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Jethro Tull - The Broadsword And The Beast CD (album) cover

THE BROADSWORD AND THE BEAST

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.26 | 443 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Broadsword and the Beast is the last in a long line of lasts (a title once bestowed upon Heavy Horses, but I'm better now). It is the last of the "medieval/folk trilogy" (which did NOT end with Stormwatch, as most people say...or Horses, which some people say). It is the last time that Marty gets a noble sounding guitar solo in. And it's the last goode olde fashioned prog album from a goode olde fashioned prog band. Uh, "probably..."

Broadsword sometimes takes a little heat for being an electronicky record, which it is. But at its heart, it's a spiritual brother to Songs from the Wood. In fact, if the Stormwatch lineup, a much more organic group, had recorded the Broadsword material, that would have been a perfect closer to the decade.

We open with "Beastie," one half of the title tune. It's a fairly savage rocker, thumping along with the same steady power of a "Minstrel." And it contains that solo I was talking about, Barre's last, painful stab at medieval catharsis.

"The Clasp" is the long lost cousin of "Velvet Green." Same mandolins, same pipe organ sound, just through an electronic encoder. "Fallen on Hard Times" is our obligatory blues piece, and it's pretty darn good. I love the build from no guitar to acoustic to electric.

"Flying Colors" is another driving rocker. But not quite as good as "Beastie." It's much thinner, and has some dorky keyboard effects in the middle. "Slow Marching Band" makes up for it though; one of the best songs off the album. It's a very Celtic ballad that would have been perfect on something like Stormwatch. In fact, it's a lot like "Elegy;" very sad and quiet, acoustic at first, then building into electric. UNLIKE "Elegy" however, there's no overbearing orchestra, and Barre's guitar never sounds intruding. Fantastic.

I'm not quite as fond of the second side. "Broadsword" is a fairly good Viking number, when it sticks with atmosphere. There's a guitar solo in the middle that everyone raves about, but I just don't see it. I actually find that it spoils the slow, quiet mood. But "Pussy Willow" is probably my favorite song on the album. It's another sad, quiet number, and I actually think that everything absolutely works. I don't even mind the weird laughing effects as the song closes.

"Watching Me Watching You" is a sort of new wave style of song (I guess; I've never been clear on what the "new wave" is, but that's what everyone else calls it). It's not the greatest song on the album, but it's actually kind of interesting. The paranoid vocal delivery is hilarious (the "Black Sunday" school of thought). "Seal Driver" is an okay song that goes on way too long (that "No Lullaby" school of thought again). There's a pretty good layered guitar solo in the middle though.

"Cheerio" is a nice little closer in the vein of "Grace." Very short and sweet. Not quite as good as "Grace" of course, but it fits in with the album very well.

Now, this album is a lot better than I give it credit for. For one thing, I love the mood. It's dark, but not in a created dark way like Stormwatch, or hopelessly dark like Minstrel (although it is sometimes dry like Minstrel). It's more of the simple light on the outside, but knowing dark on the inside kind of Heavy Horses kind of dark.

Also the good numbers are very, very even. I give honor of "best song" to "Pussy Willow," just because it's the most natural sounding, but it might as well have been "Slow Marching Band" or "Hard Times" or even "Beastie." But there are still some problems with the album that we can't look over (aside from the obvious).

I'm not a fantastic fan of the lineup. It's a dull, sometimes lackluster lineup; even the A lineup was more interesting! Dave Pegg was never my favorite bass player, and Gerry Conway, his drummer buddy from Fairport is just "okay." Vettese is not my favorite keyboard player by any means. Marty's is leaning towards a more generic sounding guitar; in fact, if the record weren't still so varietous, he would probably be horrible. My biggest problem is Ian; he doesn't give us a good flute solo on the whole album! Of course, the flute intros ("Clasp," "Hard Times, "Marching Band") are all great.

Look, if you want some dark atmosphere that makes good use of synths, try Pink Floyd. That's not Tull's cuppa joe. If you want some Viking rock, go with Rainbow. But there's still something special about this album; if it had had one outstanding flute solo, or was just recorded by a more natural sounding lineup, there's no way in hell it would have gotten less than a four from me. I definitely prefer this over Stormwatch, and...and...oh, screw it. What am I talking about? Bar "Seal Driver," there ain't a bad number on this thing, and even that's "okay." If I can't grow up and look beyond the electronic trimmings (and, all things considered, they're very subtle, probably owing more to the "boring" lineup than anything else), I don't deserve to be a diehard Tuller. It lacks the overblown theatrics of Songs From the Wood, or the subtle accoustics of Minstrel in the Gallery, but it's got...I dunno, subtle theatrics, if you can imagine. A four; a weak four, but a four none the less.

And even if you don't love it, come on. It's better than Big Generator, right?

(Broadsword is generally considered to be a treasure trove of bonus tracks of a Warchild-esque variety. And I'm not going to disagree. All this crud was recorded by Ian in between points A and B-roadsword, with his "Wakeman-esque" synths. "Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow" might be the most successful marriage of folk and synth. It's a driving folk rocker about, what else, Christmas? "Jack A Lynn" is a very folksy, very downbeat, very good, electrono ballad, although the acoustic version (found elsewhere) is probably better. One of the two Jack songs is the best (I don't know which, depends on my mood), but the rest aren't bad. "Mayhem Maybe" is a very folksy track, all flutes and mandolins and sprites. The tune isn't quite as strong though. Rocker "Too Many Too" is a little too monotonous, but "Overhang" is great, a really depressing medieval rocker about, uh, just look at the title, you'll figure it out. Great lyrics. The next two, "Rhythm In Gold" and "I Am Your Gun" are more on the monotonous side, but at least they lay down a decent groove. "Down At the End of your Road" is roughly the same, except that the lyrics are hilarious. After all this, I can easily cement the remaster's rating to a very solid four. The bonus material isn't quite as strong as Warchild's, but, the album itself is stronger than 'Child, so shut up.)

The Whistler | 4/5 |

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