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Jethro Tull - Living In The Past  CD (album) cover

LIVING IN THE PAST

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.11 | 234 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
4 stars (Think of it as a 4.5; I know you want to!)

Let me start out by saying something that is a cornerstone, if not the whole damn stone, of my musicological philosophy. Compilations...suck. They are, in fact, for suck- ers, or people too lazy to actually research a band, and would rather stay with the safe radio hits (the same goes for people who just buy a band's "quintessential" album outright, but that's another review). Compilations rob the listener of the perhaps harder, but ultimately more rewarding experience of listening to REAL albums. No one ever actually needs to own any compilations whatsoever.

Now that that's out of the way, Living in the Past is a really, really, really good album. In fact, it's damn near essential. And not only is it a compilation, it's the king of all compilations. It contains everything a good compilation (since there are such things, despite my totalitarian attitude) should have: cuts off of concurrent albums, singles, A sides, B sides, outtakes and live numbers.

There are about twenty numbers, so it might be a bit difficult to go into all of them (oh, but don't let that stop me!). Suffice to say that Living has the most variety of almost any record in the Tull cannon (save for Thick, Stand Up and Horses perhaps); in fact, more variety than some bands are capable of producing in a lifetime (crappy bands of course, but crappy bands are people too!).

We start out with "Song For Jeffrey," one of my favorite songs off This Was. But it's all about the singles, man, the singles. "Love Story" is an innocent little blues rocker, the last number from the Abrahams days. "A Christmas Song" has its immortal final line, but the song itself is brilliant, sort of like a folksy version of some later bombastic symphonic progsters (Renaissance with a mandolin instead of a piano?).

"Living in the Past" is, for lack of a better candidate (in a good way, not a bad way), the best song of the album. It's a title track, right? Can't be that bad. It's got an infectious bassline, haunting flute, and cool lyrics.

Anyone who wants to really compare Tuller guitarists need only compare the relentless blues rocker "Driving Song" to its lighter predecessor "Love Story." Not that "Story" was a bad song, but Barre really leads the band with his fuzzy, aggressive riffage. "Sweet Dream" is an over the top orchestral rocker, with terrifying vocal delivery ala Ian; I love the descending coda.

"Singing All Day" is oftentimes miscalled by me "Swingin' All Day," since it out- grooves "Living," with its bloozy bass and mantra like, uh, singing. "Witch's Promise" is a gorgeous symphonic/folk song, the best early example of build that Ian hands us. "Inside" is the fast paced ballad off Benefit, so it's cool. "Just Trying to Be" is an almost lullaby like piece, much warmer than most the short, acoustic work Ian gives us.

So you're probably thinking to yourself, "Wow self. This Whistler chap really is a genius." Well, yes I am. But you might ALSO be thinking to yourself, "Wow self. This Living in the Past album appears to be immaculate. Can it do no wrong?" Well...of course it can. No album's one hundred percent perfect, and sadly, Living is about to do us wrong.

There are, as I alluded to earlier, two live tracks on the album, both recorded at Carnegie Hall. Wonder how Tull got in there...anyway, "By Kind Permission Of" is essentially an excuse for John Evan to show off. And he's good throughout, of course, and when the rest of the band joins in, it's great, they're a good live act. But it's just so LONG. "Dharma For One" wasn't that great of a number to begin with (This Was). The organ is a nice addition to the song, but I think I see why it was an instrumental to start with, and it's still just an excuse for Clive Bunker's boring drum solo...besides, I miss the claghorn.

The only real saving grace of the above live tracks is Ian's dialogue. Which is, for whatever reason, all over place (as in, confused, confusing, and seemingly pulled from two different shows). Still, the "This might contain contraband" speech at the start of "Permission" is classic. If only it were attached to better music...

The post Benefit stuff is a little colder. "Wond'ring Again" is a somewhat longer, more built up earlier version of Aqualung's "Wond'ring Aloud," with somewhat more political lyrics. Speaking of Aqualung, it's represented by "Locomotive Breath," which is an all time classic, of course.

"Life is a Long Song" is another build-over-time acoustic/symphonic piece, sort of like "Witch's Promise," only the flute overtones are traded for more orchestral heroics, so it loses the folksy edge. Still, the bridge towards the end of the song might be the nicest thing David Palmer ever composed.

"Up the 'Pool" is an enjoyable folksy, goofy pop rocker about Blackpool, Ian and the lads' ole stompin' ground. Nice choral section there. "Dr. Brogenbroom" is a forgotten classic, an organ opened psycho-rocker with sneering vocals, wah-wah guitar and manic, lyrical basslines from Jeffrey. "For Later" is a short instrumental of the loud and fast variety. Finally, the record closes with "Nurise," a beautiful, painful acoustic piece along the lines of "Cheap Day Return." No orchestra though.

So, Living in the Past is itself a beautiful, painful acoustic...and sometimes bloozy, sometimes folksy, sometimes rockin' album. The singles are all good, sometimes great. The album pieces are nothing you haven't heard before, but, oh darn, you just HAVE to listen to "Locomotive Breath" and "Song For Jeffrey" one more time, right? And, what the cheese, even the live stuff is...well, it's part of the album, damn it! You couldn't have Living in the Past without the crappy live tracks!

In the end, Living functions equally well as a compilation AND a "new material" album. It can also function as a kind of archive document, and I also consider it to be one of the best introductions to the band available. You know, aside from the fact that it's over an hour of music. Still, don't hesitate to pick it up! It's a compilation you can own absolutely guilt free.

(There is no remaster of Living in the Past, but there are some eighty different versions floating around, so what you hold in your hands might not be what I hold in mine. Other songs that may (or may not) find their way onto Living include: the "Bouree," the brilliant Bach-fusion off of Stand Up, "Teacher," a slow moving rocker with a nice chorus, "Alive and Well and Living In" a decent loud/soft rocker from Benefit, and "Hymn 43," a jumpin' piano rocker from Aqualung. All in all, whatever edition of Living in the Past you have will be good, even if it will still have those live tracks.)

The Whistler | 4/5 |

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