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Jethro Tull - A CD (album) cover

A

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.19 | 392 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

tapkae
4 stars Okay, I have to stand up for this album... It took me several years to "get it" despite (or because of) having about 4 different copies of it on cassette and CD. I wasn't there when it came out so I didn't have people going on about how it sucked compared to TAAB and others. So I was able to come at it with fresher ears. I tend to like their underdog work, I guess because the classics didn't get to me first, and I never heard any of it on the radio anyway.

Consider what it took to get to this record being made and released: John Glascock's death, the turnover of most of the band, a dying popularity of complex music due to punk and new wave. The bass player on A was best known for his work in folk rock music. The keyboardist was best known for his prog and fusion background. The drummer was the first American in the band. Ian was going out on a limb to do a solo album that sounded nothing like the stuff he had already proven he could do solo (Jack in the Green, among others).

When I hear A, I hear what must be the most energetic and well, active, Tull music ever. If you get off on rhythmic complexity, then this is about as rough and tumble as Tull ever got. Mark Craney is a powerhouse of chops, and he takes the whole band with him. There are lots of arrangement details in here while still coming off like an incredibly tight rock band. Eddie Jobson is nimble fingered on two instruments, weaving in and out of crazy melodies and rhythms like no one's business. Martin Barre is there digging in harder than he had in the few years prior, or is at least more prominent in the mix, and holding his own with Jobson who was by far the most advanced keyboard player in the band to that point. Dave Pegg is there contributing some classy and advanced bass lines on fretted and fretless bass (with ample midrange presence so you can hear all his notes). Ian is playing less acoustic, but his flute work is as good as anything he ever did. There isn't anyone slouching off here. This is definitely NOT music that can be played with your brain off. Some songs thunder, some are bittersweet, some are fun, some are just dizzying. Did I miss something? This is Tull on steroids here. When I think of Tull albums that sound like a bunch of guys just showed up for work and punched the clock, I think of Minstrel In The Gallery and Too Old To Rock and Roll. I think the SFTW/HH/SW cycle were also excellent albums in a lot of respects, both individually and as a group, and I think A is great in its own way. The playing is great throughout... but the thing I think that sets Tull apart from the pack is that the playing never really obscures the fact that there are lyrics, and a vocal delivery that still comes off as a song. What I hear in Tull's music is advanced SONGwriting. You could take away a lot of the extra dressing in the mix and arrangement and still be left with a song that makes some sense. Tull never let the chops eclipse the heart of the song. Ian's lyrics keep revealing more and more, as I get to know them and compare them to his other work. I think any of us could relate to the sentiments in Black Sunday or Working John Working Joe.

Sonically, the gizmos that cropped up on this album that weren't on previous albums include phaser on the electric guitar, flanger on (picked for extra harmonically rich tone) fretless bass, the rich tones of the synthesizers, the muted and funky sounding CP80 piano, electric violin with effects, vocoder... 1980 was a good year for new sonic toys, or at least the exploitation of same, and after a decade of acoustic guitars, piano, flute, and other acoustic instruments, it was time to cut loose some. The album just sounds fun, like there was some spark. It doesn't seem self conscious like some of the sleepier mid 70s stuff does. When I hear this CD, I have to remind myself that it was the same year Ian bought the fish farm and decided to get more serious about his income. This record sounds like he wanted to counterbalance his new career with the spontaneity of music. This is musically edgy. Sometimes it sounds like it's going to spin out of control.

The only long lasting slam I reserve for A is the sonic quality, or lack thereof. Apparently, according to Ian there were increasingly bad tape stocks around that time, and unfortunately this is a casualty of that period. The sound is very veiled and dark. The drums don't punch or crack like they should. Ian's voice sounded really muffled, like he had a blanket over the mic. But sonic anomalies aside, the music itself is solid. It keeps a spontaneous and active feel throughout, like people had to come in and throw down in the ring, then mix it. Rock Island sounded much better, but was more forgettable IME because the spark was missing from a lot of it.

I urge people to give this record a fair shot. Don't compare it Aqualung or TAAB and you can go a greater way toward actually liking it for what it is... a one off album while Ian was trying to reinvent himself. Getting the new package with the DVD is nice. It was nice to see Craney on bass, Jobson on mandolin, and Pegg on bouzouki for a performance of Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day. The performance of Black Sunday was good enough for me, even though most of the Slipstream video is pretty corny. Some of the corn would be better left to the ephemerality of a live performance, and not committed to permanent form. Nonetheless, with all the Tull albums being remastered and rereleased, I thing they are great things to have in your collection.

| 4/5 |

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