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Jethro Tull - Stormwatch CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

3.46 | 751 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
3 stars (In the wee hours I'll meet a 3.5)

Ah, good ole Stromwatch. Some folks swear by it, calling it the swan song of the old Tull vanguard. Others, well, I won't use their exact phraseology, but suffice to say that they find the record a chilly end of the decade. I myself, well, I'd like to think I'm somewhere in the middle. I used to be more towards the latter, but I've crawled up towards the former.

Some of the ire geared Stormwatch-towards seems to be the nature of the album. It's not as folksy as either of the earlier albums (some believe that the "folk trilogy" is, in fact, a "folk duo;" I see it lasting a few more years actually). It's more straight out rock this time around. Well...yeah, but it's Tull rock, coming off a two year folk high. Which means that it's hard rock with a decidedly Celtic flavor. In fact, if there's such a thing as a "concentrated Tull-style" record, this just might be it.

Some (fewer this one) have questioned the album's "proginess." That's just silly; the record is damn near Pink Floydian (although this album isn't quite as good as art rock's other last hurrah, The Wall), surely their artsiest work since Warchild (not counting Too Old, but that's another review). It's structured immaculately: hard rocker, soft rocker, ballad, mini-epic, instrumental, rinse and repeat. And it's conceptual; it's about THE END OF THE FRIGGIN' WORLD! Or something like that.

But more prominently, there is the "lack of energy" problem, and that I'm not going to disagree with. What halts the album's energy flow (and therefore the coveted four star rating) is the fact that the band was falling apart, what with Barrie being mad (this was his last album either way), Glascock being dead (that can't help), and David Palmer being David Palmer (AHHHH!!!!). Martin was, and always seems to be, impossible to get rid of. But Ian's gonna give it his best shot. Uh, the album I mean, not the dissolution of Martin's contract.

So we open with "North Sea Oil," the most political of the END OF THE FRIGGIN' WOLRD flavored tunes. It's essentially a quick, flute driven rocker, with a great Barre/Anderson sfx laden duel of an instrumental bridge. Excellent, catchy, lively intro. If only everything else were so good...

Well, things stay good for a little while at least. "Orion" is a slower rocker about the stars and waiters. It reminds all right thinking people of "Aqualung," and I, being a right thinking person, can see why. It's got the same shifting acoustic guitar, electric parts, but they change more frequently throughout the song, and no awesome solo. "Home" is a sweet little ballad with great David Palmer orchestration. But it's an electric (not power, mind you) ballad. Yeah. Figure that one out.

Anyway, all these are nice, but kinda short. So you're thinking to yourself, "Where's the meat off this album? Gorg hungry, Gorg want MEAT!" If Gorg is like any other right thinking person, Gorg would assume that the meat of the album will be found on the longer numbers, say, "Dark Ages." Well, "Gorg" would be wrong. Oh so wrong. "Dark Ages" tries to go for the sprawling, apocalyptic majesty of "Heavy Horses." Instead, it gets the "this is an okay tune, but why's it so damn long?" vibe of "No Lullaby."

Yep, "Dark Ages" runs, and falls on its face. You want to know what it sounds like? Uh...kind of like "North Sea Oil," only longer, and without the endearing instrumental bridge. Also, Ian starts really showing off on the bass (remember? Glascock's out for over half the album). He's actually...not bad. I mean, within and throughout, he's not bad.

So, how do you balance out the overblown "Dark Ages?" Why, with the goofy lil' instrumental "Warm Sporran." Figure out the title, trust me, it helps. It's a Scottish ditty, complete with martial drumming, bagpipes, and humming. Yep.

Side two kicks off with the dopey rocker "Something's On the Move," which picks up the FRIGGIN' END OF THE WORLD vibe again. Suffice to say that it's the head banging-est thing on the album; you know, roaring guitar and echo chamber lyrics. God I'm making this seem like a weird album. "Old Ghosts" is a softer, damn near charming song with haunting vocal delivery and flute.

Anyway, the next song is probably my favorite. At least, it's the chilliest and most haunting, and that's what the album should be about, right? "Dun Ringill" is a simple, short acoustic number. Very Celtic that. The guitar is soft yet relentless, Ian's voice is strong yet restrained, and a little sad. A true classic.

"Flying Dutchman," despite the cool title, is the worst thing on the album. Er, in my humble opinion. It's another long piece, and much like "Dark Ages," it's too long for its own good. Of course, "Dark Ages" would have been okay if it had shorter (the fast midsection perhaps, without the boggy intro and outro); no such hope for "Dutchman." It's trying to be "Pibroch" for whatever reason. It's not nearly as irritating, but it's just as boring, and the folksy midsection cannot save it.

Oddly enough, the ending of "Dutchman," the fading flute and all, serves as the perfect intro to "Elegy." The final song is another instrumental, but it's sad 'n stuff. It's a very pretty piece of atmosphere. It's also a Palmer creation, and it shows; I find the studio version to be a bit overdone what with the strings and all, and Martin's guitar doesn't quite fit somehow. But the acoustic part is beautiful (Glascock's last recording, I reckon).

The live version off Watchers of the Storm (which is a bootleg, so I won't be able to talk about it anywhere else, so indulge me (assuming you're still reading)), now that's beautiful through and through. It's strained and pained, largely because the band seemed to be in a bad mood that night, but that only helps the song. But I digress. "Elegy" is not as bad as I originally thought, and it serves as a nice ending to the record and the 70's (aw, Ian gave that slot to someone else. How thoughtful).

So the problems with Stormwatch have already been mapped out. The atmosphere is a bit chilly, but that appears to be directly influenced by the lads themselves rather than some conceptual step or misstep. But that wouldn't matter so much if everything didn't sound kind of...samey. Of course, if you'd remove the two mini-epics (and maybe "Something's On the Move," but it's got kind of cool chorus), you'd have a four star album easy. But under its own strength? Brr...

(Regardless of what I think of Stormwatch, the remaster has a far more consistent number of songs tacked on. "A Stitch in Time" is kind a kind of throwaway folk rocker, but it has an interesting solo from Martin (keyword interesting, but in a good way). "Crossword" is a downbeat rocker that's pretty good, also with a great solo from Mr. Barre. The last two songs, however, are pretty great for the diehard Tuller. "Kelpie" is a very Celtic jig with a highly entertaining flute solo that was later put to great use in live shows. "King Henry's Madrigal" is an instrumental medieval rocker that's credited to King Henry himself (I think Gryphon also covered it too). It's essentially the same, highly catchy, tune o'er and o'er again, but the lads really outdo themselves with the instrumentation. None of these tunes are quite as chilly the Stormwatch material, nor would they fit conceptually. But do they raise the rating? Yeah, sure, why not. A solid 4 for the remaster.)

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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