Jack In The Green' whatsoever, at least until the volume got jacked up and Martin Barre got his claws in me. The band's prog element is definitely compromised in return, though the band is still able to make the most complicated parts of 'Brick' sound easy, they're too busy destroying new worlds and corrupting impressionable young eardrums to get too fussy over the exact placement of the organ over the tippy-tap drum figure. Ian keeps up with it all as best he can, and oftentimes the vocals take so much juice he can't help but give up on some of his more precious tics...he's happy just to howl out the lyrics in tune and get a short blast of flute in before Barre takes control again. Nah, Ian's domain is the between-song banter, where he tries (and fails) to come across like the Lost Member of Monty Python. He's a winking, jolly jester of a Brit, his Queen's English never hiccupping, but I mostly just wish him to shut up so we can here more ass-kicking.
I originally, following my initial listen on headphones, to give this album an A+, but repeated exposures have left me with the unavoidable opinion that All Is Not Right on Bursting Out. The main problem is that their older hits just don't benefit from the live Tull treatment as well as the boring new songs do. As much as I love how they remake 'Skating Away' and 'Aqualung' live, the reconfiguration of 'Thick As A Brick' goes from great to forgettable before the 11 minute-mark ticks by, and 'A New Day Yesterday' actually sounds weak in comparison to it's Stand Up studio version, bewilderingly enough. And 'Locomotive Breath' is just a mess...I know it's an encore and all, and I'm sure that Ian was probably hanging upside down from the rafters doing squat-thrusts, rewiring his flute, and guiding Contra counter-insurgent helicopter forces to their drop point through his wireless headset all at the same time, but come on. Get it together on the fucking riff and make it stomp, would ya? I was also bored senseless by Ian's 'Flute Improvisation' only the second time through, and have skipped it every time since then, and the regular show gets bogged down noticeably with 'Minstrel In The Gallery' and 'Conundrum' towards the home stretch.
All these bitches aside, I'll give Bursting Out a firm A for rocking like a hamster on half a gram, a B+ for keeping the old tracks healthy, a C- for not solving that pesky problem with the ozone layer, an incomplete for 'ha!', a Q for Quality Riffage, a strawberry danish and a cup of coffee, a dose of the clap, five Quaaludes and half a red, four Yokohama off-road tires, and a very, very weary thumbs up. Viva la revolucion!
Capn's Final Word: Better than usual live album, which by recent Tull standards, that means it's FANTASTIC.
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Capn's Note 10/2005:
Well, anytime you go diving for lost pearls in a septic tank, you're bound to come up with a mouthful of shit sooner or later. That's sort of like reviewing Jethro Tull, a band whose best days (and it did have some great days...a few of 'em, anyhow) ended with the precipitous decline of progressive rock in the early 70's, but through the power of a cult audience and an ever-collapsing rotating cast of sidemen clowns happy to do the bidding of Harry McArmpitface, continued onward nonetheless. Yup - this band's pearls done all been grabbed up, folks, and I don' haveta tell ya what we have left thar in that 'concrete pond'. This band's problem is not that it had problems adjusting to the 80's (it had its share of problems adjusting to the mid-70's, too), it's that it's looked positively rudderless since at least 1980, making weird choice after weird choice until everyone but the most clueless and the most blind have jumped the Jethro ship. Tull, unlike Yes, Genesis, or the former fops in Asia, never came even close to recapturing the (somewhat limited) mass appeal of their early days through an unlikely retooling of their sound for 80's ears, and didn't manage to nimbly reincarnate themselves every 10 years like King Crimson. Nope - Jethro Tull's early days continued on in much the same way as their post-Brick 70's output did - without one motherfucking hint that they might know what it was they were doing. Except, you know...worse in a lot of ways. No, they don't hoist any more 40-minute song suites on our trembling, emaciated shoulders, but the 70's Tull never attempted a stomach-wrenching synth-pop move as hateful as Under Wraps or decide that really, after all, they were heavy metal pioneers and therefore could therefore release album after album of sludgy riff-crud noticed by no one outside of a particularly brain-rotten group of Grammy voters.
More than this, 80's and later Tull comes across as cheap and shoddy - doomed before the needle even hits the groove of the record. Since A, their albums look, smell, and feel like cutout-bin filler straight off the shelf...is it any surprise that's where they all end up? Perhaps you can blame it on a lack of record company support - fine...the cover of This Was looked like it was made for 79 cents and a quick slap of the ass, too, but it turned out to be a pretty decent blues-rock record once it was on. Not so with post-80 Tull....not only are the production values embarrassingly shoddy, but musically the watchword here is boredom, and they dish it out in spades (and with shovels). I can't claim they completely lack the ability to stand up to community standards of decency, but for the most part these albums are never anything I feel the need to hear again. It not only sounds nothing like prime Tull, it sounds like nothing that could be imagined coming out of prime Tull, even with 20 years of stylistic changes tacked on. Not retaining band members any longer than it takes Imelda Marcos to tire of a pair of shoes certainly can't help with that, but to me it all falls on Ian Anderson - his inability to get along with others and his inability to write decent material (or share with someone who can).
Anyhow, rant over. I got my wet suit on, and the lid open, and I suppose I'm ready to dive in - I gotta nail this particular coffin shut sooner or later or it'll eat my soul. It's been over two years since I first reviewed Tull, ending just before I was to slam Stormwatch (actually, a pretty decent record) with a battle-axe of a review just because I was so sick of this band and its sound. I also knew what terrors lied ahead of me, and I needed this break to gather my strength for the slog through. Just realize who I'm doing this for, Dear Reader: No Bonanza reader should have to enter into the mine-laden latter-day Jethro Tull catalogue unawares. I hope you appreciate the service I'm performing for you.
Stormwatch - Chrysalis 1979
Before the going gets brown and smushy, we get (surprisingly) a strong Jethro Tull record that doesn't sound anything like Heavy Horses. Stormwatch seems to get lost in the shuffle for the reasons that it doesn't hold pretensions to Luddite English folkitude like the last two Tull records did, and it's not the outrageous electronic gang-rape that is next year's A. All it is is a fine little concept record about the end of civilization (brought on by high gas prices caused by a pee-ohed polar bear going Jet Li on an arctic oil rig somewhere) set to a moderately rocking, modernized Tull sound. It ain't particularly groundbreaking, in other words, but it is the last truly solid Jethro Tull album for...what year is it again? It's also got one godawful ugly bastard of an album cover - no one should have to be that close to Ian Anderson's face except his dentist, artist's rendering or not. Whatever - the Tull sound downright awesome at times on this record, (War Child crossed with Judas Priest on 'Orion' or 'Something's On The Move', the best the Moody Blues ever offered on 'Elegy', like bipolar pirates on 'Flying Dutchman') - and as long as they continue to choogle along in their inimitable Tull-ness, this album is one listenable dirty little bastard. The band pulls together a fantastic dark, wintry vibe...not quite hopeless, mind you, but...literary. Did that sound pretentious, maybe? Well, be glad I'm getting into the Tull reviewing groove again, then.
It is a Tull album though, so there are a few glaring mistakes to contend with. First off, the thing feels longer than the director's cut of Andrei Rublev, though it's only a perfectly acceptable 45 minutes. I blame the two epics ('Dark Ages' and 'Flying Dutchman', both too far north of 7 minutes in length to be justified) and the goofy but unhateworthy novelty 'Warm Sporran' (Tull does disco - halfway, anyhow). Not that I want 'Dutchman' cut or anything like that - the world needs this kind of ridiculous ballad/shanty/C&W Frankenstein, just not quite so much of it. 'Dark Ages', though, is just a ridiculous excuse to solo over the Black Sabbath-aping, spinal cracker-headbanging middle section. It seems like the kind of thing I should enjoy, all that galumphingly metallic wasting of precious natural resources, but I never can wait for the damn thing to finish.
Not so of 'Something on the Move', a cock-rocking Martin Barre riff special that we haven't heard the likes of since back before Aqualung turned this band 'meaningful' ten long years before. Chunky, baby. Like finding an ancient Lude in the pocket of your old jean jacket or like Aerosmith plowing into a stoned-out, overdriven 'Draw The Line' in the middle of perfectly programmed set of plastic-craptastic 90's ballads. Good-ness. The ballads, well....they're even better, if you can believe it. 'Home' presents Anderson as the most unlikely romantic pop balladeer since HAL sang 'Bicycle Built for Two', um, twenty two years in the future. 'Dun Ringhill' is a great little bit of Oi-rish reeling (the one stylistic reference to Wood or Horses that I hear), and 'Elegy' is a darn pretty way for the world to end on us like that. Considering that bassist David Glasscock died suddenly after this record came out and gave Ian the opportunity to sack the rest of his band for general purposes - it's also a very pretty way for Tull to have died, as well. But when there's no more room in hell, outdated progressive rockers will walk the Earth.
Capn's Final Word: Surprise! A solid, rock-oriented Tull album that doesn't embarrass the band or its fans! Better fire everyone and make damn sure it never happens again!
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A - Chrysalis 1980
Sure as shit not an A. Definitely not a B either. Ehh...not so fast, Mr. C!
This was originally intended to be an Ian Anderson solo album, which at least would've shown an impressive amount of honesty. As it was, this was Jethro Tull remade in Ian's image - or at least in the image of his pocketbook (Eddie Jobson used to blow saxamaphone for Roxy Music way back when, and Dave Pegg was in Fairport Convention. This album sounds like neither one of those bands. They made good music.). Martin Barre is the only original gangsta other than Anderson, and it's pretty obvious he was overdubbed on at the last minute to justify using the still-bankable Tull name. Okay, so as a Tull album, it combines the concept of Stormwatch (here the end of society is caused by nukes rather than a disgruntled bear, but it's really just Ian's same old translocated sexual frustrations talking.) with the songwriting of Minstrel in the Gallery (overcomplicated messiness not worth paying attention to) and the synthesizer programming skill of Ian microwaving a bowl of Spaghetti-O's. You heard me - synthesizers. Every last whirrp, blurp, wonngggg, and kitschy fake Theremin noise you can dream up - Ian packs it in this underfed little ode to his greatness. How great is it? How many albums can you name that have a song about driving in four wheel drive ('4WD') eh? Hells yeah! What kind of record would have won the United Auto Workers' 'Album of the Year' for 1980 (if it had existed), narrowly beating out Gary Numan's Cars II: Trucks, Conversion Vans, and Whatever the Fuck You'd Call a Volkswagen 'Thing' and Sweaty Ted Nugent's Hunting With My Hood Ornament? I hazard to say THIS kind of album - Rachel Hunter's Permanently Distended Anus! Also known cleverly as A! Or what about how 'clothes make the man' ('Uniform')? You should be imagining Ray Davies right now! Then you should forget you ever imagined it, because Anderson appears to use the song for the mind-boggling purpose of promoting the game of cricket. Yeah, that thing that looks like baseball, except its played by Indian guys dressed up like extras from a garden party scene in the Great Gatsby and who should be inside studying for their Electrical Engineering PhD's already.
Ahhhh, discomforting lyrical pratfalls aside, this album really blows it on a musical level as well. Side A just bores with a derivative sort of synthesized prog that any old idiot could have put down on tape, but the second side took something only Ian Anderson could've given us - Pure Diabolical Evil. Destroying-the-world-two-eardrums-at-a-time sort of evil. That is the only explanation for bits of ridicule like 'Protect and Survive' or 'Batteries Not Included', which for all the world sound like the soundtrack to a time-passing montage scene in a moronic early 80's 'nerdy-teen' movie like Real Genius, is a desire to annihilate people's desire to listen to music, any music. If you ever wanted to hear the Human League covering Tarkus, here 'tis. Me, I've got eyes that still don't have red-hot pokers sticking out of them yet, so I'll pass, dig? There is one bright spot here for the positive-thinkers (putzes) here among us - one can only imagine what kind of human tragedy these songs were before Martin Barre improved them ever-so-slightly with his guitar lines.
This is just as herky-jerky and maddeningly complex as anything on Passion Play, except it's worse because you can't tell who has less soul - the synthesizers or the nitwits playing them. Don't even get me started on how offensive the patronizing 'Working John, Working Joe' is to me. Lordy, this is bad. The best parts of this one are the few seconds of Jobson's electric violin that pop up every now and then (remind me of Country Life, they do) and the blissfully silent runout groove. Thank the Good God for runout grooves.
Capn's Final Word: It's short for 'Asshole'.
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email@example.com Your Rating: F
Any Short Comments?: F- or destroy on sight are also advised.
Anyway I think you got your albummers out of order your captainship. Um, I distinctly remember listening to that god awful crap of an album "A" before ever laying my eyes on "The Lame Lies Down On Broadsword". At least that is what I can recall of those nightmare years. Love your site and I hope you win, mean it!
I'll go back to forcing myself to listen to Hall and Oates while you hash out the rest of Tull. There are just some places I will not go, and that's one of them.
(Capn's Response: 'Spot the Capn's Ridiculously Obvious Formatting Fuckup' is like the National Sport of Bonanzaland. I fixed it, but that doesn't excuse the 657 other factual oversights and gross grammatical boffos on this page.)
and the Beast - Chrysalis 1982
Refreshingly, this album is not about the end of the world as scripted by Ian Anderson's brain. Not that he had too many more suitably terror-inspiring scenarios to run through anyway (Killer bees? A desperate shortage of Tang? All the Chinese people jumping up and down at the same time? Me absent-mindedly leaving my garden hose running long enough to flood the entire surface of the Earth?), but it's still a notable improvement that this one is given a totally original, solid conceptual basis that is guaranteed not to embarrass the skid-marked pants right off the social retards who made up the Tull constituency circa 1982...
A warrior fighting a dragon. As Johnny Carson used to demand his wives scream during sex: 'Heyyy-OHHHHHHH!!!'
Yup, if you ever wanted a band like Jethro Tull to sound like post-Grace Slick Starship singing lyrics by Ronnie James Dio, this is your chance. Perhaps due to mass psychosis brought on by fluoridation of the drinking water supply or some covert Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts putting subliminal messages in our Husker Du albums, this album is often seen in a much better light than either A or Under Wraps, and not just by us warped Web Reviewers and our assorted loose screws, but by actual real-life music critics, too! Those guys, if they mention 80's Tull at all, (rightfully) pan every album except for this one. One can only scratch one's forehead and wonder what album they might be listening to, because it ain't this one. The one I hear, though mildly less preposterous than the ones immediately preceding or succeeding it,(though if there's one thing Under Wraps sure as fuck doesn't do, it's succeed) still has as many corny and ridiculous moments as most bands have in their entire catalogues. But, apparently, some people aren't too embarrassed by a song as obviously phallus-symbolic as 'Broadsword' and its wanky Barre 'big' guitar lines or the fact that 'Flying Colors' sounds ripped off the soundtrack to a movie like Vision Quest. You've heard Madonna's mid-80's songs, right? You know, 'Holiday' and 'Borderline' and all that? Well, all those Synthtones are here in their full glory. Again, slightly better than the malfunctioning dot-matrix printer noises we heard on A, but...this is a Jethro Tull album! Why does it sound so fucking sissy all the time?
I have no desire to subject myself to more of Broadsword and the Beast simply to dissect how each song pulls out another selection from the bestselling Anthemic Chord Sequence for Absolute Fucking Knuckleheads, but I will say that out of all the 'prog originators', the Tull were the only ones still making albums with endlessly time-signatured jerky-ass crap like 'Sealdriver' on them in 1982. So give 'em a few sympathy points for staying their ground (scorched earth) when all the other former progressive pinheads were making snappy Top 10 pop singles like 'In the Heat of the Moment' or 'Misunderstanding' and raking in a million bucks. Who needs all those nubile Russian sluts tearing off their tops at the first chords of 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' like I saw at a 2002 Yes concert when you have the undying love of a bunch of guys who are guaranteed to have memorized what the Armor Class of a Vinyl Siding Golem is.
Capn's Final Word: If the middle ages had been this fruity, the Huns would've had our asses for good.
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Under Wraps - Chrysalis 1984
Relish the badness. Take your britches off and wade around in it, letting it lap against your naked, pasty thighs. The badness will protect you, keep you warm. The badness will never let you down. In a world of such confusion, such inconsistency, you can always rely on Under Wraps to suck ass as much as any album has ever sucked ass, and for this, I am grateful. Under Wraps keeps the balance against all those great albums throughout history, and by doing so prevents the world from spinning off its axis and careening at billions of miles per hour through space to be immolated in some mammoth molten nickel lake on Jupiter. Without the sour, there would be no sweet. Without Shelly Duvall there could be no Naomi Watts. Without a bucket of rotting dolphin testicles sitting on your bedpillow, there would be no...oh, I dunno, flowers or some shit. You get the idea. Yin and Yang, dig?
And, boy, is this album ever bad. It makes Broadsword and the Beast look like Stand Up (see? The magic of contrast is already at work! Let me set it next to American Life and...nope. Madonna's still the Destroyer of Souls) and could most probably win the title of Worst 80's Album By A Formerly Major Artist....on pure badness. It wouldn't have a prayer to win if the award was measured by the altitude of the fall, for Tull had too many terrible albums during its 'classic' period, but I mean...this is really really stinky bad. But if we're talking about awful, then this wins the Nobel Prize for Shit. No guitar to speak of, removing the single remaining positive aspect of post-'80 Tull. By why play guitar when you've got a Speak and Spell hooked up to your tape console, and it's all a-itchin and twitchin' to be turned on and asked to beep in all four colors? And you get to hear those synthesizers in Full Glory, because they're mixed Right Out In Front of this minimally produced unit, along with Mister Anderson, because...well...why would you Need Anything Else? It sounds like dance music, except Lord only knows what kind of greasy-haired, pasty white closet monkey would ever want to dance to it. My answer? Sadomasochism. Ian's the Mommy. You're the bitch.
Anderson does his usual bullshit over the top of this kling-klang TV-drama Eurodisco, so I won't mention any more about it except he's copped a decidedly more 'modern' bent than usual. He mentions sushi and Communism. Enough discussion. There's 15 songs on here (it runs nearly an entire hour) and there's very little chance to catch a breath as the Trans-Awful Express continues to run over you with car after car, song after song, beat preset after beat preset. It's torturous. The best thing I can say about it is that Ian at least refrains from playing much flute. Goebbels and Beria didn't play much flute, either.
Capn's Final Word: Your children will think it sucks. So will your children's children's children. You can rest easy knowing this Badness will last until the end of eternity.
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Crest of a
Knave - Chrysalis 1987
Considering how little I can think of that could've made the followup to Under Wraps even more colossally awful than its predecessor (a horn section, shards of razor sharp glass in the CD booklet, Guest Vocals by Joe Cocker), it's no real surprise that Crest of a Knave shows a fair bit of improvement. Martin Barre is once again audible (for the reason that he's playing guitar! Apparently Ian hadn't cut his guitarists' hands off with a rusty hacksaw blade! Not all of them, anyway!), the synths are turned way down, and there's only 8 fucking songs to deal with. Jethro Tull being, possibly, the only band for which I would pay more for an album if I knew it had a certain number of songs on it. I'd say this is just about right. Go too low, and you've got Passion Play, go too high and...well, that's just too goddamn much Jethro Tull. Nine songs? Alright! I can describe five of those, ignore the other four, and call it another notch on my Big Belt o' Bonanza, one step closer to closing out this damned Tull page altogether. 'Sound good to you, Ryan?' 'Well, hell yeah, Ryan!' 'Just as long as I can skip reviewing that damn boxed set, too.' 'You got it, Ryan, but just because yer so darn cool all the time!' 'Beer?' 'Beer! I'll drink it, you pee, okay?' 'Boner!' 'Hey...talking about boners, how's bout we...'
Alright. Talking to yourself is for toddlers and Congressmen, so that's enough of that. I gots reviewin' ta do! For this Jerko Droll album I can't ever remember the name of! This album has two songs about fawning over Eastern European chicks! How motherfucker IS THAT? Apparently, though he's a rich rock star, he's still too Britishly coy and self-restrained to actually get it on with anyone more attractive or less British than Dame Edna, so instead he drools over a Moscow prostitute ('She Said She Was A Dancer'), and then proceeds to look up the skirt of a Hungarian caterer, this one from the hinterlands ('Budapest'). And he likes it so much he twiddles on his flute for fifteen minutes, just like in the old days when he wasn't a human doormat! Needless to say, both of these songs are shit in that awful, flesh-crawling British masturbatory way. I prefer not to think about it.
Hey, listen to the band's Dire Straits impression on 'The Waking Edge', due partially to the fact that Anderson had some horrifying throat-rotting disease after Under Wraps that warped his voice into an ever-more-tuneless Mark Knopfler ribbit, plus the fact that it's BORING AS ALL HELL. If there's ever been a less exciting band than Dire Straits (and I'm not counting Knopfler's own comatose solo career), I don't want to hear about it, and I definitely don't want Jethro Tull trying to emulate it.
So, besides the Slavophilia and the D.S. fakery, Martin Barre's gotten it into his head that a few hair metal guitar lines might be a good contribution. He's wrong, but not as wrong as those synths were on Under Wraps, and the chug-a-lugging galloping of the opening 'Steel Monkey' is the only time they're truly used for the purposes of Evil, anyway. So he gets a free pass...it's not like this is 'metal' anyway. Jethro Tull is not the new Iced Earth, dig? They'd get laughed off second stage at a Quiet Riot concert.
Alright, so metallic guitar heroics and all, I enjoy 'Farm on the Freeway' and 'Mountain Man' pretty good, and 'Jump Start' comes close to sounding like Tull ought to sound all the time (it's slightly gutless production-wise) which is the first time I've actually enjoyed three Tull songs on the same album since Stormwatch. The others are still shit, yes, but let's look at the bright side for a change....at this rate of improvement, Tull could be making good albums again by only 2031!
Capn's Final Word: Igor's still gathering body parts from the wrong cemetery, but this Frankenstein at least won't bite your mother's head clean off her body and misplace all your Jane Fonda workout tapes like the last one did.
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Rock Island - Chrysalis 1989
Okay, theoretically this is not the same album as Crest of a Knave, which has been proven to me beyond a reasonable doubt by the fact that this album has a different title than that earlier album, but God knows how I can tell that just by listening to it. I'll admit right now that I can't remember a damn thing about Crest of a Toothbrush except for the fact that Martin Barre plays some ill-advised metallic sounding stuff and large parts of it sound like Dire Straits, which is just about equivalent, in my mind, to the album actually being molded out of overheated wildebeest earwax. I have not thought about or listened to that album since reviewing it, because it's awful. Most of these albums are, if you haven't gotten the drift. Oh, and there's all that sick crap about Eastern European women. Okay. Now it comes back to me. This album sucks just as much as that one, because here it sounds like Ian Anderson's given up completely, hanging the white flag off his outstretched knee, feebly tweeting 'taps' through his little whistle. This is the album where, though it does not contain the worst music ever put out under the Jethro Tull name, the band serves notice that it is no longer trying.
As for comparisons with Crest of a Knave, this is exactly the same fucking album, except with a little less emphasis on the Slav love. Tull still come across like MOR's third-stringer team, all-a-sparkle with the over-reverbed, lightly abrasive 'metallic' riffage that sounds identical to what Eric Clapton was passing off as music in 1986 and 1989, except old Crap-tone never had a singing voice like an Irish Karl Malden after lymph-node removal surgery. I'll tell ya one thing right now...though people like to harp on this as Tull's 'metal' period. It ain't heavy, brother. Cicadas make heavier rock music than this. If this is heavy, then Aretha Franklin is a bulimic Satanist Norwegian belly-dancer. Far too much (as has been the case for the last decade or more) of the mix is given over to Ian Anderson and his blabbering froth, punctuated by his ever-more-restricted flute playing. Remember Ian? He's gone, in just under twenty years, from composing anti-religious treatises to writing songs about Jeeps, but by 1989 he'd fallen off into a sort of Lame Old Man rut of writing about failed love lives which may or may not be his own. He writes about loneliness ('Rock Island'). He writes about whores ('Undressed to Kill'). He writes about former whores ('Kissing Willie'). He writes about boating ('Ears of Tin') and boating ('Heavy Water' and boating ('The Whaler's Dues'). With all this old fart grumbling, he's about one 'Sultans of Swing' away from completing the cycle of expressing all facets of middle-aged worthlessness, or one 'Sailing' away from making me really want to pee. The songs are roundly boring (surprise, surprise) heading nowhere in clean little tracks of minimal resistance, with little fill-up stops for flute/guitar interplay which has about as much synchronicity as a bag of stale French toast. No matter what volume I play it on, it seems to be coming out of my speakers at 'lukewarm'.
Capn's Final Word: Only or the cheap and the foolish. Don't confuse yourself as either one.
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Rising - Chrysalis 1992
Along with the bilge. Ian must've taken his 1989 Grammy for Best Metal/Hard Rock Performance for Rock Island, (one of the oddest and most hilariously incongruous events ever to take place at that musty awards show outside of the time Melissa Manchester pulled a live Gila monster out of the front of her undershorts in 1983), to heart, because they've once again jacked up Martin Barre's amplifiers like his name is Yngwie Jarmaluke and anyone in the audience cares that this band still plays rock music. See, because Tull is a cult band of the most stringent stripe, as long as a few certain basic gimmicks are in place (namely Ian Anderson and his meat whistle), the albums will continue to sell at their modest but reliable level for as long as the band wishes to carry on no matter what kind of three-wanks sort of effort the artist actually put into making the damn thing. This is not necessarily a damning statement - the Rolling Stones have been like this for about 15 years now, and Bob Dylan did it for at least a decade or so. Hell, 90% of country and western music is based on similar formulas...a little twang, a song about drinking tears and crying beer, some pickup trucks and you've got a million seller down at the corner Wal Mart. Let this sink in for a minute : Musicians do not always care about making good records. Though I don't know this for sure, I'm almost convinced that Jethro Tull (and by that I mean Ian Anderson) has not given a Mookie Blaylock about making good albums since the Carter administration. Bands like this operate on an intoxicating mixture of inertia and obligation, continuing to churn out albums and tours because, dammit, there's Bills to Be Paid, Boats To Be Bought, And That's What We've Always Done. It's a killer, ladies and gentle friends, though it's not always inevitable. And even more, when it hits, it's not necessarily the end of all things good for a band. The Allman Brothers came out with the fantastic Hittin' The Note after churning out thirteen years worth of crap-ass albums just as non-committal and uninteresting as this one.
The question you have to ask yourself is how much you enjoyed a band in the first place. Jethro Tull, in my opinion, had about four good years - meaning, they produced good, enjoyable music for four years. After that, they had a few fits and starts, but for the most part have not been able to reliably make decent albums since 1972. Now, they've reliably made lousy, tiresome albums since 1987, making this the third in a row which uses the same ambiguous style, so I guess they've hit a sort of stride. If you can call a paralytic shuffle a stride.
I can see I'm going nowhere with this discussion, and I can't help but blame the listless Tull music playing in the middle-ground as having influenced me to tedium and premature old-fartitude on this review. This is not a savior album. In fact, though some claim it to be an improvement, I find it to be just another flavor of rancid mayonnaise. The best song on this hackwork is the nasty dancehall/metal amalgamation 'Thinking Round Corners', simply because it's different, just like having a bowl of raw octopus tentacles in licorice sauce might be seen as an improvement over 10 years of a diet of unsweetened wheat kasha and well water. They attempt different on 'Still Loving You Tonight' in the form of some half-assed blues cliches, but even this is too awful for me to bear. Otherwise, I guess there's more acoustic guitar to go along with the larger amount of inappropriate electric guitar, but that's probably just a function of it having 13 songs spread out over 60 minutes rather than some grand design.
This album ain't no fun whatsoever. Hearing, once again, about Ian Anderson's imagined and real sexual conquests as a bona-fide senior citizen is nauseating, almost as unconscionable as the self-loathing that surfaces from time to time. Most of all, the amount of Tull fatigue, where everything becomes one molten lump of electric mandolins and Anderflutes to my tired, perforated eardrums, comes early and often with this record, and continues on for far, far too long. This is a terrible thing to do to people.
Capn's Final Word: The miracle return up to mediocrity is delayed another half-decade, during which Ian Anderson will in fact get older and even more obsessed with telling everyone about every last teenager he wishes he'd fucked.
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Branches - Chrysalis 1995
Not a compilation album. In fact, more like an actual Jethro Tull album than we've heard in years, including an honest-to-whoremonger progressive rock feel on at least a few of the tracks, most notably the opening 'Wounded, Old, and Treacherous'. Now, don't get me wrong...Ian and Martin have taken their fair share of jerky-butt solos in the last 15 years, but they never really dedicated entire 7 minute songs to the stuff like they did in the old days when people gave a shit. So, you know, there's something different about Roots and Branches over its three immediate predecessors right there. Though people still don't give a shit (it's gonna take a meteor strike from God to change that), they're back to indulging themselves musically again, meaning that instead of Ian singing too much, he's playing too much. To me, this is of considerable improvement over the last several records, but you gotta remember that when you're six feet deep in the horse manure, a 50% improvement still stinks something mighty fucking awful. This album aspires to be Minstrel in the Gallery, not Thick as a Brick, mind you.
If you're asking whether all this instrumental orgy-pit-love is a good thing or not, skip right on past this album. Go buy something by Millions of Dead Cops or Anal Cunt or the Pussycat Girls. You obviously are not fit to endure the four 6-plus minute extravaganzas featured here, along with the three five-minute 'teaser' tunes and four three-plus minute 'snippets'. Yes, (and by Yes, I mean Yes) Jethro Tull have gotten deep 'n' sleazy into the spirit of mid-90's nostalgia, when people began to Do It Like The Old Days when life was simpler and people had nothing better to do than take bong hits, listen to tricky time signatures, and design articles of clothing out of highly flammable materials. Jethro Tull was, like, a world champion of the Long Ass form. They refrain from turning Roots into a remake of Passion Play with its 40-minute title track, sure, but they still somehow resurrect that old prog feeling you get from deep down in your stomach when you go to take a huge dump, pop a bag of popcorn, check the mail, feed the cat, and sit down to troll for porn and realize the same solo on the same song is still playing.
Me? I prefer Roots to the tiresome and horribly misshapen Catfish and Island, for the sole reason that I don't have to pay much attention to what Ian Anderson is saying all the time. Musically it's just as much of a dead end for me in 1995 as it was in 1975, as the band is still unable to sustain a musical idea for more than a few seconds at a time, solos build to nothing, and I never can figure out what all the mad-hatter flailing is all about in the first place. One of my major problems with the most modern of Tull eras is that the songs all feel like cookie cutter pieces of grumpy cynicism, based either on their business, their overuse of minor chords and 'creepy' Eastern modes, or just Anderson's grizzled blather. There's never a crescendo, never a cumshot...the tension is built but it's never released. Musically, 'Rare and Precious Chain' must be what it feels like to be old and convinced of your own underappreciated importance - it's neither angry or loud enough to be truly provocative, and it's not artful enough to express itself. When you're 55 minutes through the record, it's difficult not to feel that every song plays on this pretentious gruffness, and it gets annoying as fuck. I either want to buy Ian an ice cream or punch him in the throat.
Still, it's at least interesting to hear the old jerky rhythms and flute-guitar interplay again, even if the drummer this time out would probably get kicked out of AC/DC for being too predictable. I still have less than zero interest in this band and am only listening to this stuff out of a feeling of obligation to the Rock Gods to serve as a warning to you, precious readers. But Roots to Branches is as painless as it's been for quite some time...if you can rank 'belt sander Brazil wax' as painless.
Capn's Final Word: Playing more means shutting up more, and I'm all for that. For a time.
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Com - Varese 1999
Legitimately okay! Shockingly mediocre! Scandalously ordinary! Something must've gotten into the water between 1997 and 1998, because Jethro Tull, much like their fellow fossil fuels the Allman Brothers and Deep Purple, have suddenly and quite unexpectedly made their last outing a decent album that doesn't make the neighborhood dogs howl, the enamel peel off your teeth, and your testicles crawl up inside your body cavity. Sure, they haven't clawed their way up to the truly miraculous A-level quality of either Bananas or Hittin' the Note, but things have definitely taken a turn towards Entertaining Street on Not Nauseating Avenue after toodling down Unanaethetized Dentistry Way for twenty years. Oh, lawrdy! Flute parts that sound planned out and emotionally involved, guitar riffage that, despite a somewhat dated 'shred' feel, actually rock from time to time, and songs that unfold naturally rather than being bludgeoned into submission like so many dolphins on a tuna ship. A Tull album which I feel like mentioning the coolness of individual songs, no to mention can tell individual songs apart from one another! Boner! Denise Richard's Milky Boobs! Cold Schlitz and a Kansas City Chiefs game! So what if there's two songs referring to 'Draining the Bath Tub' while chatting on the Internet, if you cheese me likewise, and I think you do...typing one-handed is what Ian Anderson's been reduced to, and if you don't like it, well, you don't have to spend so much money on his shamelessly plugged website (www.stickingfluteswheretheydontbelong.com, in case you forgot the album's title), now do you? Anderson's got at least three dozen other people sick enough to buy his albums to make up for you, you heathen.
So yeah, Ian's gone from writing songs about drooling over Czech girl asses to writing about burping the Tupperware while chatting with Jethro Tull fans ('dot com') and reciting jive half-rap beat poetry over what sounds like Phish tuning their instruments ('Hot Mango Flush' and it's even worse reprise 'Mango Surprise', which, considering this band's propensity to do something terrible far more times than it needs to be done, is no surprise at all). He's also writing songs as genuinely atmospheric as 'Bends Like a Willow' and as heaving as 'Spiral', which sound as close to what Tull '99 should sound like, forgetting all of the sad and shameful detours this band's taken since Stormwatch. In fact, if anything, this album feels like an update of that '79 arctic blast, a tad bombastic, a few muddy patches to get good and bogged down in, but in general not very much to feel offended by.
Still, only the most staunch Tull fans should get within spitting distance of Dot Com, (and that's the only people who probably will), because it's really only good for a Tull record, and that's benefiting from some pretty stark contrast with the shit-butt recent work. Anderson's voice is still gicky and weak, and I really don't know where Barre gets off thinking all these 1991-certified pinch-harmonics he's fiddling with are anything but laughable, but you gotta give 'em credit...they dusted the dog dung off their pants and did their fans right for once.
Capn's Final Word: Far better blatherings than we've heard in a long time. You might even catch glimpse of a melody if you sneak up real quiet like.
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