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Jethro Tull - Aqualung CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.36 | 2782 ratings

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3 stars Back in the late 60s and early 70s my friends and I who played in a band together liked Jethro Tull so much that we enthusiastically performed obscure songs from "This Was," "Stand Up," and "Benefit" to usually clueless audiences. What we loved about the group was their unconventional musical attitude, their curious mix of blues, jazz and folk, and their seeming disinterest in following popular trends. I saw them in concert in 1970 and was absolutely blown away. Especially by the new song they said would be on their upcoming LP. The tune was "My God" and it sounded so good that I could hardly wait for the album to come out.

My first reaction to the opening strains of "Aqualung" was "What in blazes is this?" I had to double-check the cover to make sure it was Jethro Tull. It sounded as if they were trying to be a hard rock band all of a sudden and I was appalled. To my ears it was "plod rock." To their credit they did take the song through some tempo and style changes but then they returned to the predictable opening once again. I figured that the next one would be better but it isn't. "Cross-Eyed Mary," a song about a "poor man's rich girl" begins promisingly with flute, piano and Mellotron but then they steer right into a standard rock beat and the tune becomes no different than a handful of others that were popular at that time. "Cheap Day Return" restores some of my faith in them but it's over before you know it. "Mother Goose" is next and it's terrific Tull. (At this point in my initial listen back in '71 I was hoping that the first two songs were just an anomaly.) With excellent acoustic guitars and Ian Anderson's sprightly flute work it's what I had come to expect from them. It evokes wild, colorful imagery. "Wond'ring Aloud" is as good a love song as Ian has ever written. In it he describes the simple joys of being at home with his wife as he sings "we are our own saviors as we start both our hearts beating life into each other" and "it's only the giving that makes you what you are." With a perfect blend of acoustic guitar, piano and Mellotron it is a delight but way too short in duration. "Up To Me" follows and it, too, entertains with their unique acoustic approach. It proves that they didn't have to go plunging headlong into headbanging to peak my interest. Having been intrigued by the clever musical arrangement and the controversial subject matter when I experienced it on stage, "My God" doesn't disappoint. The words are not a rap against the Almighty, but a rant against what the "bloody Church of England" has turned Him into. The vocal with acoustic guitar intro leads to some tasteful piano from John Evan, then they turn it up with a rocking rhythm and some driving electric guitar from Martin Barre. Yes, it's rock and roll but the difference this time is that it's appropriate as it augments the biting, sarcastic lyrics. The flute section backed by what sounds like chanting monks works like a charm, too.

I couldn't agree more with the words to "Hymn 43" when Ian sings "If Jesus saves/well, he'd better save himself/from the gory glory seekers/who use his name in death." How true. However, Barre's annoying guitar clanking completely ruins the song for me. Really grates on my nerves. "Slipstream" is yet another blink-and-you'll-miss-it enjoyable tune that just doesn't last long enough. A pity. To this day I don't understand why someone didn't tell Martin to stop already with the vexatious strum-the-muted-strings effect on "Locomotive Breath." It bugs the crap out of me and negates the exciting, frantic flute solo from Anderson. "Wind Up" ends the album and it contains some of Ian's best lyrics ever when he sings to the priests "I don't believe you/you got the whole damn thing all wrong/He's not the kind/you have to wind up on Sundays." Anderson chooses to believe that the loving God of the universe is a better and vastly more compassionate person than any of us running around down here. Ian's God is far above petty human responses and emotions like wrath, jealousy, retribution and revenge. Makes sense to me. His relaxed vocal at the beginning accompanied by Evan's lone piano is a highlight of the record. Barre's electric guitar does butt into the tune but it's not quite as distracting as before and he manages to avoid subverting the song. The reprise of the simple beginning of the song brings the album to a close in a subtle and thought-provoking way.

By now you may have noticed that the most popular tracks on this landmark record (the very ones that catapulted Jethro Tull into superstar status) are the cuts that I have never cared for. I think it has something to do with my gut feeling from the very first spin that they had "sold out" and aimed those four songs directly at the casual radio listener. Obviously that opinion places me in a tiny minority of rock fans because those very tunes have become classic staples of FM radio and will probably be played just as often 50 years on. As far as I'm concerned the best songs on "Aqualung" are the ones no one ever hears and that's a crying shame. I can truly understand that the band didn't fancy the prospect of touring small auditoriums for years on end. And that by incorporating a standard and more accessible rock & roll base to their eclectic sound they could move up to filling 40,000 seat venues and get their mugs on the cover of Rolling Stone. And who could argue with that aspiration? I'm just one who thinks they were never the same afterwards.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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