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Jethro Tull - J-Tull Dot Com CD (album) cover

J-TULL DOT COM

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.01 | 432 ratings

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thief
2 stars Ian Anderson might be my favorite rock star personality-wise. His interviews are always insightful and a joy to read. One of the recent (2018) articles reflected upon the 50-year history of Jehtro Tull and fans' expectations. Let me quote the juicy bit:

Popmatters: Fast forward to the present: you are currently working on a new solo album?

Ian Anderson: A year ago, we spent several days rehearsing and then a few days at a recording studio to do seven backing tracks for a new album which was all by that point last March all written, and we recorded seven tracks. At that point, I had to go on tour. I was looking towards to finishing it off during the course of 2017 with a view of releasing it this year, but along the way, the 50th-anniversary thing rather loomed large - not so much in my mind, but other people's minds. By the summer I decided I would have to put the project on the shelf for a year because this would be a bad year to be releasing a new piece of product given that we have so many releases and re-releases of material to do with the 50th anniversary year. I think it would make it a bad year to expect fans to go out and yet buy another brand new album. Anyway, I'm well aware not just with Jethro Tull but with most bands who have been around for a long time with what the fans want. They don't really want a new album by the Rolling Stones. They want an old new album by the Rolling Stones. What they want is something in their dreams that's going to sound like an early Stones album. You can't turn back the clock and do that again. They hope Pete Townshend will write another Tommy. I don't think it's very easy to go back and do that without it sounding rather cynical and heavy-handed.

At this point Ian Anderson seems to be more about preserving Jethro Tull's legacy, taking care of his fan base and generally doing good job with revisting old material in a tasteful manner. I guess that's the reason why he no longer releases new albums under Jethro Tull's moniker, being satisfied with a solo release every couple of years and extensive touring with classic Jethro material. It's a vast catalog, even if he's mainly focused on pre-Wraps albums.

But in the eve of new millenium, Ian & Martin still wanted to give us new output on a regular basis. And now, in hindsight, "J-Tull Dot Com" may be seen as the last true attempt on hard rocking folkish formula - in a broad sense at least. If we look at it closer, we'll see a spiritual successor of "Roots to Branches" on many levels. Smooth production, very 90s sounding synths and F/X, upbeat tunes and oriental influences - that's the spirit of 1999 release in a nutshell.

I can't tell honestly if expanding Tull's sound to world music was a genuine artistic decision at the time, or rather a shallow gimmick to stay relevant and come off as "forward thinking". Admittedly, "Roots to Branches" had those Arab/Eastern guitar licks and harmonies in spades, while on "J-Tull Dot Com" they are toned down and only serve as a flavor. Do they taste good though? Depends where you're looking. "El Nino" tries to captivate that mysterious, elusive aura of "Perfect Strangers" and "Kashmir", contrasting Eastern melodies with heavier riffing and obligatory flute fills. "Awol" features some of that in its instrumental section - perhaps the most progressive moment on the LP. But at other times - "Dot Com" being the prime example - it feels forced and unnecessary, resulting in a disturbingly mellow, AOR infused banality.

Speaking of "Awol", that particular song proves that Ian's vocals, gradually deteriorating since mid-80s, were the most limiting factor on later Jethro albums. How can you match the excitement of "The Whistler", lofty heights of "Hymn 43" or tear-jerking romanticism of "Orion" with tired and blown-up voice? I feel sorry for him because I can tell he's still a good musician, especially when he takes over with a flute solo. Ian the Flautist was really in a great shape in 1999, so sharp and clean. Martin Barre also delivered a seasoned, professional performance, especially on B side.

Generally speaking, tracks between "El Nino" and "A Gift of Roses" impressed me much more than the opening set. Here we have quite rad "Black Mamba" with its "orchestral" bits - not nearly as epic as Sabbath's "Supertzar", but passable. "Bends Like a Willow" features nice grooves, "The Dog Ear-Years" makes a good use of accordion and pleases with a surprisingly throwback feeling. For real, if I were to pick one song reminiscent of good old days, that'd be it - feels like an outtake from "War Child", barring production. What else do we have? "Far Alaska" is the cool guy, hands down. Very laid-back guitar chops, nice instrumental bridge and quite ballsy soloing keep me interested. "A Gift of Roses" is another decent effort.

Unfortunately none of the above are instant classics, and for every "okay" song we get one mediocre. "Spiral" is too generic, "Wicked Windows" too tame, "Hunt by Numbers" too disjointed. Make no mistake, this album is written and played by a bunch of middle-aged (no offense) rockers and more often than not it takes The Safest Route. And I haven't even mentioned the silly, disgusting "Hot Mango Flush" - song so poor it might run for the worst Jethro's record ever. There is a good share of blunders on this album.

If you set your expectations properly - stop thinking about progressive elements, embrace the middle-aged, straightforward rocking with minor exotic influences - you'll find it a passable album. I'm afraid the weakening vocals drag it down a lot, many listeners might be put off so much they won't give it a full spin. On the other hand, the average level of composition is slightly higher than "Rock Island" or "Catfish Rising" (but also a step down from "Roots to Branches"). I'd say it's 2.5 star album overall, good enough to listen in your car on a peaceful countryside trip - but unworthy of three full stars. The dynamics suffer too much to let it fly.

thief | 2/5 |

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