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Jethro Tull - Aqualung CD (album) cover

AQUALUNG

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.32 | 1754 ratings

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Sean Trane
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk
5 stars One of the cornerstone on which Tull built its cathedral, this album sees Tull still studio-experimenting (as they did with Benefit), but on top of it, they were allowed a brand-new state of the art Island studio, that no-one was really sure how to exploit properly, least of all young musicians. This is one of the reasons why Aqualung is a flawed masterpiece: their inexperience and inaptitude at exploiting the possibilities of the then-modern technology; but in term of songwriting, the group is definitely reaching their apex. And the stunning artwork of the gatefold is so fitting to the album's propos.

Yes there are sonic dated oddities: such as that weird-voiced passage in the title track, those "stop-clicks" in Mother Goose or still yet those audible tape-splicing (different sessions) during the solo passage of My God and that weird rather unpleasant string dwindling (Slipstream) and questionable choices (sound levels-wise) in the closing Wind Up. Obviously, if Benefit had benefited ;-) from the modern studios, these "mistakes" would not have happened on this one.

Outside of the technical factors, aqualung presents the particularity of being a "conceptual" album (something the Mad Flauter would rather mystifyingly deny), presenting two themes vinyl side. Both sides would be built on similar pattern (alternating the electric and acoustic songs) and present views that alternates between personal views (clearly Cheap Day Return is Anderson's personal experience) and a general character's views which has been expressing his cynical views through the group's albums and his name is Jethro.

The first side explores the decay of morality and the impoverishing of a wider part of the population, presenting Aqualung as a semi-vicious tramp, Mary as a semi-victim and semi-willing-victim, searching for the sordid side of society, and a bunch of other "delightful" characters that makes Anderson's lyrics a pure joy for interpretation and have him indicted in the Pantheon of best prog lyricists. The second side has its own name (after the opening track) and as you my have guessed is about religion, but rather an attack on it. Yes, the Mad Flauter is obviously after those who filled his head with expectations and mislead the masses. His attacks are spiteful (if not vindictive) against the "moral mle" (more on that. next album ;-) supposed to show the example and lead the pack, yet miserably failing.

The music alternates between hard rock riffs and acoustic passages (both presented together in Aqualung and My God, but separately to different levels in subsequent tracks), giving excellent but too rare instrumental passages (the incredible intro on the Mellotron-laden Cross-Eyed Mary and the no-less great intro of Locomotive Breath) and somewhat similar patterns (the third track on each side is a short acoustic tune) of construction and the splendid musical drama of My God or its lyrical equivalent Mary (the mother of the son, this name is no fluke) in her street adventures from abortion to prostitution, rapes, murders and robberies.

The album has produced its fair share of classics (both radio and concert) such as My God, Cross-Eyed Mary, Locomotive Breath, Hymn 43 and the title track, but there are a few tracks right next to those which would've been highlights on other albums and are a bit over-shadowed here: the superb Mother Goose (and its cast of willing victims and potential wrongdoers and vengeful protectors of little girls or are they?) and Up To Me are separated by a good acoustic Wondering Aloud (again an Anderson thought, rather than a Jethro utterance) are both superb semi-acoustic/electric tunes which provide so much depth on that first side.

The second side holds three of the four longest tracks of the album, but does not allow for much more instrumental room (still quite significant, but.) than its predecessor. Off to an excellent start after that superb title track, and a rather hard piano-driven Hymn43, the album sort of runs out of steam with a weaker Slipstream (those weird string leading out), followed by a great jumping-on-the-religion-bandwagon Locomotive Breath (too close to Hymn's guitar riff for comfort, though) and a rather odd, forgettable (but only musically, not lyrically) Wind Up.

In terms of bonus tracks, this album is plagued by a poor selection of them, with an alternate take of the weakest track, an informative interview (but not bearing repeated listening) and a radio session of Stand Up-era tracks and a forgettable fingers track. Funny on how their best two albums (with TAAB) are loaded with inferior bonus material when most other album have worthy bonuses.

Yes, Aqualung is not perfect neither does it have the pretension, but its success would push the Mad Flauter (Ian) and its alter Ego, Jethro, to much greater things, most notably the flawless TAAB, where Jethro's spirit will work wonders both lyrically, but winning over the music as well. Meanwhile, we are stuck with this raw gem, that is Tull's most defining moment, even if it ends on a down note. Let that not deter you and jump in the game of life in Jethro's disturbing planet.

Sean Trane | 5/5 |

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