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Jethro Tull - Benefit CD (album) cover

BENEFIT

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.90 | 706 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review I'vestoppedcountingbynow, Benefit, Jethro Tull, 1970

Even in the already quite unusual Tull catalogue, Benefit is an oddity. Unlike the following Aqualung and Thick As A Brick, it seems very uncertain as to where it wants to place the stress, which results in a slightly muddy recording full of good playing and good writing, but not a lot of focus. With You There To Help Me and To Cry You A Song are comfortably the most successful examples of this ambiguous, dark style, while the remaining ones took a lot longer to work their wat in. John Evan's additions on piano are interesting, but doesn't really come off in an obvious way yet. It's probably fair to say that this album is the start of a rather more progressive Tull, but still, I'd maybe say to leave it unless you're already a fan of more effective and quirkier efforts like A Passion Play and Minstrel In The Gallery (even if the rating seems to contradict me). Nonetheless, after a fair few (probably about ten or so, in my case) listens, the album suddenly sank in, striking back with all the little bits of emphasis, the quality arrangements and the subtler touches.

The superb With You There To Help Me kicks off the album in style, with a highly distorted flute, some acoustic strumming that seems to abandon the mould altogether and a sort of confusing block vocal that'll recur in the album. A great Martin Barre guitar tone supplements the rest of the band. The lyrics set an ambiguous mood, and Glenn Cornick's bass provides a touch of throbbing background the song can't do without. The Clive Bunker percussion is understated, effective and explosive. A very, very difficult song to describe, and somewhat intentionally so, at that, with a mood that somehow shifts between a desperate optimism and an assertive disillusion.

Nothing To Say is a bit more unusual, again featuring the everything-goes-on-at-once acoustics, guitar thrums, thick vocals and emphatic hammering piano lines. Cornick's swirling bass drives the song along from the bottom. Bunker's again perfectly good on the drums. The vocals/lyrics are weird as anything, but they somehow end up working for the piece, providing a greater contrast between the ironic 'I've got nothing to say' and the lushly arranged verses. A touch of piano-guitar-bass interplay works in the piece's favour. A surprisingly understated Barre solo off the piece.

Alive And Well And Living In The Present seems to move both further from and towards rock. A hard Barre part meets a rather folky rhythm and an Anderson-Evan dominated moment of real jazz. The lyrics are unusual, but good, and the combination of styles actually ends up working pretty well.

Son is built on a two-part conversation, perhaps extending the themes of For A Thousand Mothers, and including a rather unusual fade mid-song into another section. The piano-and-acoustic reply is particularly neatly done. The ending jumpy piano sort of disappears into midair. Unconventional, and I hated it at first, but now I'm getting fonder of it.

The absolutely lush For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me is amazing, with a piano, acoustic and careful bass reminiscent of the softer songs of Aqualung. The more rocking chorus is an oddity, but it works quite well once you listen out for what Barre is doing. The building acoustic is a treasure, and the little melodies make the song very moving. Again, an unusual mood, but it works. Finally, the vocals are extremely good here, which isn't something I'll say about much of Benefit.

To Cry You A Song is another of the pieces I loved at first listen. It featyres superb percussion, capable guitars, emphasis placed by delaying some of the anticipated guitar parts and a fluid bass which also seems to not quite relate to expectations. Some of the rocking solos are clear precursors to bits of Aqualung. I think an odd organ section takes place, but it could just be a manipulated guitar. Anyway, it thumps, rocks and wails away in an impressive fashion.

A Time For Everything features an obvious flute part, including a kettle-on-flute sound, as well as a good synthesis of guitars, percussion and piano, using a couple of low piano notes to contrast the fiery guitar. Barre takes a rather unusual guitar part in places, which I can't really even compare to anything adequately... perhaps the early VDGG guitar off Whatever Would Robert Have Said? is the best I can suggest. Anyway, I like it.

Inside is another of the folk-rhythm pieces, with a little bass part which adds a touch of colour, and an unusual percussion sound that sort of traps ideas. The flute again provides weird melodies in the background, and a couple of wordless vocal lines. The lyrics are good, and it's a much more successful merge of folk and rock than the later Songs From The Wood material in my opinion.

Play In Time is again weird, with a nice low-key-organ, some really odd guitar and a sort of bass-backed riff that is really simple, but quite effective. The bursts of instrumental grit are fantastic... the rest of the song at least has the appeal of being unusual and distinctive. Anyone who thinks Tull weren't really experimental... try this for size. A bit of characteristic yelping + flutes makes an appearance, and the piece as a whole is good.

The interesting Sossity; You're A Woman takes its place at the end of the album successfully. The unusual classically-inspired acoustic guitar and organ meets another block vocal and some surprisingly moving folk-based percussion and harmonies. The crystalline flute melodies provide an atmosphere, though I'm not 100% sure what it is. The lyrics are again excellent, and effective. The last note of the album, a standard classical flourish holds real potency.

Singing All Day is a rather fun and quirky little piece in 5/4 (if I'm not mistaken, though I could be... I'm not great on counting time signatures), with a neat vocal, some subdued flutes. A bit more of the Clapton-influenced guitar stylings we get on We Used To Know, and a couple of brief, darker and more unusual sections. The lyrics are naturally pretty good. Witch's Promise again draws a bit on the melodic folk side of Tull's writing, with either a mellotron or an actual string arrangement (more likely), along with a neat bass part and a load of fun little features.

Just Trying To Be is a brief, pretty and unusual acoustic piece, with a couple of really nice marimba additions. Teacher is a particularly good rocker, with a great bass part, harder guitar, complimented by a classy hammond tone and a couple of memorable melodies. So, really, a very good set of bonuses.

Anyway, a touch weird, but still commendable. My rating of the album seems to waver from listen to listen.... I'd certainly not call it a masterpiece, or even truly essential if you aren't a big fan of some later/earlier Tull, but it never strays below fun, and is an extremely interesting record. Very difficult to describe, and rather intentionally ambiguous at a lot of times, but still an interesting, experimental record, displaying a fusion of rock, folk, and even the occasional dab of jazz, classical and pop to good effect. Needs to be heard, and given a little time to grow, I think. Recommended for anyone who's very fond of some earlier or later Tull.

Rating: Four Stars, but it really is a pretty difficult one to rate. Favourite Track: Lots of good ones. I think Sossity; You're A Woman has grown on me the most, but then With You There To Help Me might still take it.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |

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