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"He's not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays"

Class C

Main Category: Prog Rock
Also applicable: Art Rock, Folk Rock, Celtic/Medieval, Hard Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day







Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Jethro Tull fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Jethro Tull fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Jethro Tull were once an amazingly good British band that used to suffer from just one single terrible problem - overproductivity. On one hand, their main driving force - Ian Anderson (vocals, flute, harmonica, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, occasional everything) - was extremely talented (close to being a genius, but not a God - hear that ye rabid fans?), prolific, professional musician and composer, absolutely unique in his total fusion of classics, folk, jazz, blues, rock and pop. His songwriting, playing and performing abilities really astonish me. He has created an original image - that of the mad one-legged flute-playing long-bearded satyr - which you may like or you may despise, but you cannot deny the talent, man! You cannot deny the talent!

On the other hand, he was also stubborn, despotic and hateful (at least, towards most of us humans), and his desperate need to release at least one album per year led to the appearance of tons of crap which everybody said was crap, but he thought everybody said it was crap because everybody hated him so much that everybody wanted to say all of his stuff was crap even when it wasn't, so he just kept pouring out more crap, occasionally alternating it with a couple of great tunes. If he'd only wait patiently for these great tunes, hell...! Maybe everything we'd be hearing on the radio right now wouldn't be Led Zep. Then again, who can guess?

All right, let's get serious. As much as I despise hardcore Tull fans - my experience has led me to the sad conviction that Jethro Tull tends to attract the kind of people that were rabid Hitler lovers in their previous incarnation - I have to admit one thing: Jethro Tull are really like no-one else. I can't even really lump the band together with the general prog movement of the early Seventies, because in the early Seventies Jethro Tull weren't really prog; they played a special type of 'folk meets blues and crosses it with medieval stylistics' music which was particularly convenient for everybody because their songs were (a) melodic and catchy, (b) 'intelligent' and (c) relatively understandable and unpretentious. In this way, they managed to hit the big time and I mean REAL big, dragging albums with complex multi-part suites onto the top of the charts and gaining immense critical and commercial success. The fact that both Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play, the band's most complicated opera, had both hit # 1 on the US charts, is probably one of the brightest events in the whole art-rock history.

Things went downhill, however, as Ian Anderson started getting 'seriouser' and began to neglect both point (a), going away from catchiness into the world of complicated boredom, and point (c), inflating his lyrics until they ceased meaning anything and inflating the songs until they sounded positively universalistic and became absolute put-ons. This all culminated in a lengthy string of 1973-1979 albums that are incredibly patchy; I often call them 'one song albums' because most of them revert around (usually) one solid composition that provided the album's main single and, quite often, its very title ('Minstrel In The Gallery', 'Songs From The Wood', 'Heavy Horses', etc.). Of course, hardcore fans usually claim that this was Tull's best period, but you know these hardcore fans - judging an album by its level of complexity is ridiculous. The main problem, like I already said, is that Ian was just over-over-overproductive; while the other prog bands around him were either disbanding or extremely slow on the move, he was able to sustain the formula 'one album per year' all through the decade!

As a result, the band had lost pretty much all of the respect and credit it had gained in the late Sixties/early Seventies. The cirtics now hated Ian, and Ian likewise hated the critics - his petty anger led to him lambasting the poor Pen Workers on pretty much every record he made since Warchild, in some way or other (thanks God he doesn't know about the existence of this site!!). The sales gradually declined, too, and the number of fans gradually decreased. Since the Eighties, most Tull albums are always drifting steadily around the 100-150th position on the charts, and the Tull audience has been stabilized, being limited to 'rabid fans' and a bunch of old nostalgiacs who still frown at the band's newer efforts but are always ready to buy a ticket to go see the old Satyr churn out a 'Locomotive Breath' or a 'New Day Yesterday'. As for the 'newer efforts' themselves, it only got worse - anybody who's not a rabid fan of the band's Seventies catalog should steer clear of their later products. The first half of the Eighties passed under the sign of Electronica - where Ian had some relative successes with surprise albums like Broadsword And The Beast but also complete failures like Under Wraps - and since then the band had degenerated into a third-rate heavy metal outfit with next to no creative skills and nothing but nostalgia to back them up.

Although, truthfully, their latest release is surprisingly good. Unless I was just too tired of endlessly bashing late period Tull albums, of course.

OK, the lineup now. It's very hard to get a good line-up going here, 'cos Ian kept hiring and firing people at his own will, until this became just some sorta maniac thing in the eighties. Just wait and see: the original lineup (1968): besides Ian, there were Mick Abrahams (guitar; quit right after the first album because he wanted to write songs and Ian didn't want him to), Glenn Cornick (base) and Clive Bunker (drums; best drummer they ever had, actually). In 1969 Abrahams replaced by Martin Lancelot Barre (guitar). This fellow is the only one who had the chance to last till now, and deservedly so. He may be one of the finest playing guitarists on earth, and also just an overall nice guy. His guitar forms the perfect counterpoint to Ian's flute.

In 1970 John Evan (keyboards) was recruited for the Benefit sessions, and officially joined the group next year. A fantastic keyboard player: his Bach-like piano was a wonderful acquisition for the band. In 1971 Cornick quit, replaced on base by Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond - the "ultimate" base player, in my opinion, sometimes sounds better than John Entwistle! So the line-up of 1971 was the most professional one - maybe that's why Aqualung sounds so great.

In 1972 Bunker quit, replaced on drums by Barriemore Barlow. This line-up was the longest, still, it lasted only till 1975. Hammond-Hammond quit and was replaced by David Glascock. In 1976 one more member was added - David Palmer (keyboards, all kind of strings, saxophone, etc.). In 1979 disaster struck - Glascock died of an infection, there were other problems, and the band dissolved.

In 1980 Ian got Martin Barre back (smart guy!), grabbed session players Eddie Jobson (keyboards, strings) and Mark Craney (drums) and recruited Dave Pegg on base. The session players stayed for just one album and in 1982 were replaced by Gerry Conway (drums) and Peter John Vettese (keyboards; interesting fella but no John Evan, and he is also responsible for the electronic rubbish on the 80-s albums). Conway was replaced by Doane Perry in 1984. Peter Vettese was dropped soon afterwards, and after that I lost count. Let's see: altogether that comes to... hmmm... eleven line-ups, and there were still more after 1984! OK, cut that out. All you need to remember is that Ian guy, of course, and Martin Barre, and maybe John Evan - after all, he did play like god in the seventies. To the albums, now.



Year Of Release: 1968

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

An innovative blues album with some great flutework.

Best song: BEGGAR'S FARM

Track listing: 1) My Sunday Feeling; 2) Some Day The Sun Won't Shine For You; 3) Beggar's Farm; 4) Move On Alone; 5) Serenade To A Cuckoo; 6) Dharma For One; 7) It's Breaking Me Up; 8) Cat's Squirrel; 9) A Song For Jeffrey; 10) Round.

In the beginning Jethro Tull were just a normal blues band, primarily because prog rock still didn't exist in 1968 - they had yet to invent it (well, actually, it was already in the process of being invented by the Nice, but it was still kinda underground). Well, maybe normal isn't quite the necessary word here. The main distinctive feature of their music from the beginning was Ian Anderson's flute and his masterful and totally original way of using it. Indeed - try to substitute the flute sounds on this album with anything else and you won't be able to distinguish it from a couple dozen professional blues/psycho acts of the time. This applies to some of the lesser tracks on their humble debut: the instrumental 'Cat's Squirrel', for instance, which achieves nothing during its five or more minutes, except boring me to death. Okay, guitarist Mick Abrahams is a talent, there's no denying it, but I'm not looking for talent - I'm looking for genius, and I don't see much genius in this guy, just as well as try as I might, I just can't reveal the hidden charm of this stupid instrumental (Cream covered it on their debut, too! Go figure!) That riff is catchy, but way too repetitive and primitive, and the way the song picks up speed and then dissolves itself several times on its way hurts me deep down inside.

And 'Dharma For One'? It's just a stupid drum solo! Why did ninety percent of the drummers of the era think it was their moral duty to record a drum solo? Yeah, Clive Bunker is an excellent drummer, but only when he's serving as backing musician. Leave the solo stuff to Ginger Baker, please.

To be entirely honest, there are some songs on here which do not go too far even with the help of Ian's instrument. The opening generic blues 'My Sunday Feeling' is quite fine, but the main thing which makes it memorable is its weird 'stuttering', broken rhythm and not the flute. This speaks in favour of the band - they were trying to do something creative to the blues formula from the very beginning - but 'stuttering' is not really sufficient to make a masterpiece out of an ordinary blues tune. It would take one more album to demonstrate the real wonders Tull could work with the blues.

Not so, however, with the absolutely incredible workout on 'Beggar's Farm': the flute totally makes this song, from the raving riff in the intro to the furious solo and to the splendid ending (by the way, early Tull codas are yet another of their trademarks - in the early years, Ian took special care not to let the song just pull to a stop in one-two seconds), not to mention the thoughtful lyrics, typically illustrating Ian's untraditional approach to 'lost love' thematics: 'Oh, you don't fool me/Cos I know what you feel/When you go out I ask you why/And I won't worry when I see you lying down on Beggar's Farm...'

And, of course, nobody should ever forget the cover of Roland Kirk's 'Serenade To A Cuckoo': it would be very convenient to say that it paves the road to the superior 'Bouree' (actually, I already said that elsewhere), but it is just as well a terrific piece of music in its own right. For once, Mick Abrahams contributes a decent jazz guitar solo, and at six minutes' length it's still way too short for me. He was a good guy. Pity he left right after this album. Must have been too freedom-loving. Well, he just had to 'Move On Alone' (his finest composition on the album, if I might make such an ambivalent remark). As for Ian, he is as of yet very careful and somewhat shy about his flute playing, but he's already able of putting out some superb and subtle dynamics by means of the instrument.

What about the easy-to-chew pop hits now? Sorry, generally that's not to be expected from a Tull album, but the closest thing to a pop hit here is the funny harmonica-driven 'Song For Jeffrey' with Ian apparently singing through some kind of gadget so that the vocals are hardly decipherable. (To decode them, use the live version on the Stones' 'Rock And Roll Circus'). For some, this is a major highlight, and it's indeed one of the catchiest ditties the band ever did: the interplay between the bloozy guitar and the poppy harmonica is amazing and promptly digs itself into your memory.

So just concentrate on more blues stuff, and don't you worry about its overabundance - they did it good, and they wouldn't be doing it at all in just a couple of years. Catch it while it's young, especially since they try to do lots of cool things to vary things a bit - unlike, say, contemporary Fleetwood Mac! 'It's Breaking Me Up' is so 'clumsied' up you won't even realize it's blues until you've heard it all way through! And 'Someday The Sun Won't Shine For You' is just a cozy, warm song, despite the menacing lyrics. 'In the morning I'll be leaving/I'll leave your mother too'. Well, well, well...

'This was' how we played then', said Ian. This was good. At any rate, this was a great deal better than this is; and this also was a great stepping stone for the band to create some sort of reputation in among the critical circles - hell, some reviews maintained that Jethro Tull were going to be the next Cream. Of course, that never happened (the critics were dead wrong, as usual), but for the moment it created favourable work conditions for Tull. Inflated Ian's pomp, too, though.



Year Of Release: 1969

Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

The hardest, roughest, sincerest and clearest they ever got. And no prog-rock yet!

Best song: BOUREE

Track listing: 1) A New Day Yesterday; 2) Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square; 3) Bouree; 4) Back To The Family; 5) Look Into The Sun; 6) Nothing Is Easy; 7) Fat Man; 8) We Used To Know; 9) Reasons For Waiting; 10) For A Thousand Mothers.

As I said, Abrahams quit right after cutting This Was and was replaced by... Martin Barre? Nope, by TONY IOMMI; and that's not a stupid joke. Tony even played a couple of gigs with them, you can even see him on the Stones' Rock And Roll Circus. Imagine what could happen if he'd decide to stay! Jethro Tull embracing heavy metal and Satanism? At least, there would be no Black Sabbath, that's for sure... (Mind you, I'm nor saying that would be a good possibility. I'm trying to be careful in order not to offend any Black Sabbath fan. I just have a bone against evil music, that's all...)

However, history can't be re-written, so we have to digest the fact that Tony didn't really get along with Ian. So Martin Barre came along - forgetting his amplifiers and spilling coffee on his guitars. He also played them - and did it much better than Mick Abrahams and maybe even better than Tony Iommi; at least, in the early days he had some incredible guitar tones, a good knack for mighty riffage and a heavy fuzzy lead attack that could have easily rivalled Jimmy Page's and sometimes even beat it. Before he switched over to generic crappy metal in the late Eighties, that is.

Meanwhile, Ian got some more flute practice, wrote some more songs and finally decided they just had to develop a style - it was 1969, by gum, and if you didn't have a style back then, you pretty much sucked. Those were the days, eh? To that end, there's just one blues number on the entire record, and even so it is an absolute Tull classic. And why? Because of the great 'double-descending' riff which you don't hear that much on a generic blues number. Of course, I'm speaking of 'A New Day Yesterday' - what else could I possibly be speaking about? And you just don't know how I love an original and memorable guitar riff every now and then - helps me more than aspirin. The leap from 'My Sunday Feeling', the 'blues groove' that opens This Was, to 'A New Day Yesterday', the 'blues groove' that opens Stand Up, is indeed astonishing: the band now sounds like a rip-roarin' blues tank, with a skillful mastery of overdubs, a steady twin-guitar-flute attack and Clive Bunker's perfected drumming style.

And the other numbers? Hard to believe it, but they're all absolute rippers. For starters, there's a couple of resplendent ballads in a glossy pop style which Ian has never been able to reproduce again: even though 'Look Into The Sun' and 'Reasons For Waiting' sound rather alike, they are just beautiful oh so beautiful, with some strings popping out now and then in the right moments and Barre's acoustic guitar shining through, with subtle shift of dynamics (watch, for instance, the solemn and tender verses of 'Reasons' seamlessly flow into the ominous, strangely menacing flute refrain, then just as seamlessly flow back into the main guitar melody - that's what perfection is). And the album's main highlight is Anderson's flute arrangement on Bach's 'Bouree', one of the most stunning rock-classic fusions ever. The flute, bass and guitar mingle together to incredible effect on here; the song is thus like an 'elder brother' to 'Serenade For A Cuckoo', but it's a trillion times more effective, catchy and beautiful.

Taken on the album scale, however, it's the hard numbers that really make this record. People might rave on about Aqualung, but it's Stand Up which is doubtlessly their most hard-rockin' album before the infamous metal period in the late '80-s, and they really could play 'hard rock' (as opposed to 'heavy metal') better than almost any of their contemporaries - better than Beck, better than Led Zep! In order to be convinced, just take a listen to the gargantuan coda on 'Nothing Is Easy', with that bitchin' aggressive interplay between Barre's guitar and Ian's flute (another trademark, that one), and to the accelerating drum pattern in the end (the one that goes 'bang - bangbang - bangbangbang - bangbangbangbang', and the 'stone-rolling-down-a-hill' conclusion). Nobody made music that rocked so bleedin' hard in mid-1969! 'Back To The Family' is another fearless rocker with Ian spitting out satirical lines about how he's being neglected in the forkin' suckin' society before the final frantic battlecharge of all the instruments; 'We Used To Know', whose eerie melodical connection with 'Hotel California' has often raised many weird hypotheses, features breath-taking, cathartic wah-wah solos; and 'For A Thousand Mothers' closes the album on another hard note, even though I don't like it quite as much as the other numbers, maybe because of the fact that Ian's vocals are unexpectedly buried down deep in the general chaos.

And finally, I nearly forgot to mention the Indian-flavoured 'Fat Man' with Ian complaining about his gaining weight. It is certainly to be considered the 'groove' of the record: some jolly sitar-imitating lines contribute to the funny atmosphere, while the lines 'Don't want to be a fat man/People would think I'm just good fun/Would rather be a thin man/I'm so glad to go on being one/Too much to carry around with you/No chance of finding a woman who/Will love you in the morning and the nighttime, too' are probably among Ian's best lines of all time. I'll admit right here and now that I do not consider him a great poet (all the prog-rockers liked to think of themselves as tremendous lyricists when in reality they were just overbloated humbugs), but for the time being he was no prog-rocker 'cos prog-rock didn't exist as yet which meant he actually had to take pains to think over his lyrics instead of committing to paper all the nonsense that came into his head.

In fact, this is certainly the best advantage of this album, and the reason I prefer it to Aqualung: this is no prog rock, just a great collection of rock'n'roll songs. Buy it now, if you haven't heard it you've no idea of how great they once were. Hell, Melody Maker nominated them second best of 1969, right after the Beatles but even before the Rolling Stones. I wouldn't go as far, but it's definitely a fabulous album all the same, and certainly the best 'hard-rock' record of the year, if not all time. Prog-rock? Forget it!



Year Of Release: 1970

Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

A rather boring, preachy and over-laden product; much too gloomy for such an early stage, too. Still, it's been worse.


Track listing: 1) With You There To Help Me; 2) Nothing To Say; 3) Alive And Well And Living In; 4) Son; 5) For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me; 6) To Cry You A Song; 7) A Time For Everything; 8) Inside; 9) Play In Time; 10) Sossity You're A Woman.

This one was originally an incredible disappointment for me; and while time has slowly improved my feelings, I still feel that Benefit is an anomaly in the normal course of the development of Tull, as it ruptures the perfectly smooth flow of Stand Up into Aqualung. Prog-rock fans usually praise it as the first truly 'serious' album for the band, but they're welcome - I could care less about the standard proggers' ideology ('the more boring it is for the average listener, the more important it is for us the Witty Elitists'). What I actually do see is that Benefit is significantly less sharp and uncompromised than the last album; it's quite dull in many places; it's preachy - Ian's lyrics have finally gone completely 'universalist' and far too ambitious to match the actual music; and it's so full of various gadgets and gimmicks a la early Pink Floyd that some tracks are rendered totally unlistenable, like the miserable 'Play In Time'. If only that song had been conceived a year earlier, it could have been turned into a powerful rockin' machine cause it's essentially based on a really solid riff - but no, the word of the day is 'experiment' and the silly band members prefer to rely on synths and ruin an otherwise perfectly good song. Stupid little guys. The murky synth noises and 'chewn tape effects' on that track make me want to vomit (not surprisingly - quite a few of them do resemble the sound of a guy vomiting, come to think of it).

Seriously, now, I do seem surprised that Benefit is really closer in sound to their late '70-s excesses than to whatever came directly before and after it. The pace of the album is mighty slow, at times lethargic, the energy is seriously toned down (and all that after you've been thunderstruck by wonders like 'Nothing Is Easy' or 'For A Thousand Mothers'), and - this might sound blasphemous, but I stand on it - the songs are actually less complex than the ones on Stand Up: far too often, I get dragged down by the unbearable monotonousness of tracks that prefer to unfurl a single weak musical idea over five or six minutes; the addition of John Evan's keyboards doesn't help that much either (he wasn't an official member of the band yet, by the way). Not to mention that the standard conception of a 'hook', which Ian still seemed to respect on Stand Up, has vanished into thin air: quiet folkish anthems like 'Alive And Well And Living In' or 'For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me' do alternate more or less 'silent' and more or less 'explosive' moments, but the chord changes are practically unobservable: this is pure atmosphere, and I did have my fair share of that on the Pink Floyd ballads already.

Likewise, I insist that 'Sossity You're A Woman' is pure atmosphere as well. After the beautiful, wonderfully constructed melodies of the Stand Up ballads, all Ian is able to come up with is this? A bland folkish acoustic shuffle, backed with some moody organ, and that's all? Oh, this is not the worst ballad Ian would ever come up with, but I can't help comparing it with what came before, and as an album closer it tends to always disappoint me. And I feel more or less the same about 'A Time For Everything', a song that recycles the same simplistic musical phrase over and over again (although it does contain an interesting flute/guitar riff that would later be recycled to better effect on 'My God').

You probably already got what I'm hinting at. Benefit is a sadly predictable beginning of what mars Jethro Tull's existence the most - formulaicness. Stand Up was a unique record in that it never had a stable formula, unless the flute counts: the band was dabbling in lots of styles, from blues to Indian music, and was never truly predictable in the bad sense of the word. Benefit, while not a bad record by itself, sows the seeds that would later turn out to be poisonous weeds rather than useful cereals. The formula is here: uninventive, monotonous, repetitive mid-tempo melodies, pretentious universalistic sneering lyrics, an obligatory flute that belongs everywhere even if it doesn't, and a song length that's always a couple minutes bigger than it should be, if not more. Kinda reminds me of Minstrel In The Gallery, even if that would be five years later.

But on to the good news. After all, it was 1970, and it would be a huge surprise if this record did not contain at least a few brilliant songs, sandwiched as it was between two of Tull's best albums. Some of the numbers actually pull off the atmospherics pretty well, especially the two openers. 'With You There To Help Me' is a mind-boggling psychedelic experience, a dark, gloomy, depressing Anthem of the Optimistic Pessimist, climaxing in a 'psycho jam' replete with echoey 'flapping' synth passages, wild laughter and not any less wild guitar solos; it is actually the most energetic number on the whole record, and a memorable one at that. 'Nothing To Say', on the other hand, is quite boring, but it's also quite adequate - the atmosphere of the song is to make one feel completely lost in an inescapable depression, and as Anderson intones 'oh I couldn't bear it so I got nothing to sa-a-a-a-a-y', he almost manages to convince you that he's pretty pissed off at this universe of ours, enough to turn everything he sees into dirt and dung.

A couple of songs are quite riff-heavy - besides 'Nothing To Say' which does feature an interesting riff, there's also 'Son', a one-time favourite of mine with Barre's best guitar parts on the album and some particularly interesting lyrics dedicated to relations between generations. For some reason, fans usually dislike that song, and I can't figure out why - I adore the guitar, and I find it perfectly memorable, if not quite Stand Up quality. And, of course, 'To Cry You A Song' has the most intricate and classy riff on the record; funny, hearing that song always brings Blind Faith's 'Had To Cry Today' on my mind - and not just because of the title, but because it's based on a very similar riff, and the way that riff is constantly buried deep inside the song, steadily making its way into your subconscious, also coincides for both songs. Coincidence? Hardly, seeing as Anderson was quite familiar with Blind Faith members and Tull's style often got compared to that of both Cream and Traffic. Of course, I'm not really blaming Ian, but I just like hitting small details like these...

Finally, 'Inside' is a very good ballad, and perhaps the only worthy 'soft' contender to make it onto Stand Up out of everything on here - the heavenly flute sound is very similar to the style used on 'Reasons For Waiting'.

In all, the amount of good material on Benefit is still enough to make the record worth acquiring, and apart from the synth noises on 'Play In Time', there's nothing particular offensive about the remaining songs. It's not a crime, though, if you prefer to skip it - like I said, I just don't feel the record really fits in in between the two other ones that surround it chronologically.

Special note: there are actually several Benefits floating around, of which I seem to have the original British version. The American one seemed to have cut out 'For Michael Collins' and replaced it with the single 'Teacher'. A very wise move, considering that the former is one of the worst efforts on here and that 'Teacher' is a terrific single, quite in the Stand Up vein... be sure to take a look at the (unfortunately very brief) snatch of it on the 20 Years video...



Year Of Release: 1993

Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

While some of the performances here are kinda sloppy, Ian more than makes up for it.

Best song: TO CRY YOU A SONG

Track listing: 1) Nothing Is Easy; 2) My God; 3) With You There To Help Me; 4) A Song For Jeffrey; 5) To Cry You A Song; 6) Sossity You're A Woman; 7) Reasons For Waiting; 8) We Used To Know; 9) Guitar Solo; 10) For A Thousand Mothers.

This isn't really an independent officially released record, but lemme explain. It was originally constituting Disc 2 of the 25th Anniversary Boxset, released, well, on their 25th anniversary and including quite a few previously unheard live cuts. Arguably, Carnegie Hall is the most interesting part of the boxset as it's the only solid block of performed numbers that dates back to such an early period - since then, we've had Bursting Out and Little Light Music and quite a bit of other stuff, but you know how it goes: the earlier it gets, the more interesting it becomes. So, right now, the album has been released in Russia separately from the other discs, and a good move it was, as I would never shell out my hard-earned pay for a 4CD boxset (and one of these CDs consists entirely of well-known material available on regular studio releases, too). Therefore, it's pretty much impossible to find this anywhere else in the world, and I guess I should just stop my review here and say good-bye to you all.

On the other hand, if you happen to have some spare gold bullion which you're not intent on investing into a packet of Microsoft shares, you might as well grab this little boxset, too, and I'll do my best to seduce you. Because this concert recording is really very nice. You might remember something about it, too, if you own Living In The Past, one side of which consists entirely of two numbers culled from the show; see the Living In The Past review below to find out why both of them suck. Quite unlike the rest of the concert, which is presented to you here in its (near) entirety.

There are no obscure or unknown songs on here: the band trustily plays its cards by drawing on material from Stand Up and Benefit; the two major exceptions are 'A Song For Jeffrey', the only short-time stage favourite from the debut album, and a 'pre-release' version of 'My God' which would surface on Aqualung in just a few months after the show. And I wouldn't want to lie and say that everything works. One thing that's great is the sound quality: you can hear basically everything, or concentrate on any particular instrument you'd wish to, or just groove along to Ian's heavy panting. But sound quality isn't everything; I have a feeling that Martin Barre was in some kind of depression that night. Not that his playing is bad, but every time they start a heavily guitar-based song, he manages to mess it up somehow and make the song incomparable to the studio version. 'Nothing Is Easy', 'My God' and 'We Used To Know' are three songs that require maximum precision, clearness and energy when you play the guitar on them; Martin fails to deliver the goods. The sound seems much too sloppy for my ears, and Barre is no Pete Townshend to allow himself to play sloppily: when he misses a note or gets the wrong tone for his instrument, the effect is murky and cacophonous. Now don't you worry, all three tunes are still very much enjoyable, but it pains me to see the powerful ending of 'Nothing Is Easy' reduced to a distorted, ear-hurting mess simply due to the fact that Martin wouldn't want (or wasn't able?) to play as precisely and fluently as in the studio on that particular night. I also miss the cathartic wah-wah effects on the unexpectedly shortened version of 'We Used To Know'; and after that Barre goes into a seven-minute solo that has its moments (watch out for that great vibrato in the middle), but for the most part is deadly dull. I mean, it's not enough to play these vicious notes, you also have to structure them somehow. And Martin truly didn't care much about structuring them that evening.

Now the biggest surprise for me is that somewhere in the middle of the show Ian turns to his trusty guitarist and says something like: 'Martin, it's your night tonight, Martin'. Because by all means, that night belonged completely to Mr Anderson - the worse his sidekick got, the better Ian looked himself. His vocals are as great as ever - powerful, sneering and gentle at turns - but it's not the vocals, rather the awesome flute playing, that really strikes you on here. The record is an absolute must for all those who respect Ian's handling of the instrument. This is particularly evident on the schizophrenic flute solos in 'My God': the song probably wasn't yet ripe enough to include the funny Russian chorus section, so instead of this you get three or four minutes of Mr Loony Fawn doing his flute racket thing, and man, that's really mind-blowing. He alternates regular 'classical' passages with something which could only be described 'fits of madness', growling, grumbling, roaring, bellowing and even... sneezing along with the flute sounds he makes. Woo-hoo. Don't play this too loud, or you'll end up in an asylum.

Also, the rest of the band holds up together exceedingly well. Clive Bunker amply demonstrates why he was the best drummer Jethro Tull ever had (actually, Barrie Barlow has a more impressive technique, but Clive is tons more energetic), Glenn Cornick contributes his usual jazzy bass lines, and John Evan, by that time already a formal member of the band, adorns even the older numbers with clever organ and piano parts. And, contrary to what you'd expect, they don't extend the numbers for too long: I couldn't complain about the length of anything on here, except for that fishy Barre solo.

Finally, one last praise is that this album somewhat reinstates my faith in Benefit: even 'Sossity You're A Woman' sounds improved on here, with Ian taking on a far more energetic approach, and the short, unadorned version of 'With You There To Help Me' liberates you from the necessity of enduring the final jam of the studio take. And Barre regains enough of his senses to at least play the great riff of 'To Cry You A Song' flawlessly - so far, it's my favourite performance on here.

All in all, the night was not perfect enough to make this album the best live record of Tull; Bursting Out still gets a higher rating. But keep in mind that these are the only live versions of 'My God' and 'Nothing Is Easy' you'll ever be a-findin', and maybe you'll give it a chance.



Year Of Release: 1971

Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

A must for every prog lover. But I bet you all know it already.


Track listing: 1) Aqualung; 2) Cross-Eyed Mary; 3) Cheap Day Return; 4) Mother Goose; 5) Wond'ring Aloud; 6) Up To Me; 7) My God; 8) Hymn 43; 9) Slipstream; 10) Locomotive Breath; 11) Wind Up.

American audiences needn't be introduced to this album - as far as I know, lots of its songs are constantly recycled on the radio, and overall, if Jethro Tull are to be associated with anything by anybody, it's probably the menacing heavy riff which opens the title track. The biggest ever commercial whopper for Tull, it is that good indeed - even though the same American audiences were slow on the move to really appreciate Stand Up. Anyway, for aspeaking out loud, it's tons better than Benefit, and a true all-time classic. I may easily say that there's not a single bad song on the album - for the very last time in the entire Tull career (barring the one song albums, of course, one of which is all good and the other... ahem... well, read on, oh gentle listener).

Maybe it has something to do with a radical change in line-up - this is where both John Evan and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond stand up to the blackboard (well, Evan did play some keybs on Benefit, but that doesn't count - he wasn't even a legitimate band member). Maybe Anderson was desperately looking for FM radio hits. Maybe he just had a good day. I don't know. What I know is that this is the last Tull record which is listenable at first listen and memorable at first memory (forgive me my silly analogies). Actually, it is something of a bridge between the lovely early blues-psycho days and the later murky overblown pompous fantasy days. This is the first of Anderson's multiple concept albums, but the concept is still rather just a basis for the songs than vice versa. The plot is as follows: Man created God and God created Aqualungs. Or was it the opposite? Oh, never mind. It's all written in a parody on John's Gospel placed on the album cover. In other words, it's a stupid, self-indulgent concept that bashes organized religion and sometimes borders on bashing the very essence of religion - especially on tracks like 'My God', although Anderson always takes care so as not to cross the thin borderline completely. That's not to say that the lyrics are bad: the underlying ideas and principles are very simple, but this is Anderson at his most poetic and involving, and his imagery has never been stronger, considering that on here he's still able to uphold the balance between form and content - since Thick As A Brick and particularly later on, his lyrics would go off the deep end completely.

Let us not forget the immaculate melodies, though. The radio classics include the multi-part title track, highlighted by the above-mentioned cool riff, very expressive singing that ranges from a special Anderson-style 'vomit-inducing sneer' to passionate and heartfelt, and a mad, ecstatic, rise-to-a-shattering-climax guitar solo courtesy of Martin Barre; 'Cross-Eyed Mary' with its gorgeous crescendo in the flute-dominated introduction and Anderson's bitter condemnation of the middle class society; and especially my favourite - the bad luck anthem 'Locomotive Breath'. Have you ever heard a riff imitating the slow progress of a train? Then you haven't heard 'Locomotive Breath', a song perfect from the first notes of the John Evan Bach-imitating piano introduction to the majestic fade out with Ian singing that 'there's no way to slow down'. If it ain't my favourite song by Jethro Tull, that's just because it isn't on my turntable at the present moment. Yes, I admit it's rather naive for a person who's gone through the entire Tull catalog to announce that his favourite song by the band is the one radio standard that's most popular among the beer-drinkin' crowds, but what can I do if the song's pure and clear genius? Forgive me, lovers of Tull. At least I don't abuse beer.

But even if you don't hear the other tracks on the radio every five minutes, that doesn't mean they aren't worth of radioplay. 'Hymn 43' may not be great, but, once again, the riff is an absolute classic (and this is where you'll find the famous line about how 'if Jesus saves, he'd better save himself...', so much hated by orthodoxal church abiders who intentionally neglect that the second half of the phrase goes '...from the gory glory seekers who use his name in death'). Barre and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond chug along on the track like mad, transforming it into a true hard rock masterpiece. The plaintive, desperate 'Up To Me' is based on a cool repetitive flute line, 'Mother Goose' is just a funny tune (having nothing to do with the notorious rhymes), and the lengthiest track on here - the conceptual climax of 'My God' - also manages to keep the listener's attention, going off from rifffests onto bits of Bach onto bits of Russian folk music (not that Anderson knew very well how to handle Russian folk music, but at least he made an entertaining try). Plus there are several short acoustic links which all the Tull-haters try to accentuate by saying all kinds of things about how they suck and so on, but I personally don't see any trouble with them: Anderson is a decent classical guitar player, and anyway all the three are shorter than two minutes. No need to worry, Tull-haters!

'Wind-Up' is the only song I could live without on here, but maybe it's just because it's placed at the end. I've always thought that the best songs on any album should be placed in the beginning (so as not to let down the listener from the very start) and in the end (so as not to leave the feeling of being bored and deceived). As you see, Ian rarely fulfills the second part of the statement. But it's not bad either way.

It's still a little bit weaker than Stand Up, in my opinion, which is why the rating is a wee bit lower; the acoustic links and 'Wind-Up' and some instrumental bits on 'My God' and... well, little nasty tidbits now and there, couldn't really grab 'em by the scruff o' the neck cause they're so tiny. But "near-immaculate classic" would be a suitable definition, too, and an album where many of the more reserved Tull lovers set a fat point. However, with all due respect, we'll try and go dig a little deeper to see that Anderson's talents were not yet exhausted. By no means no.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13

Simply put, this is the album that epithomizes all the best sides of prog-rock.

Best song: three guesses?

Track listing: 1) Thick As A Brick (part 1); 2) Thick As A Brick (part 2).

1972 was, without a doubt, The year of prog-rock: the year when prog had finally conquered its rightful niche and ruled supreme in the minds of the critics and among the musical preferences of the rock-oriented public. Having consolidated its positions, having provided most of the groundbreaking ideas in the previous two or three years, but never wishing to reside in peace upon their laurels, mature proggers went on forward to conquer new heights - to blow their resplendent bubbles further and further, pumping out mastodontic epics and endless suites with no seeming end to the process. The world was not yet beginning to see prog-rock as its worst enemy, and it's no surprise that many people still regard many of 1972's anthemic prog albums as all-time masterpieces. Just see here: Yes's Fragile and Close To The Edge, Genesis's Foxtrot, ELP's Trilogy, Gentle Giant's Octopus, King Crimson's Islands all came out in 1972 (well, Islands appeared in Dec. 1971, but I think I can still judge it as a 1972 album)! And all of these albums are something and anything (despite my preference of, say, Fragile and Foxtrot over most others).

But, more than anything, it was this incredible album that said it all about prog-rock. Blowing away all competition, Ian had occupied the entire album with only one song on this album (well, 'Thick As A Brick', naturally) - quite an innovative move at the time, since, while sidelong compositions were slowly becoming the norm of day, nobody had yet dreamed of dividing one single tune over two sides of one record. And it is divided: you might not have noticed it, but the second side of the record begins with the fading in of the winter winds and the thump-thump-thump melody that end the first side, so the continuity is never really broken. Not to mention, of course, the bits of melodies and themes that keep being resurrected; this also adds to the impression of the record all being one lengthy suite as opposed to a bunch of unconnected songs.

So what is Thick As A Brick all about, actually? Essentially, it is a masterful epic poem (and a hoot: Ian credited the lyrics to a certain Gerald Bostock, a fictitious 8-year old kid who won a prize for it but was disqualified after numerous protests from the audiences. I wonder who got the royalties?) that is destined to serve as some kind of 'Bible According To Ian Anderson'; only if Aqualung was its clumsy Old Testament, Thick As A Brick is definitely the New One (followed by the Apocalypse of Passion Play, by the way), with a far more complex concept and more fully thought-out lyrics. It was even provided with a really bombastic album cover, disguised as the "St Cleve Chronicle" newspaper with about twenty pages of partly fictititious, partly real news material, that among other things told in details the story of the poor Gerald Bostock. As for the actual lyrics, they mostly continue Ian's society-bashing line, only this time around they are more subtle and far less straightforward, mixed with vague medieval imagery and a potload of romantic and psychedelic visions that are hard to decipher, but still, ten times less hard than whatever followed on A Passion Play. Most of these lyrics are really cute - passages like 'See there! A son is born and we pronounce him fit to fight/There are black heads on his shoulders, and he pees himself in the night/We'll make a man of him, put him to a trade/Teach him to play Monopoly and how to sing in the rain' are obviously inspired.

But then again, I don't really give a damn about the concept - it suffices for me to know that it does have some actual meaning. I just enjoy the music. Again, that's what prog rock was all about, wasn't it? Meaningless lyrics and bombastic melodies.

Speaking of the music, this album could have easily worked at a short-song level, as well: it's easy to pluck out a lot of separate sections and listen to each one separately (although, unfortunately, the CD does not index them as different). While all the sections are linked to each other with short, sparing instrumental passages, they are quite different by themselves and never become boring. It's like a true encyclopaedia of various musical genres: these beautiful, ultra-catchy melodies range from quiet acoustic folkish shuffles (the sly, charming introduction section) to painfully complex but gorgeous ballads ('do you believe in the day?'), organ-driven fast'n'furious rockers ('see there! a son is born...'), Elizabethan 'pedestrian' war marches ('I've come down from the upper class...'), nice guitar/keyboard shuffles ('so where the hell was Biggles?'), nursery rhymes ('you curl your toes in fun...'), Zappa-type noises (beginning of Side 2), and many more passages that avoid direct definition. Zillions of instruments, clever use of sound effects (the Benefit legacy is fading away), crystal clear production - wow!

Yes, I admit it might be hard to get into, you simplicity-loving music addicts, but I got into it at about the third listen, and I still can't dig that Lizard thing by King Crimson! Can you? Just goes to show that some "prog" is "proggier" than other... Even the instrumental breaks and links are often breathtaking: listen, for instance, to Martin Barre's insane solo in between the two verses of 'the poet and the painter...' - the triumph of minimalistic technique over soulless class at its most evident. No wonder the public was so eager to send this sucker to No. 1: never again did any band achieve such a perfect, never breaking balance between the complex/serious/intellectual and the catchy/accessible/radio-friendly. Thick As A Brick is one of those rare records that can function equally well as great party music and a deeply personal, intimate experience. It's hardly danceable, of course (although you can certainly march a lot to it), but that's about the only general flaw, and not a deeply lamented one.

Anyway, where was I? As you can see, I hold the opinion that this record presents us with a hodgepodge of wonderful musical ideas which the Tullers couldn't keep up any further than that. Indeed, this is the last record to feature some uncompromisedly great Tull music throughout all of its duration, and in that respect it is totally idiosyncratic, whatever that may mean in the case. If not for a couple more reprises than necessary and the ugly avantgarde noise section on the beginning of Side Two that nearly ruins all the previously amassed "cathartic energy", this would be one of the easiest tens I've ever given out - as it is, a very, very solid nine, and one of the Top Five albums of 1972, together with such masterpieces as Ziggy Stardust, Exile On Main St., Foxtrot, and... and... whatever. [Fill in your preference.]

P.S. What the hell? Deflating this record one point for three minutes of stupid Zappa noises? A ten and a deserved one. I still do prefer Stand Up as my favourite Tull listen, but that's more due to its immaculate consistency.



Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Oh, I love these early singles. All you haters of overblown prog, get it. It might change your opinion.


Track listing: 1) A Song For Jeffrey; 2) Love Story; 3) Christmas Song; 4) Living In The Past; 5) Driving Song; 6) Sweet Dreams; 7) Singing All Day; 8) Witch's Promise; 9) Inside; 10) Just Trying To Be; 11) By Kind Permission Of; 12) Dharma For One; 13) Wond'ring Again; 14) Locomotive Breath; 15) Life Is A Long Song; 16) Up The Pool; 17) Dr. Bogenbroom; 18) For Later; 19) Nursie.

(Hope you don't mind that previous mail-your-ideas line in the reader comments section. I try to follow my concept, see, and if it sometimes looks offensive, don't forget that it's undertaken in the name of the Idea).

You might actually not believe it, but for a short while the Tullers were not just another bunch of pretentious prog rock giants - they were a terrific singles band as well! In fact, I cannot think of any other prog rock band that could boast more than, say, a couple of successful singles that happened to be so by some accident. This is just to say how great a guy Ian Anderson once really was - before he turned into a psychic loonie and, afterwards, into a washed-up old geezer, that is. Legend has it that 'Living In The Past' was, in fact, specially designed by Ian as a potential hit single, written overnight in some American hotel. Which it was. No wonder that if that man was once so talented that he could toss off excellent singles material as firecrackers, he was bound to eventually come to the conclusion that singles material was beyond him. Vanity, all is vanity.

Living In The Past isn't a new studio album, but not exactly a 'greatest hits' either. Some of the tracks are indeed redundant ('Inside', 'Locomotive Breath', 'A Song For Jeffrey', all taken from concurrent studio albums), but most of them are just A- and B-sides of singles from 1968-71 that didn't make it onto the original albums, so you might just as well count this a new album. As far as I know, there were some editions of the band's early LP's with tracks from Living In The Past spliced on as bonuses, so if you see 'em in used bins, grab 'em. If you don't, don't hesitate to spend your money on this piece o' diamond, especially since it's a double LP that made it onto a single CD with a little bit of editing.

The only thing that slightly mars this otherwise immaculate collection of Ian's flashes of genius is a sideworth of live material from the band's Carnegie Hall show in November 1970, the main bulk of which I have previously discussed in the corresponding review. These are actually just two tracks: 'By Kind Permission' is a lengthy piano improvisation by John Evan (yeah, he's a virtuoso all right, but one might ask the natural question: why not go and listen to the 'original' sound - say, to Johann Sebastian Bach, for a change?), and it seems to me that the track is actually cobbled together from several different excerpts; for instance, the rave-up coda to the song is actually taken from their rendition of 'With You There To Help Me', while the main part belongs somewhere else (I don't know where). The 'cobblings' aren't even limited to musical pieces: Ian's onstage banter is also mixed and edited in such a way that he's represented as a complete psycho, whereas there was really nothing that 'psycho' about it on stage. Minor example: the phrase 'she's really turned on by the television and vice versa', which seems completely out of place here, is actually taken from a short ramble about Ian's mother, as can be evidenced on the 'untampered' tapes of the show... Oh, never mind. And the second track is 'Dharma For One', a lengthy re-arrangement of the original found on This Was, with unnecessary lyrics, dated vocal harmonies (the cheesiest moment comes on when the entire band starts shouting 'dharma dharma dharma') and a double-length drum solo. In some cases Ian's stage banter really gets somewhat trippy, even downright fascinating on lines like 'I'd better not open this now because it might contain contraband, we'll give it to John to supplement his camels', but, apart from that, the actual music will get you bored by the second minute. Oh, well, at least this is some more officially released live material from Tull's golden years.

Yeah, but what about those singles? Now this is where the whole fun starts. The material from 1968 is still luvvingly experimental and shy ('Love Story' is just a fast blues-rock number, cute and authentic, but feeble if compared to 'A New Day Yesterday'; 'Christmas Song' is mostly distinguished by Ian's ironic 'Hey Santa, pass us that bottle will ya?' at the end). But the 1969 numbers rank among the best works of Tull and, indeed, the best creations of prog rock ever: the title track is a dang classic, with its twisting and twirling melody wrapped in Ian's beautiful flute, and the lyrics are pretty anthemic, too. 'Oh, be forgiving, let's go living in the past'. That's what Ian's been doing ever since, indeed (not that it always helped, mind you). It's good danceable fun, radio-friendly to the extreme but never losing the slightest bit of artistic integrity in the process. 'Driving Song' is another classy blues leftover (face it, the guys could have blown Fleetwood Mac away - they are fully competent in the blues department but manage not to make their blues sound generic in the least), and 'Sweet Dream' is absolutely terrifying, with its almost Beethoven-like sound onslaught: brash, pompous fanfares, scary electric guitar, and a deep, spooky delivery from Ian. Whoever would want to see Ian 'in your sweet dream' after hearing this proto-goth sendup? No wonder Ian impersonated Count Dracula in a later video of this song (which you can see incorporated in Slipstream). Oh yeah, there's also the weird mystic mantra 'Singing All Day'. Get it!

The later singles might not be that breathtaking, possibly because Ian prefers exploring the same ideas and styles over and over - the stylistic monotonousness begins to get a wee bit on one's nerves when similar songs start to pour out in larger and larger quantities. Worse, some of the melodic elements are recycled - openly, like 'Wond'ring Aloud', which is an alternate version of the shorter 'Wond'ring Again' from Aqualung (although, judging from the title, it's the Aqualung number which is the real alternate version), or discreetly, like the final phrase in the chorus of 'Life Is A Long Song', which is actually taken from the same 'Wond'ring Again'. An imminent evil when your style is so narrow.

Still, 'Witch's Promise' is a fantastic ode to romanticism, with flutes galore and lush medieval sentimentalism all over the place; and most of the others are either just heart-warming and friendly (the cheerful, optimistic 'Life's A Long Song', the gentle and loving 'Nursie'), or display great musicianship (the instrumental 'For Later').

All in all, none of the selected tracks ('cept for the live stuff, of course) are bad, and most of them are high above 'good'. No lengthy jams, no endless solos, no mind-boggling lyrics, no boring chord progressions: what else can be desired? Let's go 'living in the past', pal!



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

A terribly overblown concept album with the concept bigger than the music.

Best song: errr... there's only one, actually, and it's not the best.

Track listing: 1) A Passion Play.

Pleased with the critical and commercial success of his previous megaproject, Ian tried to milk the Thick As A Brick line even further. I don't think it will be an exaggeration to call A Passion Play his most bombastic project ever: it took a lot of gall, ambition, and pretense (not to mention, of course, hard work and trained musicianship) to fulfill it. And yet, in every possible sense imaginable, it was a failure - a deep nosedive after the previous album. Well, except one sense, of course: the album reached number one in the States, just like its predecessor. Still, it was their last number one there, which already means something. The critics hated it, and even if their hate was overblown, as usual (and had indeed a lot to do with the "I don't get it, therefore it's crap" postulate), this time it was at least justified. A Passion Play was the album that did Tull in for the world: from now on, rock music listeners became segregated into the lesser, but fanatically dedicated, hardcore Tull camp, and the major part that refused to listen to the band any longer. This is where Anderson bit off more than he could chew, and from now on, except for a few surprisingly accessible records, the Jethro Tull legacy is definitely an acquired taste.

Some historical facts. The basic parts of the album were laid down in France where the group was hiding during their one and only tax exile (to the band's honour, this was a nod to tradition - everybody was doing that at the time - rather than a sign of greed, and they never repeated that again). Either Ian's social conscience was bothering him so much or he was just in an overall bad mood, but he suddenly burned all the recorded tapes (although later they magically resurfaced on Nightcap) and returned to England, where some of them were re-recorded again, some new material was added in a hurry and this bastard was thrown out on the racks. A pity, as the scrapped 'Chateau D'Isaster' project, while basically featuring the same musical ideas as the final product, was superior in every way - but we'll eventually get to that. In due time.

So what's the problem with A Passion Play? Well, for starters, it lacks melodies - a thing mostly unheard of Jethro Tull before but which would, sadly enough, become a standard for later releases. Not entirely, of course; repeated listenings bring out certain parts that are intelligently written and well-performed. But much too often, the band just stands on the spot and doesn't seem to go anywhere - bland acoustic strummings following highly disorganized chord sequences, pedestrian jamming, uninspired noise... all of these things crop up way, way too often.

The instrumentation is pretty diverse, of course, maybe even more diverse than on Thick As A Brick, with more reliance on synthesizers; also, Ian must have probably been listening to a lot of Van Der Graaf Generator lately, so he brought in some saxes and played them himself. But no, he isn't a terrific sax player at all - the saxophone parts are so indistinctive that I even failed to notice the very presence of the instrument until a dozen listens. The flute does stand out, though. But who the hell needs tricky instrumentation if it has no point at all? Not me. And to top it all, there ain't a single outstanding guitar solo on the album - where the hell is Martin? Come to think of it, there ain't a single guitar solo on the album at all.

Next point. I have to deal with the album's concept. It is, roughly speaking, a little nutty. A Passion Play takes us away from the lovingly British interplay between the medieval and the modern on the previous album and plunges us into esoteric deeps of Anderson's "metaphysical vision". Many people praise the concept and pile bucketloads of shit on anybody who has the nerve to open his mouth and say 'isn't it a bit too much?' Well, never mind, I'll go ahead and say: the concept of A Passion Play is a big put-on. Yes, it does represent a young man who's died and gone to hell, and it supposedly deals with problems of life, death, regeneration, life in the other world, etc., etc. But in ninety percent of the cases, the lyrics are completely meaningless - when Ian takes up the usual cliches like 'icy Lucifer', he hasn't got the least idea of what to do with them. The general message is non-existent, and the poetic imagery gets lost and bogged down with its own pretentions. Yes, Ian is a well-read guy, and in parts, A Passion Play had definitely been inspired by Dante's 'Inferno'; but so what? Anybody with at least a little bit of intelligence can string up words in a better way. I'll just leave it with this: while I've indeed witnessed many hardcore Tull fans praising the album for "seriousness" and "deepness", never have I been able to meet somebody who could actually point out what the hell Ian was actually trying to say here. It all comes down to the old self-deception - 'this album is great oh so great, I don't know why it's great but it's just so great that its greatness is unexplainable'. Bullshit.

Worse, there is not a single bit of humour or lightweightness - everything's deadly serious to the extreme, not giving you a moment of relaxation. Except at the beginning of the second side, of course, where the steady flow of the suite is suddenly interrupted by a weird 'neo-humourist' story of 'The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles', narrated in a traditional British theatrical type of pronunciation by Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. The story is good clean fun and makes me laugh every time I hear it, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the album. It was apparently thrown in for good measure, just to provide a bit of relief for the listener (thank you so much Mr Anderson, for taking pity on the poor audience), but where the light funny bits on Thick As A Brick were cleverly and subtly interpolated in between the more serious parts, here it's not just the seams that are visible - the entire patch is sewn very badly.

And, of course, the monotonousness of the record kills me, simply annihilates me. Thick As A Brick had everything, from war marches to ballads to rockers; here, it's just the same acoustic noodling/sax+guitar jamming going on and on and on, always at the same tempo, more or less in the same key, never speeding up, never slowing down; this album could definitely never have worked on a short-song level.

That said, like I already mentioned, repeated listenings (and I did listen to it at least a couple dozen times - specially oriented for people that say "you need to listen some more") do bring out some good melodies in certain places, which become especially obvious after listening to the Chateau D'Isaster tapes on the first part of Nightcap. Sections like 'Lover of the black and white - it's your first night' and the 'Overseer over you' parts are quite powerful, with bold riffage and complex, yet strangely involving time signatures; Tull really never played in that way before and never would after. A few other parts are catchy, too, but I won't go into details. The big problem is, my CD edition only has one track in all, and it's a real pain in the butt to have to wait through all the filler to get to the good sections, which irritates me even further.

Of course, you'll have to love this album if you actually want to qualify as hardcore Tuller. This and Minstrel In The Gallery are, like, the ultimate tests: if you stand 'em, welcome to the elitist club of Anderson worshippers. I mean, if the reviewer refuses to join it, it's no reason to follow suite, isn't it? Who knows, you might enjoy A Passion Play even more than some of the commenting gentlemen below. But this is a highly acquired taste; objectively, A Passion Play is the first album that adds absolutely nothing new to the Tull legacy. I mean, you wouldn't want to argue that Ian's saxophone is a major and crucial innovation for the band, now would you?



Year Of Release: 1974
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Concept again, but the songs are shorter and catchier and why not give it a try? It's moody.


Track listing: 1) Warchild; 2) Queen And Country; 3) Ladies; 4) Back Door Angels; 5) Sealion; 6) Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day; 7) Bungle In The Jungle; 8) Only Solitaire; 9) The Third Hoorah; 10) Two Fingers.

Well, there you are. Even if Ian had always said he didn't give a damn about critical opinion, he must have still felt uncomfortable about the bashing-out of A Passion Play. Because on his next release he's finally increased the number of tracks to a whole ten. And I don't want to say the previous two albums' main flaw was the lengthiness. Nope; I've always said things like Thick As A Brick and stuff were just your ordinary song collections with the only difference that the pauses between tracks have been switched for non-breaking instrumental links. But I've also come to realize pauses between songs are really vital. Absolutely necessary, in fact. For three reasons: first of all, you can always run off to the bathroom without having to push the PAUSE button; second, you can always spend all the time you want there without having to rush back and resume playing before your CD player automatically disables the pause; and third, you don't have to fast forward the actual track with cusses and obscenities only to find out you don't really remember what exact minute you were listening to.

Seriously now. These ten songs really show that, unfortunately, the main problem with A Passion Play wasn't the bad abuse of 'conceptuality' and self-indulgence. The main problem was that Ian's songwriting talents have slowly begun to wane. By now he's slowly steering into the direction of his own fantasies and dreams which actually brought about his total commercial downfall in a couple years. Artistic, too. I'm not going to pretend I'm a big fan of Mr Ian Anderson's fantasy world. Like one Peter Gabriel said, 'I know what I like, and I like what I know'. I couldn't agree more. It's not that I'd like Ian's music to sound commercial or anything - I'm just trying to say that somewhere on the way Ian had apparently lost the Major Artist's Filter that would allow him to sort out the mediocrities and leave in only the "pure gold". Just look at the band's creativity, for Chrissake - out of all the notorious prog rock acts, Jethro Tull were the only band that stuck to a strict one-album-per-year schedule all throughout the Seventies. Not to mention all those rarities that were released afterwards on anniversary boxsets and suchlike. With such a flood of productivity - all due to Ian's complete rejection of the Filter - it was inevitable that the band would soon be drowning in a sea of pretention and questionable fantasies, and its devoted following reduced from millions all over the world to a small, compact groups of people who had the luck (or the misfortune) to possess a mind similar or equal to that of Ian's.

Well, thank your lucky stars that there's still a lot to cheer about on Warchild; unlike whatever followed it, it can be said to be at least a slight rebound into the world of "pre-Passion Play". Like I said, it's certainly conceptual, and the nature of the concept is quite clear: as usual, Ian goes ridiculizing society and mocking at the establishment with some really clever lyrics, adding certain obscure anti-war references and, well, intriguing imagery that will leave one completely satisfied. In fact, if anything has taken a turn for the better since Play, it's the lyrics: Ian has obviously turned away from Yes-like poetic spontaneous nonsense and made up some really interesting, er, 'texts'. Check 'em out even if you don't have the album, they're quite deserving.

As for the music, about half of the album is really really good (quite a good percentage for post-1972 Tull). The title track leads off the record with some subtle majesty (the refrain 'Warchild/Dance the days and dance the nights away' is especially memorable). It has a strange atmosphere, never found on any Tull record both before and after - something in the Spanish style, I'd bet, but I'm not too sure. 'Sealion' has a great melody, too - I confess I somewhat prefer the 'alternate' version found on Nightcap (with silly lyrics by Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond that have a lot to do with real sealions, but nothing with social critique), but that doesn't mean the song's riff on here ain't just as powerful and engaging.

'Only Solitaire' is a nice acoustic shuffle (although you won't like it if you didn't like the ones on Aqualung) with lyrics aimed at Ian's critics - it might be his most venomous condemnation of the entire breed in one go, certainly having a lot to do with their despisal of Passion Play. The funny fact is that while Ian's description of the "artist" according to the view of the "critics" ("Brain-storming habit-forming battle-warning weary winsome actor spewing spineless chilling lines... court-jesting, never-resting --- he must be very cunning to assume an air of dignity and bless us all with his oratory prowess, his lame-brained antics and his jumping in the air...") is supposed to be ironic, it is also painfully close to the truth, and shows us that Ian did take himself with a certain sense of humour, much unlike his rabid, dedicated following that spends its life licking the man's toes.

As for the best cuts on the record, these should probably be the radio hits 'Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day' (one of Ian's most charming and optimistic acoustic ditties) and the raving-up scary rocker 'Bungle In The Jungle'. That last one even managed to chart - probably the last time any Tull single caught such a chance. Not for nothing, though - the song is really quite catchy, catchier than anything done by the band in that particular epoch, and with a distinct commercial sound, too.

Commercial? What do you mean by 'commercial', Mr Reviewer?

Oh, that's right. By 'commercial' I mean 'sounding just unlike that typical middle/late Seventies Tull'. Nothing else. Not that he sold out for one more single or anything like that. Not at all. Nope. Nada. It's just a very tight, compact and rhythmic song built on 'traditional' values, and it's the last time you're gonna hear such a song from Jethro Tull. So go out and get it. And it starts with actual jungle noises - tigers, elephants and all those other snakes. Cool.

I see I've just said a lot of good things about the album. So, just for a change, I'd like to shift my remarks and say that this album sucks. No kidding. And it's because about half of the material is either painfully unbearable or simply mediocre to the point of shrugging one's shoulders. The five-minutes-thirty-seconds epic 'Back Door Angels', for example, at its best just bores me to half-death and at its worst makes me want to throttle both Ian and Martin Barre (who keeps playing his highly professional, but absolutely dispensable solos to the point of real suffocation - I hate those endless pauses when it seems like the band is finally stopping and then they pick it up again). Likewise with the closing 'Third Hoorah' (an uninspired reprise of the title track, albeit in a martial dance-style) and 'Two Fingers', an insipid reworking of the former ass-kicking rocker 'Lick Your Fingers Clean'. Likewise with the stupid 'Queen And Country' which is actually a banal pop song with the most trivial and straightforward, obnoxious melody in the world disguised as some intelligent prog rock. Leave that style to Uriah Heep, Ian. I dig the clever orchestration on the song, but it hardly matches the song's nursery structure. It ain't even funny. And have I yet mentioned 'Ladies'? Now here's where medieval stylistics clearly gets the best of Ian: he's so engaged in making the song sound all romantic and courtsy that he forgets to render it melodic.

Yeah, I know they're all professionals and that the level of performance is amazing and terrifying, but I'd like to get some memorable melodies, too. All these songs mentioned in the last paragraph are serious embarrassments, that's what they are. They just stick around and do nothing, just fill the space on the record. The lyrics are good, but maybe Ian would do better to publish a little book of poetry instead? Don't you like my idea?

Even so, it's only a mild taster of the truly wild things to come...



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

Please Sir Minstrel, play a really entertaining song and don't bore me to sleep...


Track listing: 1) Minstrel In The Gallery; 2) Cold Wind To Valhalla; 3) Black Satin Dancer; 4) Requiem; 5) One White Duck/O10 = Nothing At All; 6) Baker St. Muse; 7) Grace.

This album, in my humble opinion, marks the beginning of a lengthy series of what I'd call 'one-song' albums: these records were usually written around one central thematic track which also turned out to be the best on the record and normally became the title one. While other progressive and art bands were usually either creatively dead by 1975, falling apart, or at least creatively stagnant, gathering their forces to put out a decent record every two or three years or so, Jethro Tull, and Ian in particular, seemed intent on proving the world that their formula was well-oiled and running. Thus, gamble follows after gamble: leaving out the substance of his work, Ian makes sure to preserve the form, and this eventually led to Tull's vanishing from the market as a commercial force, replaced by Tull as a panoptic cult group with a small audience of hardcore fans.

Not that I have anything against panoptic cult groups. The problem is, Minstrel In The Gallery (a fan favourite, mind you) is an abysmal album and simply doesn't stand the test of time as well as anything before it - yes, including even A Passion Play. While Ian's 'despotism' in the band actually dates to as back as 1969, it is on Minstrel that the equation "Jethro Tull = Ian Anderson" becomes most obvious. First, it is far more introspective; Ian still addresses some social issues, but for the most part everything is filtered through his own personal feelings, and quite a few of the songs are dedicated to his recent divorce. Second, it is far more downbeat than usual: Anderson's acoustic noodling occupies almost half of the record's forty-five minutes, and the only other prominent instruments are the ones we're already well-used to, namely, Ian's flute and Martin's electric. Occasionally, John Evan shows up on piano and some nice (or not so nice) David Palmer-arranged orchestration appears on the fringes, but in general, the album is very sparsely arranged in comparison with the lush-produced records of yore. Essentially, there's not a single half-original musical idea to be found on here. I can certainly enjoy the general spirit of the record, because I more or less like the sounds of the acoustic guitar and the flute; but there's simply no reason for me to put on Minstrel when I need to enjoy some well-played acoustic guitar or some well-blown flute, because both Aqualung and Thick As A Brick will do that trick better and have lots of other stuff, too.

At least, hearing the same well-played acoustic guitar and the same well-blown flute for the fifth or sixth time in a row can be tolerable if they actually represent well-written melodies. Unfortunately, such is not the case. Bits and pieces of this album are all right - and could represent a good base for something better; but the album was recorded very quickly, and even the best songs on here are diluted with tons of uninspired, derivative guitar/flute wanking. The best track is by far the title one, starting as a moderate acoustic shuffle and then becoming a huge unstoppable electric groove based on an interesting riff with Elizabethan connotations (sic). It really hits hard and probably features Ian at his best as a 'social critic' - the funniest thing is, the minstrel actually 'sees his own face in everyone'.

But then, trouble arrives as none of the songs on the first side seem to match the title track's musical message. None of this music is offensive at all, yet it is all form, no substance. Only minor snatches of substance. 'Cold Wind To Valhalla' is Anderson's first exploration of Viking thematics that would later return in a far more mature and impressive form in Broadsword And The Beast; here, only the chorus is relatively memorable, with a funny '...cold wind to Valhal-LAAAAAA!' ending to it. 'Black Satin Dancer' has a good middle part, with a majestic dirgey riff from Barre and perhaps the most moving guitar solo on record; but you'll have to dig that part from under the opening section, which is just standard acoustic noodling, and you'll have forgotten all about it by the time of the closing section, which is just standard electric/flute interplay we already know so well. And 'Requiem' is an entirely forgettable ballad with not the least sign of a vocal melody - I don't know about the lyrics, but I could certainly have penned a more interesting melody in minutes (any melody would do, because Ian's acoustic strumming on 'Requiem' reminds me of somebody mindlessly tuning his guitar).

The second side opens with the equally forgettable acoustic/electric ballad 'One White Duck' and then proceeds to mock the listener with the sixteen-minute long saga of the London life, 'Baker St Muse'. The lyrics - as usual - rule, with all kinds of haunting imagery, but perhaps at this point it would be better for Ian to switch on to writing poetry books, don't you think? The only moment of catchiness and inventiveness in the whole suite is the main theme, with a nice violin line underpinning Ian as he sings 'didn't make her... dzinnnng... with the Baker Street Ruse...', etc. And what else do you get? Same thing everywhere - rambling acoustic noodling plus pointless, messy electric jamming a la Grand Funk Railroad or somebody. So the only moment of comical relief is when we hear Ian finishing the song, putting down his guitar and trying to leave the studio humming 'I'm just a Baker Street Muse...', only to find out that the door's been locked, so he cries out 'I can't get out!' in frustration. How very symbolic.

For me (and almost any person I've met on the Web who don't consider themselves to be Tull diehards), it is absolutely clear that by now, Ian was simply running out of steam as a progressive hero. He could certainly still turn out a decent melody (as would be proved by the next album), but he simply didn't want to do it, apparently thinking that his fans would eat anything as long as it featured the main 'Tull ingredients'. That's why so many people eagerly deceive themselves into thinking of Minstrel as the band's pinnacle: it takes a lot of care to preserve the traditional form of progressive Tull. And I certainly do not have the least doubt that Ian was quite serious and earnest while penning these tunes (well, while penning the lyrics - all of these 'melodies' could have been written in fifteen minutes). But alas, that was "too much positive thinking": those who'd wish to take a deeper look at Tull could easily see that the actual music behind all this form is laughable. And if you're just giving me atmosphere, Ian, why repeat the same things in such a blatant and boring way?

P.S. Did I say the title track was the best thing on here? Silly me! The best song is, undoubtedly, the album-closing forty-second 'Grace' with the best lyrics of Ian's entire career: 'Hello sun. Hello bird. Hello my lady. Hello breakfast. May I buy you again tomorrow?'



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

This one has some rockin' power and memorable tunes. At least...


Track listing: 1) Quizz Kid; 2) Crazed Institution; 3) Salamander; 4) Taxi Grab; 5) From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser; 6) Bad Eyed And Loveless; 7) Big Dipper; 8) Too Old To Rock'n'Roll Too Young To Die; 9) Pied Piper; 10) The Chequered Flag (Dead Or Alive).

This is where me and Tull fans differ big time. Because I find it to be a huge (even if only temporary, and, moreover, accidental) improvement over Minstrel, while fans (and critics alike) regard it as Tull's weakest Seventies' album, and count it as a totally dismissable anomaly in the catalog. And yet, that suits me all right, because Too Old really doesn't sound like generic late-Seventies Tull and thus, naturally, evitates all of late-Seventies Tull's faults. The tunes are relatively short, the melodies are undoubtable, and some of the emotion is quite sincere. Okay, scrap that last one - I don't really know if Ian Anderson is being more sincere on this little 'side excursion' than on the main medieval-folk-rock course, but hey, I'd personally prefer to believe what I actually believe. Makes sense to you?

The album was originally supposed to be a soundtrack to a film about an old rocker called Ray Lomas who is suffering from the change of epochs and is somewhat stuck in his past while the world is passing him by and the chicks won't go out with him any more. But then he suddenly has some strange things happening to him which I won't comment upon here, then he gets into a motorbyke accident and upon his convalescence suddenly finds out that his favourite tunes are hip again, so he succeeds in becoming a star again. At least, that's what the short comic strip found inside the album is supposed to tell us. Don't really know what the film was trying to get through - maybe it's the idea that fashion is changeable and true art never dies. Probably that. The fact which should bother us more, though, is that the music to the film (which never happened, by the way) is quite a respectable effort.

As is usual for that period, however, the title track completely overshadows every other tune on here. It's a rightful Tull classic, starting with a pathetic, but fascinating guitar pattern and featuring truly clever lyrics about the fates of old rockers (quite a serious problem back in 1976, by the way; even though Ray Lomas is really a Fifties' star, the problem of 'dinosaurism' had already begun to establish itself; Ian is clearly autobiographical at this point, and lots of people would be perfectly happy to relate, I'm sure). It's truly great, and, in what is a sublime and skilful mood change, even transforms into a speedy brassy rocker at the end, for a short while. Ian had never been so gloriously anthemic before.

Other relative standouts include the album closer - 'The Chequered Flag (Dead Or Alive)', with its 'grand' refrain (unfortunately, Ian's vocals are dug incredibly low in the mix, and this somewhat spoils the fun), the moody jazz tune 'From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser' with a moving sax solo by David Palmer, and the pretty ballad 'Crazed Institution'. All of them soft, tender, and never bogged down by excessive instrumentation or self-indulgent pseudo-prog jamming. Suddenly, Ian sounds completely human and humane again: I can identify with these songs, a thing I'd never experienced previously since at least Thick As A Brick. But I tell you, there's not even a single really bad tune on the whole record - almost every song has at least a little to say, be it the beautiful classical guitar on 'Salamander', or the strange rhythms of 'Taxi Grab', or the weird lyrics of 'Pied Piper', or the audacious pounding of 'Quizz Kid'. Also, like I said, most of the tunes are short, and the moments which can bore you are bound to pass quickly.

Of course, Ian's come a long way since the good old early days, and his ability to offer a good hookline has dimmed - but only dimmed, and at repeated listens the melodies really come out and even start occupying these little places on these cute little racks of yours we call 'brain cells'. Nothing on here really grabs you by the scruff of yer neck (apart from the title track, of course); Martin isn't too loud, the rhythm section is a wee bit lethargic, and no solid guitar riffs at that. But the songs are written as songs, not as sonic excursions into fantasy world, and as such, hold my attention pretty well. And there's hardly anything else I can say about the individual numbers.

I think the record was really saved by the fact that it was supposed to be a soundtrack to a film about rock'n'roll. So it was supposed to be more rocking than Ian's other contemporary efforts. It would be indeed strange to see Ray Lomas accompanied by Elizabethan tunes or Celtic ballads. And that's the most obvious reason why the fans hate it so much: it's just because it doesn't fit to one's perception of 'classic Tull'. Sure. If you're looking for stuff like 'One White Duck' or 'Baker St Muse', this certainly isn't 'classic Tull'. But on the other side, it's entertaining, professional, memorable Tull, and it's also a good conceptual album (few prog-rockers ever touched these topics in the Seventies, preferring to remain within their unlimited world of fantasy). So I'm not ashamed to give it seven 'stars'. It deserves it, even though the lack of truly outstanding tunes makes it impossible to raise the rating higher.

Oh, yeah. This album also saw some major personnel changes: Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond left the band, being replaced by David Glascock (a real pity: we'll never hear these phenomenal bass lines again), and the already mentioned above Dave Palmer became the sixth official member of the band, although the reasons for this are uncertain. Did they really need a second keyboard player/orchestrator or was he admitted just for being an old acquaintance of Ian's?



Year Of Release: 1977
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Err.. folk rock, you said? What are you - pulling my leg? It's not bad, but it's too boring to be good folk rock.


Track listing: 1) Songs From The Wood; 2) Jack-In-The-Green; 3) Cup Of Wonder; 4) Hunting Girl; 5) Ring Out Solstice Bells; 6) Velvet Green; 7) The Whistler; 8) Pibroch (Cap In Hand); 9) Fire At Midnight.

Beginning of the band's short-lived 'folk-rock' period, which was quite natural: medieval British music does lead onto the tricky path of folk. Just look at that photo of Ian on the album cover: he looks as if he's been living his quiet and peaceful life in some Kent or Sussex thicket for years, calmly doing his little farming and hunting business, instead of invigorating American hippy audiences with rip-roaring versions of 'Teacher' and 'Locomotive Breath'. What should one expect of such an album? Well, most of you would probably say: 'Well, it should have lotsa acoustic tracks, featuring old exotic instruments, the mandolin, the bagpipes, etc., etc., with romantic balladeering lyrics and beautiful vocal harmonies. Did I get it right?'

Well, no, you didn't. Actually, there's only one track on the whole album which comes close to this description, and it's a real gem: 'The Whistler' is a truly beautiful epic, although the lyrics are one hundred percent prog rock disguised as folk poetry. Otherwise, though, it features wonderful singing, flute and acoustic guitar, all clearly influenced by real folk music, most certainly of Celtic origin. Yup, dig it, folks, it's one of Anderson's most satisfying folk-rock efforts indeed. Check out Barriemore Barlow's amazing martial drum fills, too, the guy really swings on that one.

But none of the other songs are true folk. The title track happens to be, once again, the best cut on here, and during its first two minutes it almost manages to lure you into thinking this is going to be folk (yes, the vocal harmonies are there, to be sure), but then Martin Barre steps in with the electric and it suddenly becomes a wrathful rocker! Thanks Goodness, it works, as the guitar/flute interplay is wild enough to drive you insane but tame enough to make up for a chaotic sonic disaster; but it doesn't work on, say, the totally unbearable epic 'Pibroch (Cap In Hand)' with its cacophony of distorted guitars probably being the main 'attraction'. A nine minute megamonster, it is a pure feast of self-indulgence: perhaps the most memorable thing about it is those exact poisonous guitar lines that Martin puts into the intro section and then proceeds to repeat on every occasion, but they just sound so darn ugly and so darn sharp (in the bad sense of the word)! And apart from those, the song doesn't even come close to memorability. Standard generic Tull-style muzak.

Same goes for the utterly bland and uninteresting 'Hunting Girl' (poisonous ugly guitar tone again, and what's with those cheesy synths? Are we doing disco?), and the mini-hit ('Ring Out Solstice Bells') is sure to fade out of your memory even after an unlimited set of listens. The melodies which come straight from Minstrel (which isn't too promising, either) are being endlessly recycled with Ian clearly bothering more about lyrics. Which are usually tripe, because combining Robert Burns-style poetry with his own progressive ambitions isn't a very reasonable thing to do. Perhaps the best track out of this sea of filler is 'Velvet Green', parts of which also come close to authentic Celtic/Olde Anglo-Saxon stylistics, but while the song is rather pretty, it rarely comes around to much more than something reminiscing of a generic soundtrack to some Robin Hood movie.

I don't really want to be too harsh on the album; it is - predictably - a cult favourite among Tull lovers, and apart from Martin's guitar tone on a couple of songs and 'Pibroch's totally inadequate length, there's nothing offensive about it. At least it doesn't boast endless acoustic ramblings that would reduce it to one hundred percent atmospherics: it has rhythms and energy, and that makes the record easier to sit through. But what's the final result anyway? Apart from the title track, 'The Whistler' and a couple more pretty, but short ventures into a more folkish territory ('Jack-In-The-Green', 'Cup Of Wonder'), there's not much to praise here. So thanks a lot Ian, for adding a few more songs to the 'golden Tull' collection, but all that filler could be saved... for later.

Oh, and specially for diehards - don't waste your breath accusing me of being a 'pure rock'n'roll' fan, much less a 'pure pop' fan. Nope. I love Aqualung and Thick As A Brick dearly, and none of these albums can be called 'pure rock'n'roll'. But they were vigorous, innovative, daring and successful musical experiments. Songs From The Wood, on the other hand, is an old man's pathetic attempt at re-vitalizing the same ideas for the hundredth time by trying to put them into a slightly different context. I gotta give it to 'im: the old man hasn't wasted all his talent yet, and hey, he was just turning thirty after all. But no daring stylistic branching out (and this wasn't such an unprecedented branching out for Tull, as fans like to put it - most of the themes on here had already been explored previously on albums from Brick to Minstrel, even if on a smaller scale), anyway, no daring stylistic branching out can compensate for the LACK of CATCHY MELODIES. Did I break it to you for the first time? Guess not.

Playing dumb some more, I'll reiterate: 'Songs From The Wood' and 'The Whistler' are catchy. 'Pibroch' and 'Velvet Green' are not. Everything else falls in between, as catchiness is a relative parameter. My original rating was an overall nine, but I mellowed out and made it an overall ten. Why? Well, I just happen to love the goddamn album cover so darn much. What a cool and romantic place to think of something adventurous and emotional. Perhaps it was in this position that Ian actually composed 'let me bring you songs from the wood'... Aaahh. Nah. He probably composed 'Fire At Midnight' in this position, the dumb pathetic album closer that's less memorable than anything on here. So much for inspiration.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

Second time around, the attempt is much more solid: the atmosphere is quite charming.


Track listing: 1) And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps; 2) Acres Wild; 3) No Lullaby; 4) Moths; 5) Journeyman; 6) Rover; 7) One Brown Mouse; 8) Heavy Horses; 9) Weathercock.

Well, I feel I have to take back all the bad things I've said about that last album, because somehow Ian managed to correct most of those mistakes on here (you can never tell with that fellow - once he's tricked you into thinking he can't do nothing but half-assed sludge, he throws something REALLY GOOD back at ya! Who does he think he is, Franklin Delano Roosevelt?). This is yet another stab at a 'folk-prog' album, but the 'folk' is clearly prevailing over the 'prog', at long last, in the sense that overcomplicated self-indulgence, ugly guitar noises and puffed-up crooked 'melodies' are on their way out and a fresh, clen air of 'folkish authenticity' and the usual playfulness and humour are on their way in. Songs From The Wood was never cozy or heart-warming, the wretched attempt at an epic pompous canvas that it was; Heavy Horses really draws you in with its soft, silky sound, lulling vocals and a true whiff of British folklore. Cool!

That said, we gotta make some reservations as well. The more complicated, intrinsic material is, as usual, dubious: the lengthy jam session 'No Lullaby', the impenetrable travelogue 'Journeyman' and the self-indulgent anti-establishment epic 'Acres Wild' are all forgettable. 'No Lullaby' actually managed to serve as a pretty impressive live number (shorter, more rockin' and up to the point), but here, at about eight minutes, it just drags most of the time, and I couldn't hum the melody to 'Journeyman' even under threat of immediate decapitation. 'Acres Wild', with its bouncy little jig melody, is slightly better, but is still way too reminiscent of the worst stuff on Songs From The Wood to catch the grand prize.

The rest of the material, strange enough, is quite fine. It is mostly dedicated to praising the virtues of various living creatures (a nod to Pink Floyd's Animals, mayhaps?), with curiously straightforward lyrics that manage to evitate all of Anderson's usual crookedness. Ian is softer here, less serious, more playful, more adequate, whatever; again, hardcore Tull fans might call the resulting atmosphere a bit 'childish' and call on the stern Elizabethan atmosphere of the past, bu I say swell - anything but the generic Tull formula. As long as Ian sings us some funny or gently romantic lyrics about mice and moths, backed by folkish acoustic playing, I accept that. Just don't think of rocking out for five minutes! You couldn't do that anyway. Not any more.

The album opener, 'And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps', kicks in with a funny, but strong flute/drum onslaught, punctuated by even more funny children's lyrics (not to mention the groovy fadeout with a lot of voices that keep on repeating the title of the song until they get completely out of breath). 'Moths' is a charming folk ballad with (finally!) an original, catchy and memorable melody, although the lyrical matter is a trifle sad - it's about suicide, after all. And 'One Brown Mouse' is a direct adaptation from a nursery rhyme ('one brown mouse sitting in a cage...'). It's fun!

However, so as to show everybody that he's not completely off his hobby, Anderson managed to conjure what was left of the old Tull magic and shove it into the title track which might be the band's most stupendous work since Thick As A Brick. Ian's heartfelt ode to the equine race (a lament on its decline and an expression of hope that one day, as the resources of Earth are exhausted, the Heavy Horse will be paid due attention again), it is highlighted by fantastic lead guitar courtesy of Mr Barre (my favourite part is the mighty intro which hits you mightier than the intro to 'Aqualung') and manages not to bore me during all of its eight minutes: maybe this is due to various tricks played on the way, such as the tune's sudden transformation into a fast joyful jig halfway through, before it reverts back to the opening lines. It's slightly similar to 'Aqualung' in structure and sound, even though significantly more lightweight. You just have to hear it, mind you. It's arguably the best thing Anderson ever made since 1972, and inarguably untopped ever since.

So, as you might have guessed, I pretty much enjoy the whole album. Again, it does seem to deviate from the standard Tull formula, what with all the nursery rhyme lyrics and straightforward folkish ditties, but again, that's just the reason why I love it. I need no further proof for the fact that Ian Anderson really could pull a decent tune out of his sleeve at any particular moment in his career if only he had the need or the desire to do it. Unfortunately, such moments were rather rare. Most of the time he just dragged along, bathing in the warmth of his unlimited fantasy and subjugating the unfortunate listener to whatever nonsense he might have transformed into 'songs'. A pity, this. Heavy Horses is real good. B'lieve me.

Wait! I forgot 'The Rover'! It's a great song, too! Especially the refrain! When Ian howls 'cos I'm the ROUUUVER', it really sends shivers down my spine! Buy this album! Especially if you were a fan of 'Hickory Dickory Dock' when you were five years old.

And that's not to denigrate nursery rhymes, mind you. Nursery rhymes are cool! Rather like Mr Ian Anderson when he is in the right mood.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

The definite live prog album. Barre and company all get a chance to shine, and there's next to no filler.


Track listing: 1) No Lullaby; 2) Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day; 3) Jack-In-The-Green; 4) One Brown Mouse; 5) A New Day Yesterday; 6) Flute Solo Improvisation; 7) Songs From The Wood; 8) Thick As A Brick; 9) Hunting Girl; 10) Too Old To Rock'n'Roll Too Young To Die; 11) Minstrel In The Gallery; 12) Cross-Eyed Mary; 13) Aqualung; 14) Locomotive Breath; 15) The Dambusters March - Medley.

Ah, finally, here comes the moment we've all been waiting for so long - a live album. Now, seriously, after having read the last four or five reviews, you might come to the conclusion that by the mid-Seventies Tull had completely metamorphosed into a deadly serious and deadly dull prog act with not an inch of entertainment value. Well, you're dead wrong, and it's my fault - partially. Partially, though, it is the fault of Ian Anderson who'd waited until 1978 to release this brilliant live album (this mistake has now been partially corrected after the release of the Carnegie Hall concert whose review is featured above, but that release is not all that easily available, plus the performance doesn't really represent the band at its live peak). It is a well-known fact, indeed, that Ian is, and always was, an incredible showman: Jethro Tull concerts were well worth watching even in the darkest times of synths and crappy generic metal riffage. The problem is, of course, that only a small part of his dazzling show is able to translate well onto a disc; like with the Stones, the Who and Fleetwood Mac, it really has to be seen to be believed. Even so, the music is awesome, and just like every professional and inspired band with enough self-respect, the Tullers played it loud, gruff and gritty on stage, often turning even throwaways into unforgettable show numbers.

This here album was recorded all over Europe, although rumour has it that most of the numbers were culled from a Frankfurt show. It's funny, by the way, how the whole deal starts with the announcer proclaiming the arrival of Tull in several different languages, as if they were combining the 'venues', but then it turns out that there's only one voice doing this, so it must be an overdub. Let's hope there are no other overdubs here, shall we? The sound is quite good, although I'm able to see some problems with the mix (Barlow's drumming, in particular, suffers on several numbers), and everybody's in top form, so there ain't no real technical problems here. And, of course, the main point is the setlist. The setlist is near-perfect! Out of the whole list, the only song that I still can hardly stand is 'Hunting Girl' from Songs On The Wood. The album opener, 'No Lullaby', though, sounds fresher, more energetic, tight and memorable, than on the original - an ideal example of how the band was able to improve its sound live.

Elsewhere, they draw heavily on the classics - 'Minstrel In The Gallery', 'Too Old To Rock'n'Roll', 'Songs From The Wood', 'Skating Away', to name a few - trimming them down mercilessly to fit into the long program (that's not bad at all) and decorating them with tasteful gimmicks, like all those swooping keyboard noises in 'Skating Away' or bits of boogie-woogie on 'Too Old To Rock'n'Roll'. They even go as far as to resuscitate 'A New Day Yesterday', and deliver a fiery, crunchy version that suddenly comes to an abrupt stop halfway through and goes into Anderson's 'Flute Solo Improvisation'. Now I say, it's worth owning the whole double album for this piece of music alone, since it really showcases Ian as the Lord God of that instrument. Nobody can play like he does - those fast, pulsating puffs and whuffs are enough to thrill a stone. And when he occasionally descends into 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' and 'Bouree' on the way, wow... these are moments of Medieval Folk Catharsis. Beautiful, stupendous, exciting... what else? Nothing. Oh, yes. You may hate Ian's flute playing. In which case I'm not speaking to ya!

Other highlights include a severely abridged 'Thick As A Brick': obviously, they didn't have the time (nor the wish, I think) to perform the suite in its entirety, so they just took a small bunch of segments, but they took most of the best ones, right? I don't think Martin Barre is as hot on this version as on the Madison Square Garden version from the same year (which you can see in the 20 Years Of Jethro Tull video), but he's hot. Hot enough. And, of course, the audience goes mad on the obligatory Aqualung crowd faves: 'Cross-Eyed Mary' is especially good, with Ian drowning the venue in his sea of flute sound, but 'Locomotive Breath' comes close (I like the version on A Little Light Music a little more, but then again, that one's a little more metallic, so guess it's a tie), and the title track is no slouch, either. Funniest moment: at the end of the show, Anderson reprises 'Aqualung', and changes the lyrics to sing 'goodbye, my friends, don't you start away uneasy', and then quickly realizes he has to mumble the next line, because he's got to sing 'you poor old sods, you see it's only me'; so he sings something like 'you poor old sons, you see it's only... could be anybody?' Heh heh. You poor old sod, you just made a spectacular live album! Get it if you find it, in fact, you'd better get this one instead of a compilation. Compilations are for suckers.

Oh, and this album seems to come in two versions: personally, I have the 1-CD version which cuts away a couple of songs, while the 2-CD version has the entire original 2-LP content. But I found this one cheap, and do you really want me to go and buy the 2-CD version dear? No way!



Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Apocalypsis a la Barre/Anderson interplay? Doesn't sound frightening at all, but sounds intriguing nevertheless...

Best song: ELEGY

Track listing: 1) North Sea Oil; 2) Orion; 3) Home; 4) Dark Ages; 5) Warm Sporran; 6) Something's On The Move; 7) Old Ghosts; 8) Dun Ringill; 9) Flying Dutchman; 10) Elegy.

With Heavy Horses probably being regarded by everybody as a practical joke, Ian decided it was time to get serious once again. So he concocted a conceptual album, built around the subject of the end of the world. The planet has run out of resources, the 'dark ages' are coming, everything is thrown into chaos, etc., etc. A polar bear prepares to annihilate an oil refinery or something on the back cover, while Ian Anderson (in the persona of the deity Stormwatch) is observing the panorama through binoculars on the front. Very well. But what about the music?

Well, even though this concept does seem to be a natural prolongation of the line developed on Songs From The Wood and especially Heavy Horses (which is the opposition of a pure, 'natural' world to the modern technological nightmare; hey, are we speaking Kinks?), the music doesn't resemble the one on those two albums not one weeny-meeny bit. The folk elements, be they pseudo-folk (as on SFTW) or genuine, childlike-folk (as on HH), are entirely gone, and the good old 'Tull formula' is back. The amazing thing is, the formula is not half-bad this time; I originally made the mistake of lumping the album together with the general Passion Play/Minstrel pot of melodyless pretentions, but while those two other albums never managed to grow on me, tuneless bores as they are, Stormwatch is far more agile and sense-making in that respect.

Actually, Ian is at his best here when he stays concise and within standard time limits. The two tracks that mar this album's flow the most are the two long epics ('Dark Ages' and 'Flying Dutchman'): it's not even that they're disgusting by themselves, they just hardly add anything to the past formula of 'mid-length' Tull, following the vein of something like 'Back Door Angels'. What this means is both of them are intended mostly as vehicles for Ian's skillful, but already 'patented' lyrical expression and the band's generic guitar/flute jams which, frankly speaking, I already had enough of. The actual melodies don't really play any importance in these cases: for that matter, the fast, gritty part of 'Dark Ages' looks like it's been lifted directly from 'Play In Time'; not that 'Play In Time' is a good song, if ya know what I be meanin'. On the other hand, 'Dark Ages' at least rocks, which is more than I can say for 'Flying Dutchman' that just fiddles its diddle and pollutes its flute for seven friggin' minutes.

However, the other eight tracks are all more or less acceptable; the emphasis is on 'rhythmic', 'powerful' and 'tuneful' - amazingly, Ian mostly drops his acoustic and so saves us the necessity of having to identify with his personal 'solo fantasies'. No introspective unmemorable 'anthems' as on Minstrel, and no laughable pseudo folk sendups. Instead, we get something as straightforward as 'Something's On The Move', a tune distinguished by masterful metallic riffage from Mr Barre that we haven't heard since God knows when (er, I mean, we had a lot of metallic riffage from Mr Barre, but it sure wasn't masterful). Or we get 'North Sea Oil', which expresses in three minutes far more than an entire half of the Songs From The Wood album. A good flute line underpins the song, a good guitar riff overpins it; and a moderately catchy refrain on top of that. Or we get the majestic, stomping 'Orion', which advances slowly and solemnly like some primal mastodont. Yeah, the song borrows something from 'Aqualung' (the electric/acoustic parts interchange), but it does that in a good and different way.

The novelty factor is quite high, too: the orchestrated ballad 'Home', for example, which could have been a perfect number in the hands of Elton John, but in the hands of Ian Anderson it does look a little weird. But does it look bad? Not at all. It begins on a suspicious note - as if Ian finally decided to concentrate on 'pointless strumming', but then it rises up to a climactic chorus and then Martin knock on the door and gets the permission to enter with some excellent electric. Again, reminds me of 'Chequered Flag' a bit, but it's still different. Ah, that old dirtbag Ian. He knows how to rip himself off without it being blatantly obvious, now does he? Heh heh. Equally 'novel' is the comedy instrumental 'Warm Sporran', which paves the road to the stupid 'Pine Marten's Jig' on the next album, but is actually quite nice by itself. Perhaps the only song on here that could have easily fit onto Heavy Horses. Ah well.

The best news is that, like any standard Seventies' Tull album, it has its small quantities of classic stuff - truly classic, I mean. At least two of the songs here gotta range among the best compositions that ever made it past the Ian Anderson Filtering Criteria (note that this is the first album since Stand Up with no title track, so I can't even call it a 'one-song album'. Okay, a 'two-song album' will do). These are the dark, utterly pessimistic and deeply bitter Celtic ballad 'Dun Ringill', with its brilliant use of echo to emphasize the sound of the main line 'goodbye, Dun Ringill', and the closing instrumental 'Elegy' which is no 'Bouree' but is still the second best instrumental recorded by the band; it builds on a deeply moving melody that gets carried either by Ian's flute or Barre's guitar with a solid touch of orchestration and provides at least a very comfortable ending to the album. These two tracks will at least make sure your money isn't just thrown away even if you're not that hot about anything else - although, like I said, this is a record that tends to grow on you.

Stormwatch does get monotonous at times, but then again, all Tull albums after Thick As A Brick get monotonous fairly quickly, so don't take that as a particular insult or anything. Actually, I think it's the lengthy tracks that mostly add the 'monotonous' vibe, because otherwise there are rockers, ballads, Celtic ballads, orchestrated classical stuff, well, you know the score. Plus, I actually like the vibe - so far, it's the 'darkest' album recorded by Tull (okay, Passion Play was pretty dark as well, but it was also stupid, and I can't really call Stormwatch stupid). So kudos to the band for ending the Seventies on a relatively high note.

And by the way, the album was the last of the classic Tull line-up. After this, bassist Glascock died of an infection and the band parted on holiday. Not that they broke up on intention: it seems that Ian wanted to do a solo album, but the managers (the scum!) persuaded him to dub it a Jethro Tull album, so he just ended up firing everybody but Barre and getting on with other members. The group became a revolving door in no time, and, frankly speaking, I shouldn't even be reviewing it. But, anyway, since the band, no matter who played in it, was always just a group of technical support for carrying out Ian's ideas, I might go ahead and continue. Even though there's little to praise about later period Tull.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 8

The 'new-look' Tull appeared to be more electronic, just as tight, and less melodious than the 'old-look' Tull.


Track listing: 1) Crossfire; 2) Fylingdale Flyer; 3) Working John Working Joe; 4) Black Sunday; 5) Protect And Survive; 6) Batteries Not Included; 7) Uniform; 8) 4 WD (Low Ratio); 9) The Pine Marten's Jig; 10) And Further On.

This album was actually intended to be an Ian Anderson solo album. It happened right after the Big Break - that is, when Mr Flute-player fired everybody and decided to get some "new blood". Eventually he was convinced by the managers that the "new blood" could be "Tull-kind of blood" as well, so he agreed to stick the "Tull" moniker onto the cover. And it's said that later on he repented - but, of course, it was too late already.

Unfortunately, the "new blood" did not really help. Ian was still an absolute despot, and the few arrogant "youngsters" (like ex-Roxy Music keyboardist and violin player Eddie Jobson) who tended to generate too many ideas did not last long. This album, however, does mark the beginning of a "new-look" Tull, but in a nasty way: Ian has begun experimenting with electronics, and beware! this is where garbage like Under Wraps takes its roots from, from tracks like "Batteries Not Included", "Protect And Survive"and such-like.

This one's a conceptual album, too. The name (probably the shortest album name on Earth, excluding those that do not have any names at all, like Led Zep's fourth album, but then again we have to call Led Zep's fourth album SOMETHING like "Fourth Album" or "Untitled" or "Zoso", so it automatically becomes longer, sorry for the digression) stands for "Alert" which is displayed on the computer screens at the start of a nuclear war. So it inherits its theme directly from Stormwatch: end of civilization, humanity in deep crisis, chaos and ruin. Imagine that!

But then again, this time the concept is limited to just one or two tracks - it's not really that significant. The significant thing is, not anywhere else on any other Tull album did I ever see such a sharp contrast between the first and the second sides of the LP. The first side of A is, while far from genius, at least tolerable and more or less skilfully written, and that's what earns the album its poor, but not tiny, rating. The second side, on the other hand, is abysmal, easily the worst collection of dreck Mr Anderson has come up with so far, and that's including Minstrel In The Gallery and A Passion Play.

The songs on the first side are really interesting in some ways. Like a desperate Winnie-the-Pooh climbing atop the oak-tree to get some honey, they just become better and better with each next one. We start out with the apocalyptic 'Crossfire', not a gem by any means, but still a competent pop rocker with a relatively catchy vocal melody. That said, signs of decline are obvious from the very start: what's that idiotic Casio keyboard sound that mars the song over and over again? Didn't they have any good, professionally designed keyboards anywhere around? Same goes for the central 'conceptual' song, 'Fylingdale Flyer' - the song is good, the synthesizers are hideous, and moreover, these hideous synthesizer passages are hardly even compatible with the main melody! Stupid unnecessary atonal bang-bangs (is that supposed to be so "ominous"?), alternating with a cute little folkish melody and half-corny New Wave-inspired passages. Uneven, yes, but salvageable. Then the record climbs a bit higher, towards the next branch, which is Tull's little bit of biting social statement in the inspired 'Working John, Working Joe'. Catchy chorus, convincing social statement, real emotion and feeling - what else is needed?

And then we nearly reach the crown of the tree, with the record's one and only classic, the haunting six-minute long 'Black Sunday'. It veers away from the dated electronic sound, I'd say back to the vein of Stormwatch, with a dark and disturbed (and memorable) vocal melody that later on gets expanded with good solos and all kinds of brilliant atmospheric passages. One of Tull's best attempts at capturing that 'light pessimistic' vibe.

And then comes the crash and poor Winnie dives into the thistles! Side B is absolutely unlistenable, with not a single outstanding melody or anything. Almost as if it were recorded by a different band altogether. Even the lyrics are incredibly dumb at times, like in "4WD" (A CAR SONG? By Jethro Tull? Even if it is a groove, it's a failed one). The overall impression is pretty sad. 'Protect And Survive', 'Batteries Not Included' and 'Uniform' only come across as bloated and senseless collages of stupid electronic noises, dissonant grooves and a complete lack of purpose or aim. 'The Pine Marten's Jig', coming next behind them, is almost totally incompatible - it is, indeed, a folkish jig with a few untrivial tempo changes and a violent guitar solo thrown in to confuse the listener, but even if it's no great addition to the Tull catalog, it's still the best track on the second side. And of course, what a better way to close the album than with a sloppy, over-pathetic, formulaic ballad ('And Further On')? Pleaaaase, Ian!

For the record: besides inaugurating the 'electronic Tull' period, the record is also notable for featuring Dave Pegg on base for the first time. However, this sounds nothing like Fairport Convention, believe me. This sounds... messy. Messy and very, very sad. Due to 'Black Sunday' and those other songs on the first side that don't make me vomit, this is not the worst Tull record ever, but it's still the worst one up to that point. Well, what can I say? Some bands do well when they first tackle electronic instruments, but some bands don't do at all well. Jethro Tull obviously falls into the second category. Let that be a lesson: if you take elements of New Wave and synth-pop sound and try to cross 'em with progressive rock structures, what you get is A. Capisce?



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12

A very rare opportunity of a successful all-out rockin' album with electronic gimmicks actually adding to the sound.


Track listing: 1) Beastie; 2) Clasp; 3) Fallen On Hard Times; 4) Flying Colours; 5) Slow Marching Band; 6) Broadsword; 7) Pussy Willow; 8) Watching Me Watching You; 9) Seal Driver; 10) Cheerio.

Wow, interesting. In between two of the most unentertaining albums the band ever did is sandwiched quite a noteworthy effort. It's not exactly a 'return to form', because the Jethro Tull of old are gone forever, but hey, maybe it's all for the better. Instead of going back, Ian is obviously just trying to 'correct' some of his synthesizer-laiden soundtracks by returning to somewhat more traditional (which means generic, but which also means listenable) melody-making. This is also where the band has dropped electric violin virtuoso Eddie Jobson in favour of keyboard wiz Peter John Vettese who managed to stay with the band for quite a substantial period (three albums, actually, which is not that little for Eighties' Tull). He's good, even though he procured the band an almost total dependance on synths, much like Tony Banks did for Genesis.

Fortunately, the melodies are so tasty, fresh and memorable that you'll soon forget the synthesizerytis atmosphere. As usual, the record is a concept one, though you wouldn't know it by listening to the songs (supposedly the concept had to be built around an epic sci-fi tale of man/dragon combat or something like that, but only bits and pieces of the original concept had survived). Apart from that, it features a terrific album cover which portrays Ian Anderson as 'Beastie' and the remaining band members as... err... the Beastie's croonies, maybe? But as you prepare yourself for a lengthy and pretentious gothic-medieval sound exploration, you suddenly realize there's only two songs on here that do carry on this mood, namely, the two side-openers 'Beastie' and 'Broadsword'. Just two! Moreover, to your utmost amazement, they're good: 'Beastie' manages to thump along with a great deal of energy and force unparallelled since maybe Aqualung, and 'Broadsword' is a good ol' Viking song with a lot of genuine-looking majesty and atmosphere. Both of them are heavily punctuated by computer-generated sound, of course, but somehow they manage not to mess things up and keep these 'embellishments' so that they really contribute to the mood. The Viking Mood. Nobody has captured the Viking Mood better than Led Zeppelin did on 'No Quarter'; Ian, with 'Broadsword', comes second.

So - but as soon as you've understood the main goal of the album is to clutch your broadsword and exorcise the Beast that is within you, the concept stops right there. The decent melodies don't, though. There's a couple more successful rockers (the last time the Tullers managed to pull out a decent rocker of that quality was probably at least a decade ago), like the ominous, surprisingly-stop-and-start 'Clasp' and the slightly retro-sounding, but pretty 'Pussy Willow'. There's a deeply moving and strangely scary epic anthem with unforgettable flute riffage ('Fallen On Hard Times'). There's a beautiful, moving, deeply heartfelt, bleeding bombastic ballad ('Slow Marching Band'). There's a powerful, inspiring anthem ('Flying Colours') that's energized beyond our biggest hopes.

There's even a funny spooky groove - 'Watching Me Watching You', with crazy drum patterns strewn throughout the song in order to emphasize the sense of paranoia. (Somehow, this song has without any apparent reason made it onto the lowest rung of Tull compositions among the fans; I suppose it has something to do with it sounding a wee bit New Wave-ish, and you know that rabid Tull fans and New Wave tolerance is a near-incompatible thing.) And finally, the album ends on a gentle and touching note with a nod to 'Grace' (the charming farewell of 'Cheerio').

Filler? The filler amount is surprisingly low; actually, I count just one piece of filler, the endless 'Seal Driver' which is the only song on here that doesn't have a well defined hook and drives on fueled by energy alone. Martin's solo in the middle is beautiful, but so is his solo on, say, 'Broadsword', so the song sure has a lot of competition. But forget that, that's just one song: the lowest rate of filler on a Tull album since at least Thick As A Brick. The actual melodies are all distinguishable, rarely boring, and there's almost no sign of those uninspired, poorly-crafted 'jams' that infest their Seventies catalogue: the songs are relatively short and always straight to the point.

In all, this could have been a perfect formula for late-period Tull: retro rockers/ballads with a significant, but not over-the-top touch of modern production values. For once, Ian came close to learning and clearly understanding the possibilities of "modern technologies" and settling into a groove that would allow him to combine modern-sounding arrangements with his age-old gift for hooks and melodies. Who knows? Maybe if Jethro Tull had only stuck with this formula for some more time they'd even succeed in gaining some long-lost respect. With an album like Broadsword, Ian clearly let us know that he, too, could be able to survive the 'hard times' and creatively reinvent himself, like Genesis and Yes, and even better than Genesis and Yes, because the latter actually reinvented themselves as mainstream pop bands - excellent mainstream pop bands, to be sure (particularly Genesis in 1981-83), but mainstream pop bands all the same. Ian reinvented himself as the same old witty prog-rocker, who can even tame lame lifeless Eighties production if the need arises.

But no, that was not to happen. As it was, the silly need to 'progress' and 'experiment' eventually drove Ian to the point of recording some of the worst trash that could ever come out of the whole prog-rock bunch - and then, to a complete and lengthy period of total musical degradation.



Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 2
Overall rating = 5

A tuneless bunch of computer-produced noise. Avoid this at all costs.

Best song: LAP OF LUXURY

Track listing: 1) Lap Of Luxury; 2) Under Wraps # 1; 3) European Legacy; 4) Later That Same Evening; 5) Saboteur; 6) Radio Free Moscow; 7) Astronomy; 8) Tundra; 9) Nobody's Car; 10) Heat; 11) Under Wraps # 2; 12) Paparazzi; 13) Apogee; 14) Automotive Engineering; 15) General Crossing.

Really. The unpleasant things that populated the last two Tull albums are all here (drum machines, synths, diverse production gimmicks and sound effects), all right. But this time they're not compensated neither with good melodies nor with... hell, nor with anything else. Even Barre's guitar, which slowly tends to evolve to the kind of metal crap that was so typical for the Eighties, is rarely heard among the forests and seas of electronic sound. I really don't know what Ian was thinking about and how much effort did he really shove into this piece of worthless plastic.

Well, I mean, on the other hand, I do know what Ian was thinking about. He was thinking about how synthesizers and electronics could turn out to be the real true future of music and decided to jump on the bandwagon - having missed the New Wave bandwagon, he thought it would have been nice to at least catch the synth pop bandwagon. But I don't hate the album for the same reason that Tull fans usually hate it, i.e. for the reason that "Jethro Tull are a prog-rock band! What are they doing with all that electronica pop crap?". As you might have noticed, I have evaluated Broadsword And The Beast rather highly. No, the reason is that the band, and Ian in particular, simply missed the very point of synth-pop. Essentially, synth-pop is just a facilitated way of making simple, effective pop/rock tunes - it has no value in itself whatsoever. Creating, for instance, a touching atmospheric texture within the world of synth-pop is a task worthy of a Hercules. And when you try to mix synth-pop with traces of 'progressive' - complex song structures, pretentious lyrics, untrivial, hookless melodies - the result can only be predicted as a complete disaster. Anderson tries to breathe life into these clumsy, robotic numbers, but all he results in is a humourless, unmemorable offense to the good memory of Jethro Tull.

The track listing here is endless, with bonus tracks for the CD, and this only makes the hatred grow. Even the lyrics have degenerated to either an uncompromised paranoid spy-mania ('Nobody's Car', 'Saboteur', 'Radio Free Moscow') or lousy social critique ('Lap Of Luxury'). Despite this, 'Lap Of Luxury' seems to be one of the few really listenable songs on here, with an actual melody and groove going on. It's one of the songs on here that doesn't try to be complex, concentrating instead on a couple of solid vocal hooks, and as a result, it works better than almost anything else.

The title track is also nice, displaying some genuine emotion (even though it's indeed 'under wraps', being enchained by horrendous disco backing). And 'European Legacy' at least contributes an interesting flute line now and then.

The rest is totally loathsome bullshit computer garbage, and hopefully Mr Anderson realizes it himself by now: starting from 'Later That Same Evening', not even a single song manages to stand out even on repeated listens. Perhaps one can console oneself with the fact that on some level, in some way the album manages to work as a whole - there's this feeling of desperation, paranoia, being followed and tracked around running throughout all the tracks, which makes Under Wraps a somewhat unique record in Tull's canon, at least when we speak on philosophic grounds. But that's up to Mr Anderson; what I worry about primarily is a record's enjoyability. Conceptual consistency is important, of course (or else everything would be similar to those gazillions of Kiss albums, I guess), but only as long as it enhances the actual music quality. Where there's no quality, there's no consistency anyway.

And there's no quality in these songs. The rhythms are as standard as anything - there's basically one fast rhythm track and one slow rhythm track used for all of those twelve or so numbers. The guitar riffs are near-non-existent, and when it is existent, I can't even believe that it's Mr Barre who plays those guitars. True enough, he hasn't yet developed the generic metal punch of the late Eighties, but he'd already developed the generic arena-rock punch of the early Eighties (Trevor Rabin, Mike Rutherford, you get the drift). The synths are prominent and occupy every possible spot, but they're deadly boring anyway, with hardly a single memorable electronic melody anywhere in sight. "Exploration" and "experimentation" is the key word here, but somehow Ian seems to have forgot that many people have already explored and experimented with those gadgets before him, and did that without forgetting to write songs. David Bowie, for instance. Or the Cars. (Sorry all ye New Wave haters - just couldn't resist mentioning the Cars in a Jethro Tull review!). Geez, I can't even believe that it was Mr Vettese who provided both the moody atmospheric textures on Broadsword and the ugly electronic crap on here. Move on.

Perversely enough, Under Wraps was the lengthiest Jethro Tull album up to date - together with the couple of extra songs for CD edition, it lasts for almost an hour. Arguably the vilest, most untolerable hour in my entire Jethro Tull collection, even if some of the later albums did come close.



Year Of Release: 1985
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

A classic case indeed. Shows that symphonic versions of prog classics beat Tchaikowsky to death. Jokin', of course.


Track listing: 1) Locomotive Breath; 2) Thick As A Brick; 3) Elegy; 4) Bouree; 5) Fly By Night; 6) Aqualung; 7) Too Old To Rock'n'Roll Too Young To Die; 8) Medley: Teacher/Bungle In The Jungle/Locomotive Breath; 9) Living In The Past; 10) Warchild.

A little breath of relaxation for the band - well, this isn't exactly a Jethro Tull album, but it just as well might be one, seeing as Anderson, Barre, Peter Vettese and Dave Pegg all play on it, whilst the London Symphony Orchestra makes its best to re-create those wonderful ol' time Tull classics using arrangements written by ol' pal and ex-member Dave Palmer.

This should probably be the end of my review, 'cause I'm a bit hard-pressed to say anything here. Okay, I guess there are at least three facts to be underlined about this record, after which I'll just shut up. First, all of these tracks are purely instrumental, so those of you who have their gripes with Ian's grating voice (not to mention his increasingly grating voice in the mid-Eighties and later) can safely buy it and sing along - assuming, of course, that your voice is better than Ian's, which I doubt a priori. Criticize is one thing, and do better is another one. Of course, the band actually plays on this album, with Ian contributing flute and Martin contributing guitar and Pegg contributing bass and so on, so those of you who have your gripes with Jethro Tull instrumentation should better stay away. Then again, if you have all those gripes, whatcher doing here in the first place?

Second, it's a good thing that they only do the 'classics' - there ain't even a single bad song on here. Which just goes to show that deep down in his heart Ian knew which of his songs were great and which ones were crappy. Tee hee. Oh, excuse me: there is one totally worthless and annoying, nearly melodyless composition here, and it appears to be taken off of one of Ian's contemporary solo albums ('Fly By Night'). Gee, if it doesn't manage to inspire me when performed by a symphony orchestra, then it must be real bad in its original form. But elsewhere, you just get your 'Aqualung' and your 'Living In The Past', right? And none of that synth-pop crap: most of the selections go back to the classic epoch, heavily concentrating on the radio hits. My idea is that the London Symphony Orchstra simply declined to reproduce the sixteen minutes of 'Baker Street Muse'. I would, too, were I in their place.

Third and main: these arrangements are fabulous! Props go to Dave Palmer, a very bright guy indeed. I mean, there are places where you can't really replace a rock instrument by an orchestra, like on the guitar solo on 'Aqualung': all such parts are given to Martin Barre to play. (Which, by the way, is one of the few letdowns for me: I feel too much generic metal gloss in Martin's approach, and in some way, this soloing almost preannounces the banalities of Tull's upcoming heavy metal period). Ian, too, turns in some strong flute parts. But best of all is that the orchestra provides a terrific substitute to Ian's voice - on 'Locomotive Breath', for instance, Ian replaces the first verse with a flute part, and the second verse is all strings, and it's not any worse than the actual singing.

Same goes for 'Aqualung', 'Bungle In The Jungle' (here included in a medley together with 'Teacher' and another re-run of 'Locomotive Breath') and 'Too Old To Rock'n'Roll'. Best of all, though, is 'Thick As A Brick'; my only complaints about that one is that they could have done a more significant chunk of it than just four minutes - come to think of it, the suite seems almost perfectly fit for a symphonic performance. Ah, once there was a time when Ian Anderson would weave mighty fine creative vocal melodies with a single wave of his chords... melodies that shine even brighter when a bunch of strings replaces the original singing to show how catchy this all was in the first place. Where are those good old days? Why did Ian suddenly decide that catchy vocals were 'beyond' him?

This would also be a good place for you to lay your hands on 'Elegy' (a stunning version), although I don't think putting on 'Bouree' was really a very good idea - after all, it ain't too inventive, seeing as it was initially a classical composition that had nothing to do with Ian Anderson in the first place. But who am I to judge? And why should I complain? This is, like, perfect background music for you and your guests, and a good substitute for your rock-and-rolla favourites if your guests aren't the guitar-friendly types. Just do me a favour and skip 'Fly By Night', and also skip that annoying final track that, at least on my track listing, cries out loud that it's 'Warchild' but I'll be damned if it has anything to do with 'Warchild'. Sounds like boring mood-string-sap to me; five minutes of brooding symphonic instruments that go nowhere and only serve to form a sort of 'atmospheric epilogue' for the record.

Needless to say, the album's out of print for years. So why do I have it? Ha ha! It's been issued here in Russia! Maybe I bought the last copy of it in the whole wide world! But still - read this review! In fact, read all my reviews! If I don't get paid for it, I might at least get read for it!!! In the meantime, I give the record a fair, well-rounded, well-deserved eight. I also suggest that if you, oh gracious reader, plan to advance beyond this point, you have to gird thyself with patience, arm thyself with courage, and say ten rosaries before proceeding further. Amen.



Year Of Release: 1987
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6

Heck of a come-back. Heavy metal and heavy nostalgia do not a Tull record make.

Best song: JUMP START

Track listing: 1) Steel Monkey; 2) Farm On The Freeway; 3) Jump Start; 4) Said She Was A Dancer; 5) Dogs In The Midwinter; 6) Budapest; 7) Mountain Men; 8) The Waking Edge; 9) Raising Steam.

I originally gave the record a rating of 2, but, as you see, even with a couple more listens I still don't see why it should deserve a lot more. Strange thing is, some Tull fans actually enjoy this. Many Tull fans enjoy it, in fact - but I guess it's all a matter of attitude. To my ears, it certainly sounds different from Under Wraps and, let's admit it, it does sound better. But not much. This record opens yet another period in Tull life - the heavy metal period.

Three years had passed since the last album, during which at least two things happened, none of it likely to benefit the band. First, Ian had had serious problems with his voice, suffering from some atrocious throat disease, and when he finally recovered, he came out with an entirely new voice: now it's creaky, rough and much thinner in range and, on some songs, downright annoying even for those that didn't mind his old singing style ('Waking Edge'). Next, Martin Barre's strange passion for heavy metal has finally found a way out. So the record begins with a three-song metal fiesta that might be suitable for, say, Poison, but which is usually not exactly the kind of stuff you'd expect from a good prog-rock band. Out of these three songs, 'Steel Monkey' is unlistenable crap (Barre's tin-laden solos together with Vettese's comp synths? Brr...), 'Farm On The Freeway' is only interesting lyrically and 'Jump Start', probably the only decent song on the whole album, is at least painful (in a good sense of the word), if only you cut out the generic metal solos. Hey, it's got a good melody, I won't deny it; it's got real heartfelt energy matched with driving flute/guitar riffs in order to form a semi-classic. But oh my God, why that generic metal wailing?

Ian does order Barre to shut up for a couple of moments, but it's of no use. The two ballads are really laughable: not only are they built around identic subjects (unsuccessful love affairs with a Moscow dancer in 'She Said She Was A Dancer' and a Hungarian dancer in 'Budapest'), they also refuse to give us anything except an unlimited amount of a 'look-back' feeling emanating from Ian as if his only point at this time in his career was to demonstrate his right for pompous nostalgia. Thanks but no, thanks, Ian. I know you're an old fart and there's no use in reminding me about it for fifteen minutes (yup, 'Budapest' does turn into a lengthy flute/guitar jam in the middle). On top of that, 'She Said She Was A Dancer' really features the best in Ian's 'new' singing voice that he could muster and for a few seconds actually sounds endearing, although from a purely nostalgic point of view.

The rest of the songs, however, are so bland and utterly uncaptivating that Minstrel In The Gallery sounds like Beethoven in comparison. 'Mountain Men' is the worst offender besides 'Budapest' - a mid-tempo 'rocker' that goes on for over six minutes to do absolutely nothing. Rule number one: a solid rocker must have a solid riff. If there's no solid riff, at least give it a solid vocal hook. No riff? No vocal hook? In this case it's "pure atmospherics", and not a particularly inviting sort of atmospherics, either. Crest Of A Knave and its vibe have often been compared to Mark Knopfler and his moody Dire Straits' style; I gotta admit there certainly is something to that comparison - Ian goes for that mid-tempo rockin' guitar-based philosophic, slightly sarcastic style that Knopfler is famous for. But at least Mark Knopfler, you know, had a unique guitar-playing style. And he was actually not above placing hooks in at least some of his songs. And this is far, far more than I could say of the style on here.

Crest Of A Knave is still better than whatever followed it, if only because it had at least one solid number ('Jump Start') and actually only served as the beginning of the 'metal period' - so it has something redeemable, that is, if one really feels the need to redeem it. But personally, I don't. As usual, I have a feeling that most of the love towards this thingie, as in, say, Minstrel's case, revolves around the lyrics and Ian's vocal attitude. I agree - the lyrics aren't bad, and as Anderson once again observes this world from the point of an elder sceptical statesman, there sure is a thing or two you can learn from them. But get this: I don't - yeah, you heard right - I don't listen to Jethro Tull for the lyrics. If I want lyrics, I'll take Dylan or Elvis Costello. If I'm in a particularly distasteful day, I'll take Springsteen. I fell in love with Jethro Tull because of the fascinating music that its procreator used to write at one time, and what I expect from the guy is to give me solid music. This particular musical background isn't solid. As a matter of fact, it's rather crappy. Not a decent melody in sight. Heck, not even a generic melody in sight. It's the instrumentation that is generic - generic synths, generic metal solos, etc. - but the melodies aren't even by-the-book, they're just missing. Hard to believe, but yeah, there's the lyrics and there's no music. And if you want to marvel at the lyrics, print 'em out on a sheet of paper and hang them on the wall. That'll work better. (And yeah, well, speaking of the lyrics, let's not forget the obscenity of 'Budapest' either).

Strange enough, the record got the Grammy nomination for 'best heavy metal album of year'. Not only that, Tull actually beat Metallica in that nomination. I wonder if this was the subject of an old nightmare Ian might have had around 1970 or so?



Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 2
Overall rating = 5

Naughty naughty. They still persist in the same mistakes.


Track listing: 1) Kissing Willie; 2) The Rattlesnake Trail; 3) Ears Of Tin; 4) Undressed To Kill; 5) Rock Island; 6) Heavy Water; 7) Another Christmas Song; 8) The Whaler's Dues; 9) Big Riff And Mando; 10) Strange Avenues.

Basically Crest Of A Knave Volume II, but with even fewer new ideas or entertaining songs. Fewer? Hell! Listen to this: I know Under Wraps shares the same rating with this borefest, but at least Under Wraps had one or two really good songs on it, plus it steered the band into a new, different direction - whether that direction was stupid and unmusical or not is another question. To my mind, Under Wraps was pointless, unmemorable, ugly and offensive, but I can easily change it the other way round and say that this is the murkiest, silliest, most annoying, most unnecessary album to ever bear the Jethro Tull name. What a telling cover: Ian Anderson's last gasps as he's drowning under the weight of his own pretentions, with not a melody in sight!

Either Ian was just tired of endless and apparently fruitless experimentation, or the relative success of Knave got to his head, but, anyway, this album tightly follows the formula: technically immaculate playing and production, deep, echo-laden sound, gruff and menacing vocals, sarcastic and pessimist, at times even close to misanthropic, lyrics, generic heavy metal solos and a common and bland vintage of riffing which is already well-known and was thoroughly exploited by hundreds of both more and less successful bands in the past. None of the songs here offer us any irresistible hooks, nor do they strike us with any original ideas. Not a single song is memorable in any given way; this time, there's not even a cool riff like that of 'Jump Start' to lighten up our impression of any selected song.

Now the best answer to the question 'What's happened?' would be: 'Ian finally gave up on creating interesting music and settled on a Dire Straits-type image of making up deeply thought-out lyrics and setting them to a rudimentary (= crappy) musical background'. While that's not entirely true (because even the worst Dire Straits album has better music than this stuff), it could at least be taken for an excuse. But what's even worse, Ian's lyrics have gone totally crazy: God only knows what he was trying to tell us with this album. The only more or less definite subject that seems to run through all the selections are unsuccessful love stories, but they get much less explicit than on Knave ('Undressed To Kill') and in parts seem like a half-assed Dylan rip-off with total lack of contempt for grammar rules ('Kissing Willie'). The title track, with the telling message that 'everyone has his own rock island', might be the only decent poetic inclusion on here.

There are even less ballads here, though, than on Crest, and even the few that did make it onto the record often develop into heavy metal wankathons ('Ears Of Tin' - just as you settle down into a quiet romantic mood, these generic metal riffs come in again, yuck). The instrumental passages are deadly boring ('Strange Avenues'), but the sung parts do not offer us any laudable alternative. And the "epic" number of the record, the eight-minute suite 'Whaler's Dues', is just totally unbearable, with not a single moment that would stand out of the muck. Cheesy diddly-diddly synths, patterned flute phrases we've already heard a couple trillion times... hey, I don't really need to describe the song, as it sounds exactly like every other one. What's it about? An old man who killed a whale to feed his family and got jailed for that. 'Are you with me?' 'NO!' That's about the only moment of any interest in the song, a little bit of overblown theatricality thrown in, but really, is that enough to save the song? Don't make me laugh.

In short, Rock Island is just generic garbage of the kind that every silly pretentious, self-indulgent band in the Eighties was throwing out at the humble audiences. The fact that it is dressed up as an intelligent concept album, what with the title track and all, doesn't really help much. Neither do a couple of funny grooves which I personally consider my last straws in the affair of lamenting for my lost money; the best of these, 'The Rattlesnake Trail', has at least a very funny refrain, complete with real rattlesnake noises and enthusiastic 'whoa!'s, although I doubt Ian ever conceived this song as a comedy number. And PROBABLY - probably - after a million listens a song like 'Another Christmas Song' can really get to your heart, just because it is really so Dire Straits-ish.

What a pity. I hate saying it, but maybe this was really the definite end of Tull - the album that amply demonstrated the world Ian Anderson had nothing left to say. Because, even if we consider all the past weaknesses of the band and the numerous missteps Ian had committed in the past twenty years, nobody can deny that throughout all of this time the Tullers were fairly inventive and original. Never before have they released two albums that resembled each other like two drops of water. Until Rock Island came and blew the myth away. So long, the myth of Jethro Tull! Bye-bye! See ya at the Final Judgement!

Sorry all ye merry Tull fans: I know many of you find the atmosphere of Crest and this album endearing, but the idea of crossing Dire Straits' roots-rock with Ian Anderson's brand of poetry and rotten metal riffs just can't seem to be appealing to me. Is this album well-produced? Definitely. Energetic? I guess so, although that's "boring energy" if I could say so. Is that enough? Not at all.



Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Outtakes and rarities, mostly good - unfortunately, I don't have money for the real thing.


Track listing: 1) Stormy Monday Blues; 2) Love Story; 3) A New Day Yesterday; 4) Summerday Sands; 5) March The Mad Scientist; 6) Lick Your Fingers Clean; 7) Overhang; 8) Crossword; 9) Jack-A-Lynn; 10) Kelpie; 11) Part Of The Machine; 12) Mayhem Maybe; 13) Wond'ring Aloud; 14) Dun Ringill; 15) Life's A Long Song; 16) Nursie; 17) Grace; 18) Witch's Promise; 19) Living In The Past; 20) Aqualung; 21) Locomotive Breath.

Jethro Tull are well known for releasing an anniversary box set every five years: there's been a 20 Years Anniversary boxset, a 25 Years Anniversary boxset, and yes last year there was a 30 Years Anniversary boxset or at least a greatest hits anniversary package or edition or something. Seeing as, if the gods be pleased, Ian might have at least another thirty or forty years of life ahead of him, you'd better start saving your money now. That is, if you're a diehard, naturally. I rarely review box sets here for various reasons, the most serious of them being probably the cost; you'll just have to wait until the Russian economics gets to normal which is probably long after Ian's deceased. This, however, ain't a boxset - it's a single CD that features a short selection of tracks from the five CD's of the 20 Years Anniversary set, just so that the curious listener might take a peek at what actually was on there; and once I saw it cheap, I decided to go ahead and grab it. And a good thing I did! This stuff is pretty much great, let me tell ya! It sure makes me yearn for the boxset itself, but, okay, let's hold up on that. This here stuff is divided into four parts, each featuring from five to eight numbers from each of the four sections on the big boxset, and it's all clever.

The first part is 'Radio Archives And Rare Tracks' - radio and TV recordings of rarities and suchlike, with a wonderful BBC version of 'Stormy Monday Blues' (ooh, remember the time when Jethro Tull were a first-rate, innovative blues band? This was!!!!), rockin' workouts in 'Love Story' and 'A New Day Yesterday' (where Anderson actually uses a harmonica instead of the later flute, plus we get to hear a surprisingly timid solo from Martin), and an unknown mid-period outtake called 'Summerday Sands' which is... hmm, okay, I guess. One of the finest things in the section, of course, is the host's announcement of the band - 'you know, this group could be the biggest attraction since the Stones'.

Then there's 'Flawed Gems (Dusted Down)' with the actual outtakes. It begins with a fantastic rocker, 'Lick Your Fingers Clean', for some dumb reason rejected during the recording of Aqualung. It's in the vein of the fast part in 'Wind-Up', if you remember that one, but I personally dig it much more than 'Wind-Up'. Ian's singing is perfect, the drunken backing vocals are hilarious, and the growling guitar tone of Barre also gets me nostalgic. (Later on, the song was reworked as 'Two Fingers' on Warchild with a somewhat different - inferior - melody). The other outtakes belong to a far later epoch; as far as I understand, 'Overhang' and 'Crossword' are from the early Eighties (could be Broadsword outtakes), while 'Jack-A-Lynn' is from the folkie vibe. Either way, they're nice outtakes: 'Overhang' has this desperate medieval synth-pop vibe of Beast, coupled with vocal hooks, while 'Crossword' is kinda playful.

The filler comes in in the third part ('The Other Sides Of Tull') where we have some more outtakes from the early Eighties, but this time they're more in the Stormwatch vibe: 'Mayhem Maybe' could easily stem from that album, unfortunately, they remind me of its worst rather than its best - no obvious hooks, just atmosphere. Funny, though, how that slide into uninventive electronics that marred Jethro Tull's existence in the Eighties is so well observed on here: 'Kelpie' is half-"medieval" and half-Eighties, with metallic riffs and dull synths to back it up. Luckily, the section ends in some good contemporary live renditions of classics such as 'Dun Ringill' and 'Life's A Long Song'. 'Part Of The Machine', as far as I know, was recorded specially for the boxset... a fillerpiece as well.

Finally, 'Essential Tull' gives us some more live recordings, like an energetic rendition of 'Living In The Past' and 'Aqualung' and a so-so 'Locomotive Breath' that unexpectedly turns into an instrumental reprise of 'Black Sunday' at the end (so it must be from the A tour). Oh, never mind, 'Black Sunday' is the best song on A, so I'm not offended. I AM offended at 'Witch's Promise', though: why give us the usual version which can be found on Living In The Past?

In all, this abbreviated collection has got me really excited - these numerous outtake collections seem to have a thousand times more value than the dull late Eighties - Nineties contemporary Tull product. This was, for the first time, a clear indication that even if as a creative and innovative outfit Jethro Tull were a dead duck at the tail end of the Eighties, at least they had plenty of worthwhile stuff lying in the vaults to keep fans occupied for years and years. 'Lick Your Fingers Clean' alone is worth a fortune, and one might even ask oneself - why the heck did Ian Anderson feel this strange need to release albums packed with filler when he could easily have thrown on some of this stuff? (Easy answer: remember, "hooks" are above Mr Anderson - many of these songs were probably way too 'commercial' for him). Unfortunately, the boxsets are expensive, moreover, I haven't even seen 'em yet in Russia - in fact, the 20th Anniversary set seems to have been out of print for quite some time. Still, time goes by and who knows, maybe in time I'll get to lay my hands on 'em. I'm sure it'll be worth the deal. Meanwhile, all you music lovers with enough dough there, don't hesitate and invest your capital in a Jethro Tull boxset whenever you get the chance to do so. At least it's better than spending it on some Offspring garbage.



Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9

Some interesting nostlagic pieces on here, for sure. But too much of the same hard-'off-rockin'' stuff.


Track listing: 1) This Is Not Love; 2) Occasional Demons; 3) Roll Yer Own; 4) Rocks On The Road; 5) Sparrow On The Schoolyard Wall; 6) Thinking Round Corners; 7) Still Loving You Tonight; 8) Doctor To My Disease; 9) Like A Tall Thin Girl; 10) White Innocence; 11) Sleeping With The Dog; 12) Gold-Tipped Boots, Black Jacket And Tie; 13) When Jesus Came To Play.

See, this could easily be Crest Of A Knave Volume Three, but somehow it isn't. Well, at least - not quite. It's slightly better than the previous two albums, moreover, it's slightly better in every respect. So if you're desperate about latest Tull, you might as well start here, especially since Rising does step away from the previously worked out formula. Come to think of it, there was absolutely nowhere to go down after the preceding three studio albums; things don't get much worse for an acclaimed intelligent progressive band, you know. And while Ian never actually introduced any particularly new elements on here, he seems to have realised some of the previous mistakes and made a few corrections to the sound. And whammo! all of a sudden, something clicked, and we end up with a thoroughly inoffensive (aside from a few spots) record that's quite a nice treat even for the non-diehard fan.

Sure, it does include lots of the same generic metal songs we've all grown so addicted to ('Occasional Demons', with goofy lyrics probably destined to sound as a parody on death metal; 'Doctor To My Disease'), but even the metal crap can sometimes be catchy - not to mention fast, as Ian slightly revs up the tempo and transforms the "stagnated energy" of Rock Island into something more viable. Both of these songs are no great shakes, but at least they work as toe-tappers, and what's even better, the humor is back: 'Occasional Demons', with its silly 'all kinds of animals here, occasional demons too' refrain is such a goofy pseudo-Satanic put-on that it can't help but bring a smile on my face. And at least one of the metal numbers is quite a good, good song: 'This Is Not Love' is, come to think of it, far superior to 'Rattlesnake Trail' which, as you remember, is my bet for the best song on Rock Island. There's a sense of direction in this song, a sense of urgency and desperation that's crossed with a catchy vocal hook and turns into an aggressive highlight.

On the other hand, this record features a lot more flute, acoustic guitar and singing than Rock Island, so it's nowhere near as annoyingly monotonous. I can scarcely remember a song on that album which didn't feature a crappy metal riff at its center; here, there's stuff like 'Roll Yer Own' and 'Gold-Tipped Boots, Black Jacket And Tie' which are not only folksy at heart, but also folksy of soul. Apparently, Ian had gotten tired of the formula and this, taken together with the fact that Island hardly sold anything at all, pushed him to further 'experimenting'. For better or for worse, in this particular case 'experimenting' meant ripping-off of his past successes (and failures). So if you listen hard enough, at the heart of a lot of these songs you might find your old all-time favourites: 'Rocks On The Road' owes a lot to 'Baker St. Muse' (especially lyricswise), 'Thinking Round Corners' is a re-write of 'Taxi Grab' and 'Like A Tall Thin Girl' even borrows some sitar-imitating guitar lines from 'Fat Man' (hell, it even has the line 'I may not be a fat man and I'm not exactly small' in it! Weird, eh?) All of these things might enrage one were this album released in, say, 1976; this time around, however, 'nostalgia' seems to be the word of the day, seeing the real age of the guys as well. So you might even enjoy it. 'Rocks On The Road' is pretty good, indeed. For a long epic song, and an epic song released as late as 1991, it's REALLY good.

The worst thing about the album seem to be Ian's ever-worsening lyrical skills: he reaches excruciatingly low points in 'Like A Tall Thin Girl', with its story about how Ian couldn't have had sex with a girl because she was too tall for him and had to give her up to his drummer (indeed). 'Sparrow On The Schoolyard Wall' is a rather straightforward invitation to live an adventurous life, and the nasty, prolongated-to-the-extreme 'White Innocence' is just a second-hand imitation of 'Budapest' (which wasn't that satisfying to start with). But there are some other serious musical missteps, as well, like with the pretty but, unfortunately, never ending 'Roll Yer Own' or the pathetic instrumental breaks in 'Still Loving You Tonight' which might sound good only in a Joe Dassin song or a weather forecast.

Still - whatever the complaints, apart from 'Still Loving You Tonight' and 'White Innocence' (maybe 'Sleeping With The Dog', too - apart from the kinky title, I can't remember anything about that one), there's not a single bad or truly offensive number on here. Overlong, yes; stylistically narrow, for sure; but every song has at least a couple eyebrow-raising ideas or excellently performed hooks to draw my attention, which is GOOD; it means that Rock Island was indeed a misstep rather than Ian's eternal settling down into garbage. It's not like Catfish Rising is a particularly important album, mind you. On a large scale, it adds nothing to the Tull legacy; but what it proves is that at this point, Ian was at least capable of creating music of good enough quality so as not to be completely written off, keeping himself afloat, so to speak.

Plus, he leaves us on a puzzling note - with the lyrically baffling 'When Jesus Came To Play'. A song that can have a million different lyrical interpretations and still remain unsolved. What the hell is it about? You tell me.



Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

A live album heavily relying on instrumental versions of old classics. Decent and more than that.


Track listing: 1) Someday The Sun Won't Shine For You; 2) Living In The Past; 3) Life Is A Long Song; 4) Under Wraps; 5) Rocks On The Road; 6) Nursie; 7) Too Old To Rock'n'Roll Too Young To Die; 8) One White Duck; 9) A New Day Yesterday; 10) John Barleycorn; 11) Look Into The Sun; 12) A Christmas Song; 13) From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser; 14) This Is Not Love; 15) Bouree; 16) Pussy Willow; 17) Locomotive Breath.

Not bad. In fact, a live album was probably the best deal they could get out of the situation. It's long (but it fits on one CD), it's full of classic Tull numbers (the boys wisely prefer to rely on the Solid rather than on the Sour), it's amusing (Ian's in-between-songs comments are still just as exciting as they were in 1970), and it's clear (the sound is so crisp you'd swear it was recorded in the studio). How could such an album not be great? Besides, it's important to notice that it's stripped down. Recorded on a special 'mini-tour' after the major Catfish Rising promoting biz, the album features, for the first time since the oldest days, a four-piece Jethro Tull, with - get this - no keyboards. Just Barre on guitars and Dave Pegg on bass and occasional mandolin, plus Dave Mattacks on drums. Which means you will not only be deprived of all the 'modernistic' synthesizer crap, but of just about any kind of pretentious sprawling jams. The songs are guitar-based and in most cases kept short and up to the point. In other words, the setting is pretty much ideal.

Well, I mean, of course, you can't achieve perfection just like that. There are definitely some problems which need mentioning, and which keep the album from getting a nine just like Bursting Out. First of all, Ian has never been the same after his throat problems. He might have been able to cope with his voice in the studio, what with plenty of time and all, but coping with his voice on the stage is a different matter. Hey, no need to panic! I don't wish to say his singing here is bad or anything. After a while you actually start getting used to the almost acid sharp notes in his voice (and, hmm, would you think that an increase in the number of glottal stops produced by the man on songs like 'Rocks On The Road' could actually be due to the same problem as well? Just a hypothesis, mind you). It's just that on too many of the numbers he doesn't sing at all, or sings much less than he should: such gems as 'Living In The Past', 'Look Into The Sun' and 'Pussy Willow' are totally instrumental, while 'Too Old To Rock'n'Roll' is mercilessly shortened. This results in Martin Barre often taking the lead, and, since he'd long before forgotten how to play anything except a generic heavy metal solo, the result is predictable. So the voiceless 'Living In The Past', for example, alternates between Ian's magnificent furious flute wailings and Barre's insupportable soloing. From time to time Martin gets in a decent riff (note the first wailing electric lines at the very beginning of 'Living In The Past' - breathtaking!), but more often than that he just gets boring. He does play a lot of classical guitar throughout, though (yeah, come to think of it, Barre still is a significant classical guitarist, after all).

Minor quibbles: some of the songs are heavily re-arranged ('A New Day Yesterday', for instance, is 'silenced' down; 'Look Into The Sun' is almost completely unrecognizable, what with that fast 'boogie' section injected in the middle, too), which is not very pleasant news, either (they were perfect in the first place). And some of the songs just aren't their best material ('One White Duck'? Please! I'd rather have, uh, er, 'Black Sunday' or something).

Nevertheless, there's much more to praise about this album than to despise. Generally, the track listing rules - I could not definitely have expected Ian and the band revisit their back catalog so thoroughly and even bravely fish out songs from such 'forgotten' and underrated albums as This Was (a magnificent, ominous rendition of 'Some Day The Sun Won't Shine For You') and Too Old To Rock'n'Roll (not just the title track, but also the beautiful 'From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser' is given the gentle stage treatment). As for the recent heavy metal period, it is limited exclusively to two songs off Catfish Rising - incidentally, the two best ones, 'Rocks On The Road' and 'This Is Not Love'. What an amazingly fitting taste I have. Gee, I do like praising myself, don't I? Er, whatever. A live album gotta have at least one big surprise; here, the surprise is a very convincingly performed version of the folk classic 'John Barleycorn', probably reflecting Jethro Tull's connections with Traffic - even if, as is the regular thing with 'em, Jethro Tull do the song in a much more 'metallized' style than Stevie Winwood did it twenty-two years ago.

And, like I said, Ian's comments are brilliant (I give no examples - let this be a perfect stimulus for you to get the record! It's some of the funniest stage banter I've ever heard bar Tom Waits, I guess). And it's good to see him brush away the legacy of Under Wraps ('back in 1984 we toyed with the world of synthesizers and technology, but then decided it was better just to keep Dave'; 'Dave' is bassist Dave Pegg, of course - oops! gave away one example, silly me) before launching into a pleasant instrumental version of the title track with, sure enough, no synths and technology - just some fluid flute lines.

And, finally, the closing version of 'Locomotive Breath' is positively stunning - for once, Barre's metallic guitar sounds in its place, while Pegg's throbbing base not only recreates the 'train-imitating' sound of the original, but even improves it. Not to mention that they manage to recreate the classical intro without the keyboards - just relying on their guitar skills, and it all works. Really, hearing the guys rip into a live rendition of 'Locomotive Breath' could be called the ultimate rock experience. Unless, of course, you're one o' dem nasty antagonistic guys who claim out there's no such thing as "ultimate rock experience" because everything is relative. Just fuck the nasty antagonistic guys, fuck relativity, go out and get this album if you can't get Live Bursting Out instead. There. I was nice to Ian Anderson today, wasn't I? I deserve a flute. Huh? What do you mean, a crazy-looking one-legged gentleman just took the last one????



Year Of Release: 1993
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Crappy outtakes, for sure, but at least they put some real good ol' stuff on here.

Best song: QUARTET

Track listing: CD I: 1) First Post; 2) Animelee; 3) Tiger Toon; 4) Look At The Animals; 5) Law Of The Bungle; 6) Law Of The Bungle Part II; 7) Left Right; 8) Solitaire; 9) Critique Oblique; 10) Post Last; 11) Scenario; 12) Audition; 13) No Rehearsal;

CD II: 1) Paradise Steakhouse; 2) Sealion II; 3) Piece Of Cake; 4) Quartet; 5) Silver River Turning; 6) Crew Nights; 7) The Curse; 8) Rosa On The Factory Floor; 9) A Small Cigar; 10) Man Of Principle; 11) Commons Brawl; 12) No Step; 13) Drive On The Young Side Of Life; 14) I Don't Want To Be Me; 15) Broadford Bazaar; 16) Lights Out; 17) Truck Stop Runner; 18) Hard Liner.

Another archive release - but this ain't really a boxset either, just a cute small 2-CD package. But what I'm saying is this: no Tull fan should bypass this little dingie. 'Cause for a true, long-time fan of real Tull Music, who's been asphyxiating on low-grade garbage like Under Wraps or Rock Island for almost a decade now, this will be a truly rare and precious gift. I'm not saying, of course, that this stuff can ever dream of rating as equal to anything Ian had produced in the band's early glory years. Nope. These were days long gone by, and these outtakes do not cover them. But... oh well, let me just tell you about what these outtakes do cover, and you'll see for yourself.

The two CDs are, in fact, quite different, having practically nothing to do with each other - to the extent that both should probably be rated separately, in which case I'd give the first one an eight and the second one a five, pumping the overall rating to seven in gratefulness. The first part is called 'Chateau D'Isaster' since it presents the listener with the so-called 'Chateau D'Isaster Tapes', the recordings that Ian and the boys made in Chateau D'Hierouville, France back in 1973 while escaping taxes (see the A Passion Play review for details). Needless to say, this stuff resembles Passion Play in not a few moments, but it's so much better that it really amazes me how the hell could Ian dump these almost flawless performances and prefer to hastily reconstruct the whole album from scraps, resulting in such a sloppy product. This 'Chateau D'Isaster' thing, on the other hand, is quite cool. Most of the tracks are instrumental, which is a very good thing. On one hand, it liberates us from the necessity to digest Ian's pretentious and meaningless 'Passion Play' lyrics; on the other hand, it really gives one the chance to contemplate the band at their instrumental peak - even the lengthy, nine-minute jam 'Critique Oblique' never really gets boring: it's so great to hear the mighty guitar (see, there was a time when Martin Barre wasn't just another heavy metal guitarist), the tricky keyboards (and there even was a time when they had John Evan with them, instead of modern technology wizards), bashing prog rock drumming (Barriemore Barlow was a nice fella, too; quite unlike the computer-programmed Doane Perry, that's for sure), the groovy little bass noises (Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond was, let's face it, a far more distinctive bass player than anyone else was for the band, excepting, maybe, Glenn Cornick), and, of course, Mr Flute in person, all just ripping out and producing some absolutely out-of-control music.

As far as one can understand from listening to the album, it was supposed to be a concept one, something about wild animal life ('Look At The Animals', 'Law Of The Bungle') - a subject much less complicated and pretentious than the actual subject of Passion Play. Oh, that bastard Ian Anderson. I'd bet you anything, though, that Warchild's 'Bungle In The Jungle' takes its roots here - even though there are no signs of this song or its predecessors on this album. But there are some luvly animal lyrics ('Law Of The Bungle') and some groovy psycho comments ('by the way, I'm Martin Barre. But sometimes I'm an owl, and my feathers are really smooth') which help to somehow enliven the record. And, even though I've mentioned a nine-minute jam, most of the tracks are really short, ranging from one-minute short snippets to just standard length songs. Yeah, this is really the album that Passion Play should have been, but wasn't for one animated, flute-playing reason.

Now the second disc on here doesn't thrill me just as much, mainly because it doesn't feature that many early outtakes. There's just a couple mid-Seventies songs, and they're good ('Quartet' is a wonderful instrumental quite worthy of 'Elegy'; 'Sealion II' got the melody of 'Sealion' set to lyrics which really do have something to do with sealions, and it's funny; 'Paradise Steakhouse' is better than almost anything on Warchild and certainly better than everything on Minstrel In The Gallery). And the 1975 'A Small Cigar' is at least lyrically entertaining. However, most of the other tracks are either Broadsword outtakes from 1981 or unreleased crap from 1988-91, and even if not all of them are nasty, none are able to attract any serious attention as well. The Broadsword outtakes (such as 'The Curse', or others) make it clear that Ian was really almost out of breath, creating that masterpiece: how he managed to pull out some gems from this swamp of insipid ditties still remains a mystery to me. A possible explanation is that Ian just wrote so many songs at the time he had dozens of tunes to choose from, and so ended up choosing the best.

And the unreleased crap from 1988-91, well, you know my feelings about that epoch. Three titles do stand out for me, though: 'Silver River Turning' is catchy, 'Piece Of Cake' is funny (funnier than 'Rattlesnake Trail', actually! Now can you believe that?), and 'Truck Stop Runner' would have easily fit on Catfish Rising, in fact, if it were included, I might even consider beefing up its rating. It's a really cute little tune with lots of acoustic guitar and good feeling. Almost childish in a certain way, and a real relief from all the deadly serious and melody-deprived stuff Ian was pouring out on us. Of course, it ain't spectacular, but hey, nothing is... not on this CD, at least.

Find it. Get it. Grab it. And the package is nice. Really really nice, like Ian is really inviting you to have your lil' 'nightcap' together with him. Oh, that darn old tootser Ian. He may be stubborn and he may be washed-up, but he still got lotsa humour, if you know what I mean.



Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7

Nah. What can I possibly get from an old washed-up geezer who doesn't do anything but remind me of it? Indian motives?

Best song: STUCK IN THE AUGUST RAIN, but it's really a bad song.

Track listing: 1) Roots To Branches; 2) Rare And Precious Chain; 3) Out Of The Noise; 4) This Free Will; 5) Valley; 6) Dangerous Veils; 7) Beside Myself; 8) Wounded, Old & Treacherous; 9) At Last Forever; 10) Stuck In The August Rain; 11) Another Harry's Bar.

God oh no. Inconsistency is getting to my head. Another late-period Tull album, and it's just as plain awful as the last ones. Sorry... which last ones? Even Catfish Rising is better than this quasi-intellectual muck. For some reason, though, it's been often hailed as a 'comeback'. Me, I've been trying to pinch at this album from this side and another and scratching my head and torturing my brains, but I still can't figure out: WHY? WHY should this album be better than whatever Ian did in the previous ten years? Because, contrary to what one might say, this is definitely not a return to the 'classic Tull sound'.

Yup, there might be a little less heavy metal on this one than on their previous efforts (even though Martin Barre still rarely misses a chance to insert his 'trademark' solo). It's heavily based on acoustic guitar and flute; not that it would really surprise me, as I've already heard a sea of acoustic guitars and endless barrages of flutes from Ian in the past. But the problem is, it's chock-full of slow, dull, lengthy, boring and frustratingly uninspired nostalgic ballads with nonsensical lyrics. Wow, forget that line about 'nonsensical lyrics'. That's wrong. Let me apologize. The lyrics are actually quite decent here, but they're all rather annoyingly pessimistic, nostalgic and bitter. Now this might not be surprising, considering Ian's age, but somehow I could be expecting something more original. Or maybe not. Maybe I'm just setting my expectations too high.

Supposedly, the album just falls into that Minstrel In The Gallery category, when what you're looking for is not well-composed memorable tunes, but a deadly serious, bitter, introspective atmosphere. Something "deep". Something "deeply emotional". Something "deeply emotional and heartfelt". No, no, I'm not mocking here - the least thing in the world I'd like to do is mock Ian Anderson's motives and purposes. The bad thing is, and I've emphasized it many times already, that Ian Anderson is one of those guys who can easily pen memorable music and use it as a vehicle for his artistic expressivity at the same time. Why he so often prefers to separate this function and settle for intelligent lyrics and solemn atmosphere, leaving the catchiness to somebody else, is beyond me. Occasionally, there are tiny snippets of interesting melodies here - for instance, the light folksy acoustic riff that introduces 'Valley' sounded okay to me, but then the song turned into an absolute nightmare that made my hair stand on end (in the bad sense of the expression). Who needs complex structures, tricky time signatures, endless stop-and-start jazzy phrasing instead of a fluent melody, if there's no real emotional content behind them, anyway? Whatever for do we need these songs to be so GODDAMN LONG? There's nothing new to them. They're not ugly, what with the metal guitars subdued and the synthesizers nearly gone, but if I want atmospherics, I'll put on some Brian Eno or some Mike Oldfield, who specialize in atmospherics; I don't need Ian Anderson, the (former) master of vocal hook, flute storm and breathtaking guitar flourish, to saddle me with his take on the subject. So there.

Okay, so the only real musical innovation the band seems to have underpassed is somewhat bizarre: some of these songs have a definite, clearly-expressed Eastern flavour ('Rare And Precious Chain' is particularly Indian in its essence, but there are traces of the same influence in multiple other spaces, like 'Beside Myself'). It does certainly add a new dimension to Anderson's talents, but I'm again puzzled as to what he meant by embracing such influences almost thirty years overdue. Mayhaps this was just Ian's desire to show the public that he embraces Eastern motives not in order to look hip, but because he actually means it. No problem. I'm not offended. But I'd also add that even some of the artists who did use Eastern motives to look 'hip' in the past actually were more creative with these motives than Ian is on 'Rare And Precious Chain'. (Besides, who was it toying with the sitar on 'Fat Man' in 1969?).

Otherwise, 'Stuck In The August Rain' and 'Another Harry's Bar' are the only songs that have at least a tiny drop of genuine emotion that really gets to me from under the overproduction, overorchestration, overplaying and overlength (I don't even want to mention the problem of melody - there's not an ounce of new melodic ideas in these, or any other, songs; 'Another Harry's Bar' actually sounds like a rip-off of at least a couple dozen superior Dire Straits songs to me). It doesn't save the record from being overinfested with loathsome lengthy epics like 'Valley' (a rather pointless tale of confrontation between two indigenous tribes, as far as I can get. Or hey, is it just about people hating each other?) It rarely induces one to vomiting, but it's so evident a piece of 'background music' that I'm probably going to have to put it next to my vacuum cleaner. Sorry, Ian. I'm sure you'll do better next time (actually, he did - read on, please!). And, anyway, even if you wouldn't, you've already done fine. I give the album a 4 which means it's a bad album but not one of the worst I've ever heard, and that, I guess, pretty much sums up my attitude towards it. However, take my sincere advice: if you've loved Minstrel In The Gallery (may the good Lord prevent you from this, but then again, the Lord looks different to different people, too), scoop this up. You'll definitely love it.



Year Of Release: 1999
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

Wow! Am I wrong? Am I crazy? It seems that Ian has finally remembered the meaning of the word 'melody'... on a few occasions...

Best song: DOT COM

Track listing: 1) Spiral; 2) Dot Com; 3) Awol; 4) Nothing @ All; 5) Wicked Windows; 6) Hunt By Numbers; 7) Hot Mango Flush; 8) El Nino; 9) Black Mamba; 10) Mango Surprise; 11) Bends Like A Willow; 12) Far Alaska; 13) The Dog-Ear Years; 14) A Gift Of Roses.

Gee, I'm so, so very much pleased, friends and enemies of mine. I never really wanted to pick this one up - what use have I of a new Jethro Tull album released at the end of the century? However, I saw a cheap copy finally, and decided to give Ian and the lads one final try. Guess what: unlike the previous three... nay, unlike the previous five studio clunkers in a row, Dot Com really grew on me. No, not enough to proclaim this a masterpiece or something, but it is at least a return to form - the first serious statement from Ian that I've heard for seventeen years, their best album since Broadsword and the first really entertaining listen for... well, in other words, what a long, strange trip it's been, boys.

At first, though, I was kinda disappointed - it seemed to me that Ian was simply producing yet another duffer according to his standard metallic formula. Sure enough, there's plenty of generic metal riffage from Barre, and most of the songs are built on the standard hard guitar/soft flute interplay that was their main trick on the past four albums. And there's plenty of filler, too: at least a third of these songs still do nothing for me. Especially that bunch near the end - unmemorable tunes like 'Far Alaska' or 'The Dog-Ear Years' sound exactly like they were taken off the last album, erratic, tuneless ramblings that have neither the schizophrenic lyrics to redeem them nor the melodies to get addicted to. Then again, maybe I'm just getting tired - after all, this is an hour-long album, and, while I'm grateful to Ian for not pushing the time boundaries further, I would rather sort the dreck out and make forty minutes of more or less enjoyable music.

Which - believe it or not - is actually present here. There are several big differences in the Tull sound that have taken place since Roots To Branches. First, Barre's guitar playing is not as defyingly annoying as earlier. The guitar tone is generally softer and quieter, and the guitar parts themselves are brought up very well in the mix: not too quiet to not be heard at all, but not too loud to get overbearing or overshadow everything else. Even better, ten years of studying heavy metal have finally brought good results: some of the riffs you'll hear are pretty solid and even memorable, like on the opening 'Spiral' and particularly on 'Hunt By Numbers' - now there's one awesome riff up there! Sounds almost like prime Black Sabbath to me; Tony Iommi would have been proud of that one. Second, Ian's voice has become better and softer as it grows old: while his post-throat-infection croaking could probably turn off even a devoted fan, years have soothed and smoothed his singing. In fact, they soothed and smoothed it to the point where even a non-devoted anti-fan who never liked Ian's voice in the first place could appreciate it: check his singing on such good-spirited, pretty tunes as 'Dot Com' or 'Wicked Windows' for proof.

Third and most important, there are good songs here! Yay! 'Dot Com', that well-timed anthem to cyberspace and the band's own position in it ( is the name of their official site), is my favourite, with a nice, bouncy melody that relies on pianos and swooping bits of uplifting orchestration rather than on metallic guitars. And 'Wicked Windows' is almost a Moody Blues-styled ballad (Ian Anderson sounding close to Justin Hayward? Now we're talking!), a strange, stripped-down romantic style that the band had rarely tackled before, certainly not on fake sappy pop songs like 'Still Loving You Tonight'. 'A Gift Of Roses' is simply a perfect ending for this kind of album - a song that's CATCHY! 'From God's garden I bring you a gift of roses'? Rather like 'From the past I bring you some sweetening memories', as the song, for all I care, could have been written in the late Sixties, it's nearly that good.

A couple of 'arder numbers come off terrifically, too - like I said, the great riff of 'Hunt By Numbers' alone is enough to justify the song, and then there's 'El Niño', a menacing picture of a thunderstorm in the good tradition of Stormwatch and its apocalyptic pictures. What's with that guitar in the chorus? Ian sings 'el Niño, el Niño', and Barre plays that mad riff that's probably imitating the wind itself. Cool. 'Spiral' is not bad, either.

I really think that I ought to stop here and not discuss the particular flaws of the other material - suffice it to say that there are still enough of them to draw the rating down to an 8, and that they mostly fall in the old category (see the complaints above). Trimmed down to just seven or eight songs, this could have been a real late period masterpiece; fourteen tracks are just a wee bit too many (okay, twelve - one is a short reprise, and 'Nothing @ All', yet another computer reference, is just a short simple piano instrumental). But, at least, this album will keep me on the lookout for the next one - maybe it'll be even better? Who knows?

In the meantime, I took a few listens to Ian Anderson's 'The Secret Language Of Birds', the title track of his new upcoming solo release that has been tackled onto the end of this here album as a bonus one. Not bad, but definitely not spectacular either - sounds like a soft ballad, a bit weaker than the average Tull ballads here. What's the difference between a Tull album and an Anderson solo album, anyway? Read on to find out.



Year Of Release: 2002
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10

Predictably good live selections and predictably not THAT exciting live selections.

Best song: FAT MAN

Track listing: 1) Intro; 2) My Sunday Feeling; 3) Roots To Branches; 4) Jack-In-The-Green; 5) The Habanero Reel; 6) Sweet Dream; 7) In The Grip Of Stronger Stuff; 8) Aqualung; 9) Locomotive Breath; 10) Living In The Past; 11) Protect And Survive; 12) Nothing Is Easy; 13) Wond'ring Aloud; 14) Life Is A Long Song; 15) A Christmas Song; 16) Cheap Day Return; 17) Mother Goose; 18) Dot Com; 19) Fat Man; 20) Some Day The Sun Won't Shine For You; 21) Cheerio.

It's kind of weird - when you do realize it, Jethro Tull don't have that many live albums out, not for a band who's gone on steady issuing gazillions of studio records over more than thirty years, and yet with Living With The Past, it seems like they have one too many. When I bought it, I was subconsciously thinking, 'okay, another half-pleasant, half-so-so waste of my precious time', and I more or less got what I expected. It's a good album, but it will hardly add anything particularly precious to your overall Jethro Tull experience.

Maybe the reason is that Living With The Past performs pretty much the exact function of A Little Light Music. It spotlights a couple songs from recent years, but only a few - the title track from Dot Com, 'Roots To Branches', and for some reason, two solo Anderson compositions, 'The Habanero Reel' from Secret Language Of Birds and 'In The Grip Of Stronger Stuff' from the 1995 conceptual album. The rest, much like the absolute majority of Light Music, is given to living with the past indeed: "golden oldies" played with enough energy and feeling to woo over the crowd, but without any extra unprecedented enthusiasm to really warrant their necessity for existence as entries on an official live album. To make matters worse, many of the inclusions are thoroughly predictable - you get more renditions of 'Aqualung' and 'Locomotive Breath', as well as another (this time vocal-heavy) version of 'Living In The Past', 'Jack In The Green', and 'Some Day The Sun Won't Shine For You' (the latter at least interesting because it is taken from a short-lived "reunion" of the original band - Anderson with Mick Abrahams, Glenn Cornick, and Clive Bunker, at an early 2002 show).

Not to mention, of course, the unimaginative and confusing album title - it's by far the only case I know of an artist releasing two separate albums whose titles differ only by means of a preposition. Non-diehard fans are certainly bound to be stumped, although that might have been the original intention - for the customer to go in and buy Living With The Past when he had, in fact, originally wanted to buy Living In The Past. Similar album titles, album covers, retrospective track selections... if that's what I think it is, it's a pretty mean marketing gimmick, Ian.

Anyway, it's not like I'm putting down the quality of the performances. As usual, Ian and Martin rip it up, with the rhythm section and the keyboards providing ample professional backup. There's far less stage banter from Ian than I'd expect, unfortunately, and the banter that is available is mostly dedicated to reminding the people in the audience of where and when the song was originally released than anything else. Not much in the way of silly jokes. But the songs are done well. 'My Sunday Feeling', in particular, gets a little bit more of that jazzy feel (the boppy jazzy bassline that in the original version clearly appeared only by the end of the song here carries most of it). 'The Habanero Reel' has the funny accordeon part played immaculately, perhaps even too immaculately - I don't get the feeling I'm listening to a live performance. 'Sweet Dream' is definitely a highlight, and well worth hearing for anybody who hasn't got the 2-CD issue of Bursting Out; with Martin's guitar twice as metallic-sounding as on the original version and Ian's vocals particularly expressive and "unslurred", it may be even harder-hitting than the studio version, although maybe a bit less subtle at the same time.

However, the less said about the umpteenth versions of 'Aqualung' and 'Locomotive Breath', the better (not that they're bad - merely superfluous); and for the life of me I won't understand why it was so necessary to segue 'Living In The Past' directly into a one-minute snippet of 'Protect And Survive', but maybe Ian is just so caring about his back catalog that he regularly wishes to give even his most unsuccessful albums on the back (remember the instrumental 'Under Wraps' on the last live album?). And while the remark about 'Roots To Branches' being written long before September 11th might cause you to hastily retreat to the lyrics sheet of the song and spot the potential allusions, that doesn't make the song any better than it had been originally. Nope.

These tracks have all been recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo on November 25th, 2001; then there's the second part, with scattered performances from live shows and rehearsals ranging from 1999 to 2002, which just as well ranges from merely passable ('Life Is A Long Song') to a couple revelations, like a terrific, rip-roaring rendition of 'Nothing Is Easy' and a cute TV performance of 'Fat Man', with Martin on flute and that funny, slightly sardonic feel of Stand Up captured just perfectly. It's a good thing Ian has a soft spot for Stand Up, regularly playing more than half of that album's selections on tours... there's one thing I can certainly support him in. See that? That's Stand Up! When was the last time he performed 'Baker Street Muse' live, I wonder?

That lone reunion track is kinda fun, too, showing that the earliest incarnation of Jethro Tull can still glue together, with Ian and Mick singing a joint duet just like they did on the This Was version. And I don't know about Mick Abrahams, but I'd sure like to welcome Cornick and Bunker back into the band if that were possible in theory... I'm a little tired of line-ups changing with each album. Who the hell is Jonathan Noyce on bass guitar, for instance? What do I need him for? What do I need this album for? Just to have more Tull product?

Never mind, just me grumpin'. Maybe if Tull started following in the shoes of the Grateful Dead and Deep Purple, releasing every single gig of theirs, I'd be more forgiving. As it is - let's not go living in the past, not for too long a period, at least.



Year Of Release: 2003
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11

In terms of syntax, it's "Jethro Tull ==> Christmas ==> Album", not "Jethro Tull ==> Album <== Christmas". Get me?


Track listing: 1) Birthday Card At Christmas; 2) Holly Herald; 3) A Christmas Song; 4) Another Christmas Song; 5) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen; 6) Jack Frost And The Hooded Crow; 7) Last Man At The Party; 8) Weathercock; 9) Pavane; 10) First Snow On Brooklyn; 11) Greensleeved; 12) Fire At Midnight; 13) We Five Kings; 14) Ring Out Solstice Bells; 15) Bouree; 16) A Winter Snowscape.

Oh no not another Christmas album! Just how many versions of "Jingle Bells" does even a loyal Holy Ghost-reverin' Christian need? We do believe in Father Christmas... enough already.

Oh hang on. This is a Christmas album from one of the most notorious anti-Christian bands of all time. That alone should make the prospect sort of interesting. We'll let lie the fact that Ian Anderson wasn't really so much "anti-Christian" as he was "anti-Church"; whichever way you put it, Jethro Tull just aren't the kind of band that would give you your ordinary "twas the night before" kind of stuff. And true enough, they aren't. There's a very nice-looking, intelligently written intro from old Ian in the liner notes, the main point being that he associates Christmas not with straightforward Christianity, but rather with the good old homey reunion traditions. And where Christianity may be positive or negative, depending on the circumstances, ain't nothing warms the tired old heart be'r than that good old fam'ly reunion. It's just one of those good old excuses to, well, have yourself a good time. That's my man. I agree one hundred percent.

Yet what about the music? Well, like I hinted at in the tagline, Jethro Tull have themselves a pretty original sort of Christmas, and this here approach to making a Christmas album shows it. Very few songs on here have any direct connection to Christmas, but practically every one of them has got a nice, slightly frosty, yet at the same time heart-warming Christmas mood to it. There are some new tunes written specially for the album, some old tunes re-recorded, and a few traditional instrumentals (instrumentals, mind you, not covers of 'Rudolph The Red-Nosed Deer') rearranged, more or less in equal proportions. Not everything cuts itself a perpetual niche in your brains, but that's not the point. The point was to provide you, the listener-with-"advanced"-taste, with something you could really put on your CD player during Christmas hours without sinking into predictability, banality and repetition. Was that point fulfilled? Absolutely yes.

Well, maybe to a certain extent it's been overdone. Some of the new songs, in fact, require attentive listening - 'Another Christmas Song', for instance, which is actually deeper than Ian's oh-so-old chestnut 'A Christmas Song' (also present here in an acoustic arrangement, with the obligatory 'Hey Santa, pass us that bottle, will ya?' at the end), a veiled rumination on interrelations between generations and a smart observation on the conservation of aberrations. Something to that effect, anyway. But don't let that confuse you: put the album on at the party and then put it back on in the morning, when the hangover prevents you from doing anything of major importance in the first place. Hell, I happen to be reviewing this album in the month of friggin' May and I'm still enjoying it.

Okay, so I happen to be mostly enjoying the instrumentals. They're cool. They're done in the "Rejuvenated Tull style" - no metallic guitars, no nasty synthesizers, and all your favourite folk stylishings firmly in place. This version of 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen', in particular, finally makes me understand why Ian loved to include that ditty into his live program so often, although I'll be damned if that jazzy piano passage from Andrew Giddings ever really belonged there. But I am glad it's there. 'Bouree' goes off with a bang, as usual, although I'm disinclined to single it out as best tune simply because that's one too many takes on that song I've heard. 'A Winter Snowscape', credited to Martin Barre, smells a bit of "pro forma" weather channel-oriented music - way too wimpy and inoffensive - but then again, it is a Christmas album. You don't need to concentrate on everything.

The choice of oldies is a bit odd, but ultimately explainable. 'A Christmas Song' is a natural inclusion - I'd be way surprised if it weren't included - and so is 'Ring Out Solstice Bells', but neither 'Weathercock' nor 'Fire At Midnight' don't really have much to do with, well you know. Yet what is 'Fire At Midnight' if not a typically optimistic, and slightly romantic reunion song? And what is 'Weathercock' if not an original twist on a typical "oh Lord show us which way to go" anthem? I'm certainly not saying these were natural choices - you could pick many a different song in the Jethrologue and they'd all fit in nicely in the grand plan of things - but they are certainly some of the most pleasing ones. For this occasion, that is. (Neither of the two usually rank among my favourites, you understand).

Most people, of course, will be interested in the new material. It's... well, it's okay. Not quite on the level of Dot Com, but hardly a lapse back into the blandness of the several billion years for which the Tull gang had been feeding us flute salad diarrhoea. Ian has certainly written a fair load of excellent Christmas-oriented lyrics here; not being a true connoisseur, I can't really tell whether 'I could cut my cold breath with a knife/And taste the winter of another life' is a highly original lyric or not, but it works for me ('First Snow On Brooklyn'). They do happen to be rather samey, which probably has to do with Ian actually working on a solo album at the same time and not paying tremendous attention to the "band" material. But then again, it is a mood album, and heavy riffage from Mr Barre would be liable to making your turkey have a really burdensome digestion period, while at the same time including sitars or African drumming would be somewhat at odds with the good old Christian tradition, which Ian Anderson is not the biggest fan of, but at the very least shows some respect for.

This all explains the rating - the album's lack of diversity and ambition prevents it from climbing higher, yet at the same time it's as perfect a Christmas album as I, personally, could ever hope for, and, more importantly, the final touch on the Great Triad of events (the other two are Dot Com and the Moscow Tull concert) that restored my faith in the band. After all is said and done, Ian Anderson is still a pretty smart fellow. However, it may so happen that if you're a Bible thumper you'll be offended by some of the elements - be it the slight sarcasm of the introduction or the, er, "familiarity", with which Mr Flutorine Man allows himself to address the Saviour in 'Birthday Card At Christmas'. In that case, good sir, you can have all the 'Jingle Bells' you can handle and more.



Year Of Release: 1981

A very poor conceptual video combining bits and pieces from Tull's 1980 A tour with some of Ian's fantasies. The live performances include a wonderful "Heavy Horses" and an inspired "Aqualung" as well as a bleeding and sloppy version of "Black Sunday" and a totally ruined "Locomotive Breath" for an encore. Even the great riff is lost. Pfooey!

The fantasy sequences are little better. Ian is impersonating Aqualung, Count Dracula (for "Sweet Dreams") and probably someone else, I'm not too sure. Oh yeah, there is a good clip of "Too Old To Rock'n'Roll" (which you can find on 20 years anyway) and an interesting clip of "Dun Ringill", but in general the bad sides of this 'project' overshadow the good ones. Hell, if you're not a huge fan of A, I don't even see why you should bother yourself with this stuff at all! Skip it.



Year Of Release: 1988

Interesting, but there's too much banter from the Minstrel. Some of it is informative (his recollections and anecdotes from the past), and some of it is purely annoying (like when he starts his statistics on how many people he can get together on a concert, etc.), but most of it is just unnecessary in a film like this. Other letdowns include: a horrible video of 'Heavy Horses' - the song was beautiful, but these settings, including Ian in khaki, spoil it one hundred percent; lots of videos of Crest Of A Knave songs, which is the reason I usually turn off my VCR somewhere in the middle of the tape.

The highlights, however, make this video quite worth having. An exciting early black-and-white recording of an old blues tune with Ian on harmonica; a great performance of 'Teacher' from a 1970 show (sadly enough, it fades out very quickly); and three numbers from the Madison Square Garden in 1978, including a short version of 'Thick As A Brick' and a fantastic 'Aqualung'. I especially enjoy the 1978 numbers: the band was in top live form then, and all the numbers cook. Check out the old Whistler closing his number with a: "...and your wise men don't know how it feels to be thick as a...?" And then he turns to the audience as if he wants them to finish off the line? Is it a hint or something? Who knows?



So far, that means "Ian Anderson". An Ian Anderson solo album could be a strange thing (after all, every Tull album since 1969 was essentially an Ian Anderson album), but it's really distinguishable from the standard Tull records by (a) usually not having Martin Barre on it (or, at least, in very limited quality), and (b) usually being more stylistically narrow and conceptually concentrated than concurrent Tull albums. Since 1995, it seems that it has become a tradition with Ian to have every subsequent Tull album accompanied with a concurrent solo release. Nice tradition, eh?


(released by: IAN ANDERSON)

Year Of Release: 1995
Overall rating = 10

Ian goes deadly serious and deadly classical.

Best song: it's hard to discern, actually.

Track listing: 1) In A Stone Circle; 2) In Sight Of The Minaret; 3) In A Black Box; 4) In The Grip Of Stronger Stuff; 5) In Maternal Grace; 6) In The Moneylender's Temple; 7) In Defence Of Faiths; 8) At Their Father's Knee; 9) En Afrique; 10) In The Olive Garden; 11) In The Pay Of Spain; 12) In The Times Of India (Bombay Valentine).

A Passion Play might have been Ian's most ambitious project ever, but this one is a serious rival, albeit in entirely different style. This is Anderson's Liverpool Oratorio - essentially a classical record with next to no traces of rock whatsoever, a twelve-part instrumental suite heavily building on classical motives. Of course, Ian is a better candidate for a classical album than Macca, which still doesn't mean Divinities is bound to be a good record. Not to mention that in general, I don't hear any particular surprises here - the styles that Ian tackles, apart from a few exercises in world beat, had all been, mayhaps to a lesser extent, explored on previous Jethro Tull records now and then.

The central theme of Divinities is, er, well, hmm, comparison of religions. Twelve different tracks, probably each devoted to a certain system of beliefs and values - although, to be frank, many of the track titles puzzle me, and too much of this stuff sounds more or less the same. Obviously, there's a lot of Eastern motives to be found; if you're an expert, you might probably find echoes of Indian, Arabic, and Jewish music on here. That doesn't mean the themes always correlate with the titles: for instance, 'In Sight Of The Minaret' clearly refers to Islam, but I wouldn't call the music of the track too "Moslem" in style - some scalar peculiarities are definitely Eastern, but the seedy-sounding harpsichord, for instance, sounds more like it's been taken from XVIIIth century Europe. Not that it's a crime, mind you. It's just to show that, as is the rule with 90% concept albums, the concept is frigged up beyond belief.

Likewise, I can't say that 'In The Times Of India (Bombay Valentine)' sounds particularly Indian to these sordid amateur ears. And what about those mysterious song titles? 'In The Pay Of Spain'? Are we supposed to be discussing Christian confessions here? 'In The Olive Garden'? Is this a throwback to Greek paganism? 'In A Black Box'? What is meant by 'black box'? Ah well, ne'er mind. Not everything needs to be obvious, I guess.

The main musicians here are Anderson, of course, and Andrew Giddings, who provides the keyboards and orchestration (synthesized, mostly). There's also a brass section and a small real strings section to back Ian up, and Doane Perry is responsible for 'tuned and un-tuned percussion'. Lack of Martin Barre means there's no guitar, so the record sounds pretty light and playful; actually, even the most 'serious' tracks on here lack any kind of gloominess so typical for standard Tull records of the time. Critics usually file Divinities under 'New Age' music, but I'm not too sure myself - I still hesitate to announce the difference between 'New Age' and 'ambient', and this here music is certainly anything BUT ambient: it lacks static character, the most important feature of ambient. While none of the tunes are actually memorable, they are all distinguished by having one or two main musical themes which take some time to develop.

So, essentially, I'd pigeonhole Divinities as a classical record with occasional elements of 'New Age' and electronica thrown in. Just because an album heavily leans on synths doesn't mean it can't be based on classical motives, people. Then again, the picture is rendered even more complex by all these infusions of ethnic motives and scales. Most notable, of course, is the 'En Afrique' track, with aboriginally-arranged drum machines and 'jungle flute' all the way through - it sounds like it could have easily fit in on, I dunno, Peter Gabriel's Passion soundtrack.

Why I keep sticking to the term 'classical' is because I get essentially the same feeling from listening to it as I do from listening to a serious classical piece of work. It doesn't emotionally move me - I'm not a big classical fan and have never undergone serious "classical treatment" - but, unlike some of the more offensive Tull albums like Minstrel In The Gallery or (better example) Roots To Branches - it never prompts me to write a particularly negative review, either. Here, Anderson simply isn't at all working in the 'rock' pattern. He takes his chance with the 'classical' pattern; whether you'll enjoy it or not is your choice, but it's obvious the guy really took a lot of time to work on the material. Maybe that's why Roots To Branches, released the same year, sucks so damn much. Not only that, the album has no lyrics or singing at all, which means it's all about the music, never about Ian's inner social philosophy - frankly, I've had a bit enough of that after twenty or so Tull records devoted to it.

I won't be discussing the actual music. Suffice it to repeat what I already have said: nothing on here is memorable, but it's not meant to be, rather it's just meant to put you into a sentimental relaxating mood and ponder upon the fates of humanity and, uh, I guess, humanity's relations with the Utmost Being. The required three listens did bore me, but hey, I'm no classical reviewer. I can honestly say that Roots To Branches and Rock Island, in their status of 'rock albums', are among the worst albums I've ever heard. I wouldn't say the same about Divinities, even if their central themes escape me just as well. It's definitely for the seasoned Tull fan, just like, say, at least half of Rick Wakeman's solo albums are only for the seasoned Yes fan. One thing I would never do, though, is idolize the album as some Anderson fanatics do - 'oh dear, Ian has written such a magnificent near-classical symphony! This album is enough to prove Ian is God!'. Ian wasn't the first rock musician to try his hand at something similar, and definitely not the last one. If you want to really evaluate the record, evaluate it against your well-built-up classical background, not based on the fact that it's the only classical composition you've ever heard and thus it's great. Me, I confess my background sucks, so I give it a neutral rating and say: proceed with caution.



(released by: IAN ANDERSON)

Year Of Release: 2000
Overall rating = 11

A bit samey, but Ian's been on a melodic roll lately, so count me happy.


Track listing: 1) The Secret Language Of Birds; 2) The Little Flower Girl; 3) Montserrat; 4) Postcard Day; 5) The Water Carrier; 6) Set-Aside; 7) A Better Moon; 8) Sanctuary; 9) The Jasmine Corridor; 10) The Habanero Reel; 11) Panama Freighter; 12) The Secret Language Of Birds Part II; 13) Boris Dancing; 14) Circular Breathing; 15) The Stormont Shuffle.

Really, the end of the XXth century got Ian back to his senses somehow. This album was actually recorded in 1998, but delayed due to troubles with record labels, and as such appeared to accompany the equally solid Jethro Tull comeback, And the two records can easily rival each other in creativity and ability to fill the Tull fan with pleasure and pride for his idol. See, simply put, Ian hasn't put out anything that would even closely approach the quality of these releases since 1982, and what's even more important, Secret Language Of Birds fulfills every Tull fan's secret dream: to see one day Ian release a stripped-down record of his folksy acoustic/flute musings. No Barre, no electric guitar, no synthesizers, no overproduction. Just, you know, "me and Ian".

Now this could have been a hideous idea - in the Seventies, in the post-Thick As A Brick period, Ian's acoustic musings usually sounded as if the man just sat down with a guitar, played some classical/medieval chords, blurbed out some passionate lyric, and put everything that came out of the process on tape and then on record. No form, no substance, just a kind of sonic goo. And I was sure frightened Secret Language Of Birds would be something like that. No way! On most of the tracks, the melodies are very well defined; and moreover, there are unmistakable vocal hooks - plus, almost every song has a sense of direction to it, which is really cool. Well, okay, so none of the songs step up to the standard of 'Life Is A Long Song'. But repeated listenings really show that there are interesting chord changes here, and that the lightweight nature of the album is a huge plus: finally, Ian is turning his back on overweight pseudo-epic overproduced monstrosities and returning to the meat'n'potatoes, just like on the concurrent Tull album.

Most of the songs here have a folk feel to them - not unnatural for Ian; once, though, in 'The Habanero Reel', he brings in some Latin overtones, but that's about it. It's Tull-style folk, though, which means Ian doesn't at all sound detached; this is mostly warm, very intimate and likeable music. Some songs betray a bigger degree of optimism, some are rather morose, but as long as they have a solid musical skeleton, I don't really mind. As for the lyrics, I didn't pay too much attention to them, well, mainly because I think there's nothing particularly new in Ian's lyrical approach that could raise me my eyebrows. But I suppose they're all right.

The important thing is - there are two parrots speaking with each other against the setting sun on the front cover. That should be telling.

Anyway, the record somewhat sucks you in from the very start, when gentle tweet-tweets and gentle flute welcome the title track, which easily reminds you of Ian's around-1973-74 acoustic style. The 'you must stay with me and learn the secret language of birds' is about the best hook on the entire album, a very inventive, er, 'resolution' of the vocal/instrumental melody. Oh, and, by the way, the second part of the track which you'll encounter later, is hardly any worse, just a bit more upbeat and the flute plays in a more driving mood, while Andrew Giddings' accordeon serves as a further embellishment.

Some more highlights for you now. 'The Little Flower Girl' is a pretty sad tune with faint Eastern overtones in the orchestration and organ intonations - and I really melt at the sound of Ian chanting the title. He kinda sounds so fragile and moving in conjunction with the wailing strings... I don't really remember when I last heard him that way. There's plenty of these overtones on the album, you know: MMM (mild melancholic melodic) lamentation, as opposed to the GGG (gruff growling gruesome) mumble of stuff like Rock Island, all of it rather subtle and endearing rather than simply grating.

'Postcard Day' is a clear example of Ian wanting to keep it simple and accessible, yet serious and thoughtful at the same time. That's the way life's meant to be, bud. 'The Water Carrier' sounds like it's melodically a re-write of 'Fat Man' off Stand Up, and since more than thirty years separate the two albums, I'm amused rather than offended. 'A Better Moon' sports a haunting romantic mood completely of its own. The instrumentation on 'Panama Freighter' can only be envied - the first twenty-five seconds of the song are dang perfect, ending in an ominous mini-climax. Finally, 'Circular Breathing' is, er, well, maybe even beautiful. Or maybe not. Why did I write that sentence? There must have been a reason, really...

All of this is diluted with a few instrumentals (including Martin Barre's hilarious 'Boris Dancing', which must be heard by every Barre fan if they want to see how the man can actually goof around with Slavic motives), and never really gets on your nerves, although the monotonousness of the arrangements certainly CAN get on your nerves if you're not a huge fan of that sound. But I guess it's too late in history to beg Ian Anderson to issue a diverse album; all we can pray upon is that if he ever plans to push forward his solo career, let him stick to this style instead of trying to revitalize the old nightmares in hope that fans will forgive him anyway as long as he writes meaningful lyrics. Oh, and, by the way, as a surprise, you get two unlisted tracks at the end. One's a re-recording of 'In The Grip Of Stronger Stuff' from Divinities, the other is a re-recording of the first two minutes of Thick As A Brick. Why? My hypotheses: (a) the first song was released so as to salvage at least anything from a record that Ian knew sucked and would soon disappear off the surface of the Earth; (b) the second song was released so as to say to the unsuspecting public, 'You think this one's good? Well, you might be right, but this is how it was before!'.

Of course, both of these hypotheses suck. Knowing Ian as well as I do, I can surely say he won't be able to diminish the importance of any of his albums. Oh, what? How do I know Ian so well? Well, we had a long conversation in one of my dreams a while back. There, he was banished upon a rock island and sentenced to sweep the gallery for ten thousand years. All the time having the cacophony of 'Pibroch (Cap In Hand)' cut through his ears.



(released by: IAN ANDERSON)

Year Of Release: 2003
Overall rating = 11

Yes, please! Stay on that one leg as long as possible!


Track listing: 1) Calliandra Shade (The Cappuccino Song); 2) Rupi's Dance; 3) Lost In Crowds; 4) A Raft Of Penguins; 5) A Week Of Moments; 6) A Hand Of Thumbs; 7) Eurology; 8) Old Black Cat; 9) Photo Shop; 10) Pigeon Flying Over Berlin Zoo; 11) Griminelli's Lament; 12) Not Ralitsa Vassileva; 13) Two Short Planks.

It almost scares me to acknowledge that, but it's the fourth Tull/solo Ian album in a row rated "11" - meaning that Ian Anderson is intentionally refusing to "push" any "boundaries" forward as long as he can play it nice and safe. But let the young 'uns push the friggin' boundaries! Ian Anderson is old, and he writes music for old people who don't want no sonic avalanches, yet, on the other hand, aren't that old so as not to perform a little toe-tappin' and a little hoe-hummin' and a little air-flutin' in their spare time, which they got plenty of.

Rupi's Dance consists of thirteen tracks (there's also a bonus offering of 'Birthday Card At Christmas' from Tull's latest album), not a single one of which is unpleasant in any way and most of which are, in fact, solidly written, flawlessly performed, and exceedingly kind and warm compositions. None wave the Millennium Flag, it's true. And it's partially due to the fact that, once again, the main difference between a Jethro Tull album and an Ian Anderson solo album lies in the absence/presence of Martin Barre. Without Barre-Guitarre, these songs are mellow and ear-pleasing, but Anderson never was a serious guitar (or, in fact, anything but the flute) player, and the sidemen on Rupi's Dance are nothing less and nothing more than pure professionals. So it's safe to say that Ian Anderson solo won't ever be able to yield another 'Aqualung' or 'Heavy Horses' even if he does come across a melody that good.

But there could be a much worse possibility - of the man once again getting lost in miles and miles of convoluted, pompous lyrics and hours and hours of aimless yawn-inducing mid-tempo guitar strumming. No! You won't get this either. Rupi's Dance is an old man's album, but an energetic old man's album, with subtle little flute riffs that are as good as they're medievally-folksy and as catchy as they're danceable, and yes they are all of that. And the lyrics are also an old man's lyrics. These teeth can still bite as sharp as they used to, like they do on the poisonous anti-media diatribe of 'Not Ralitsa Vassileva' (for those who don't know - hey, no need to be ashamed, I never knew it either - Ralitsa Vassileva is a Bulgarian-born CNN anchorwoman, um, sorry, anchorperson, whom Ian apparently reveres as sort of a 'model newsmaker' or something, comparing her to the otherwise lame, ruthless, unscrupulous journalist mass). However, even on that song Ian sounds like an old man - because it's oh-so-typically old-manish to express one's faraway anger at the amorality of tabloid behaviour. The Satirist becomes the Moralist, a common transformation if there ever was one. Well, it's not so bad as is Stephen Stills' ten times more vicious 'Seen Enough', and even that song was sort of convincing. Hey, old men deserve their share of moralizing.

But really truly, there's just a tiny bit of moralizing here. More often, it's songs like 'Old Black Cat'. Ian had a cat. The cat got old and died. He wrote a song about that. Nothing exceptional about the cat. Nothing exceptional about the song. Just an old black cat that died and just an average sort of song written about it. And for some reason, the song packs a deeper emotional impact than Bob Dylan's Saved in its entirety. Maybe it's because so many of us, at one point or other, had an old black cat? I sure had (well, it wasn't old, and I never saw it die, but still, I can relate, whatever it is I'm supposed to relate to). It's not even the catchiest song on the album, but it's, like, got the Rock of Ages on its shoulders.

The catchiest song gotta be the opening number, 'Calliandra Shade' - I could listen to that blues-rockish guitar/flute pattern for hours on end. Old man strikes again - it's just a song about sitting on the terrace of a small cafe watching life go by. Not even from an Aqualung's point of view. From Ian Anderson's one, and he's a very well-to-do upper-middle-class gentleman, you know. Or maybe the catchiest number is 'Photo Shop', where the photographer is actually treated as a capturer of small innocent moments in life rather than a vicious dough-hungry tabloid shark. And every small innocent moment in life, captured by a small innocent photographer, deserves a small innocent flute melody, some delightful accordeon and a little balalaika-like guitar playing.

The whole album is like that, a bunch of small innocent moments and observations loosely strung together. Is it a coincidence that three songs in a row all have their titles structured in a 'A + noun sg. + of + noun pl.' sort of way? Certainly not. (Actually, Ian seems to favour such juxtapositions - just look at the tracklisting of Divinities one more time). Here you have your dying old black cat. There a bunch of penguins are drifting on a raft (a metaphor for an orchestra or something like that). And here's a pigeon caught flying over Berlin Zoo - a nice little animalistic metaphor for comparing the fortunes of the mentally free and the mentally imprisoned. Of course, no Ian Anderson album can do without the old codger singing the beauty of some teenage vixen; here the honour falls to the title track, which probably has the best (and the folksiest) guitar parts on the entire album and the sleaziest lyrics. You old rascal you. Oh, wait, it's about Ian's kitten. Jesus Christ, enough with the double entendres already! We know this guy is as smart as they come.

We do try to get a bit more serious on 'Lost In Crowds', which, unsurprisingly, is one of the weaker links on the album, quite fit for some boring-ass mid-life crisis period album like Roots To Branches (the "rocking" midsection is a nice surprise, but not enough to redeem the slackness of the song) and on the already mentioned 'Not Ralitsa Vassileva', which is also not the best contribution melody-wise. There's also a couple of decent instrumentals - 'Eurology', in particular, is a pretty cool find, I think, the best thing about it being how Ian, according to his own words, 'was trying to explain this piece to a journalist as being a pun on the study of the urinary tract' - but, of course, not one 'Bouree' or 'Elegy' among them. Ah well, but at least the album ends on another lightweight old man's gesture, the amusing 'Two Short Planks', which, for some reason, has the smell and taste of an old acoustic Tull number circa 1974. Maybe it's because Ian's nasal twang is more pronounced on this one.

To be honest, I don't know just how many similar albums I will be able to stand in the future. Yes, tripping on one leg is a breathtaking occupation, but you can't trip forever. I have no idea when Ian is going to topple over, and this sort of worries me, but let's not run ahead. I hated Rupi's Dance upon first listen, by the way. (Well, nowadays that happens with about ninety nine percent of everything I listen to - first listen rarely does it for me any more). Old Man's Albums need to be given time to sink in. There's usually much more in them that we youngsters are ready to acknowledge initially.



It took Tull a long time to follow in the steps of most of their rock-and-prog brethren, but in April 2003, they finally appeared in Moscow, and I was lucky to go to the first of the two shows they gave here on April 11th (they also had one show in St Petersburg after that) - it was also the first show of their upcoming European tour, so kinda flattering for us Russians, isn't it? Curious tidbit: both shows took place in a little concert venue known for hosting "middle-of-the-road" bands without a huge following, and it was the first time I'd seen a legendary band perform in such a small place - I had balcony seats and I was still able to see everything that was going on without having to sacrifice sound quality (the golden rule is tha the further away you are from the stage, the better you get to hear the music).

Anyway, the show was great, even if it did have two major flaws. Bad thing #1: too short (slightly less than the proverbial two hours). Bad thing # 2: Ian Anderson is in pretty poor vocal form (which may be one of the reasons for bad thing #1). Old age and old throat problems (smoking was strictly prohibited in the hall by Ian's personal request), I know, but still, that's little consolation considering how he just could not pull out the "bad dream I had todaee-ae-ae-ae-aiii..." line in 'Thick As A Brick' when everybody needed it so badly. On the plus side, that did not prevent him from pulling off the usual jokes, some of which were pretty stupid (like the one about Boris Yeltsin and how he was grateful to him for being so drunk on vodka all the time he couldn't find the proper button to fire the nuclear missiles), but some were pretty good (about how 'in 1972 we released an album that confused a lot of people around, including me'). And, thank God, his voice problems never carried over to his breathing - his flute playing was as good as ever, if not better. Besides, it's not like he couldn't sing at all; in fact, the worst thing happened on the first two songs where there seemed to be some problem with his mike (the voice kept disappearing and reappearing again), before they finally replaced it with a different one.

The setlist was more or less standard for this period of Tull touring - as far as I know, the one major unexpected addition was 'My God', which the band hadn't been doing live for quite some time. Predictably, it was heavy on the Aqualung numbers (apart from 'My God', all the three big radio standards were in place); included an excerpt from 'Thick As A Brick', slightly shorter than the standard live version - with no 'poet and the painter' section this time around, maybe because it required extreme vocal concentration which Ian was unable to provide; a kick-ass, mostly instrumental version of 'Living In The Past'; and good old-timey material like 'Too Old To Rock'n'Roll' and 'A New Day Yesterday'. Oh yes, and 'Bouree', of course, done with a little fast Bach-derived introduction, but otherwise identical to the Stand Up version.

Newer songs included 'Roots To Branches' - not too long and not too nasty - and a rock-the-house-down version of 'Hunt By Numbers', which was, of course, mainly a showdown for Martin Barre (who also did some bulky brontosauric instrumental while Ian was taking a piss offstage or something, maybe it was a number off his only solo album which I haven't heard). Ian also showed his affection for his latest solo album, giving the audience 'Water Carrier' (for which the entire band came up to the front of the stage and had a veiled woman offer each of them a waterskin in turn) and the 'Boris Dancing' instrumental (the one that was preceded with the Yeltsin joke). It's only too obvious that none of these numbers are as breathtaking as the classics, but they were all fun. The one number that was not fun was 'Budapest'; I still have no idea why Ian cherishes that derivative bad-Dire-Straits-like bore so much. Even so, in a live setting it works better than the studio version, with a great build-up in the coda and Martin wailing away like a demon.

The show predictably ended with 'Aqualung' ("Martin is God!", as Konstantin Tikhonov would say), and 'Locomotive Breath' for the encore, with the instrumental theme from 'Protect And Survive' and 'Cheerio' and two big balloons with the one-legged Ian thrown into the audience, just like the jaded Tull fan could expect. I'm no jaded fan, though, and I was simply delighted to have all this for meself. I didn't rush the stage at the end or even approach it, but it's not like I regret it or something - Jethro Tull are currently one of the ugliest bands in the world, aren't they? Even their new bass player, who seems to be the youngest member, looks like a bouncer at the door of your local disco, hah hah. Never mind, they're all excellent players, and Andy Giddings, the "latest" keyboardist, did the 'Locomotive Breath' introduction without a single mistake, at least, from what I've been able to hear behind all the uproar. Can't say I'm a great fan of Doane Perry, though; they sure had better drummers in the past. Ah well.

In any case, Jethro Tull is essentially Ian on flute and Martin on guitar, and every time each of the two took a solo or even just played one phrase on their instrument, it was pure magic. Best reminiscence? Probably Ian jumping around on one leg and doing little bits of jiggin' and tap-dancing during the "frantic" flute-heavy mid-section in 'Bouree'. Brought the house down, it did! Thanks guys. I may even forgive you Rock Island after this.

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