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Jethro Tull - Benefit CD (album) cover

BENEFIT

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.90 | 685 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
4 stars After leaving a firm imprint on progressive music history with their exquisite "Stand Up" album, Jethro Tull spent most of the following year touring the states. There they opened for loud rock and roll bands like Led Zeppelin, Grand Funk Railroad, Creedence Clearwater and even the proto-punk MC5 (imagine trying to play "Bouree" to THAT boisterous crowd!). This certainly affected Ian Anderson's mindset and the result was that "Benefit" has a much harder and slightly darker edge to it with many songs being geared to the rowdier audiences they had so recently faced. In the liner notes for the remastered CD Ian also relates that many of the tunes reflect his cynicism resulting from his disenchantment with the record industry as a whole.

One noticeable difference appears immediately as John Evan's piano is featured on the intro to "With You There to Help Me," a somewhat Gothic-sounding dirge that brightens considerably when they reach the uplifting chorus. There Anderson expresses his longing for a home life when he sings "I'm going back to the ones that I know/with whom I can be what I want to be/just one week for the feeling to go/and with you there to help me/then it probably will." The spirited, frenzied duel between Ian's flute and Martin Barre's slashing guitar lines at the end also belies a major 60s psychedelic influence that will appear often throughout the album. A military drum beat starts the riff-based "Nothing to Say," a wonderful song that contains one of Anderson's best melodies as he further narrates the trials of constant touring and record company demands and false promises. "Every morning/pressure forming/all around my eyes/ceilings crash/the walls collapse/broken by the lies," he laments. The tune features a surprisingly simple arrangement but it's one of their top numbers in my book. Continuing to evolve away from their basic flute/guitar roots, Evan's piano is again prominent in the next song, "Alive and Well and Living In," which plods a bit but doesn't hinder the overall momentum of the proceedings.

"Son" finds them delving into the heavier acid-rock genre to some extent and it gives Ian a chance to make a personal statement about his stifling upbringing as he sneers in his father's condescending voice "Oh, I feel sympathy/be grateful my son for what you get/expression and passion/ten days for watching the sunset" and "'permission to breathe, sir'/don't talk like that, I'm your old man." The cut has an odd little interlude halfway through and an abrupt ending as if someone had slammed a door. Things take an upswing on the following track, "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me" that has a folksy acoustic guitar feel on the verse that gives way to an almost southern boogie-like atmosphere on the chorus. The juxtaposition of these different styles is refreshing and the surreal, poetic lyrics are striking. "Watery eyes of the last sighing seconds/blue reflections mute and dim/beckon tearful child of wonder/to repentance of the sin," Anderson intones. Next up is one of the album's true gems, the riff- themed rocker "To Cry You a Song" in which Ian describes a short break from touring with descriptive lines like "closing my dream inside its paper bag/thought I saw angels/but I could have been wrong/search in my case/can't find what they're looking for/waving me through/to cry you a song." Barre provides a cool cosmic guitar lead and when he plays through the organ's Leslie speaker cabinet he puts an indelible stamp on the tune.

The piano reappears to lead them through the rather nondescript "A Time for Everything" but it does offer a glimpse of what the following album will sound like. I always smile when "Inside" begins because I love its captivating, rolling feel and Anderson's sprightly flutisms. Here he cheerfully describes the ecstasy of being back at home with his woman as he warbles happily "I'm sitting on the corner feeling glad/got no money coming in but I can't be sad/that was the best cup of coffee I ever had/and I won't worry about a thing/because we've got it made." It's a great, joyful song. Their trippy side is on display once again in "Play in Time," a barnburner of a tune with a memorable flute/guitar motif and hair-raising studio tricks to boot. Here the corporate suits' constant demands for more product are related when he sings "Got to take in what I can/there is no time to do what must be done." The acoustic guitar is prominent in the scintillating, involved structure of "Sossity, You're a Woman" and when the flute and organ intertwine in the middle the tune achieves sublimity. Anderson's ode to moving on from an older lover is tender and sweet as he croons "all of the tears you're wasting/are for yourself and not for me/it's sad to know that you're aging/sadder still to admit I'm free." The song's fascinating and complex musical arrangement is superb.

The four bonus tracks are not just discarded out-takes but a real treat. Recorded weeks earlier, the first three of these cuts (that obviously didn't make it onto the official UK "Benefit" release) plainly display how the band was downplaying their earlier eclectic influences and going in a more arena-rock direction that would culminate in "Aqualung." The delightfully jazzy groove of "Singing All Day" would have fit perfectly on "Stand Up" and Ian's excellent flute at the end is top notch. "Witch's Promise" meanders a trifle until the Mellotron enters and the song really takes off, morphing into another jazzy-ish ditty. "Just Trying to Be" is presented without drums and features a chiming piano playing in the high registers while an acoustic guitar strums underneath. It's a very short but sweet number that tragically fell to the wayside for decades. And, last but not least, the radio- friendly single that is "Teacher" ends things on a strong note. It's an immensely popular rocker that thoroughly displays all the Jethro Tull charms as Evan's Hammond organ growls underneath and Anderson's breathy flute mannerisms fly over the steady rhythm section provided by bassist Glenn Cornick and drummer Clive Bunker while Martin's fat electric guitar gives the song its necessary muscle. And here Ian replies to the record executives' demands that he should do more hob-nobbing and glad- handing with "Hey man, what's the plan/what was that you said?/sun-tanned, drink in hand/lying there in bed/I try to socialize but I can't seem to find/what I was looking for/got something on my mind." Something more fulfilling than self-promotion, I'm sure.

While not as consistent as the masterpiece album that preceded it, "Benefit" is still an outstanding effort that no fan of prog should be without. This was to be the last record from their unadulterated embryonic stage for Cornick was soon to leave and Evan was to come on board as a full-fledged member, altering their sound forevermore. The cover art satirically portrays them as cutout figures being moved arbitrarily around by their masters like paper dolls but artistically they were coyly learning the ropes and discovering the loopholes that would allow them to succeed in retaining their own identity despite those manipulations. 4.4 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |

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