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Jethro Tull - Aqualung CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.36 | 2707 ratings

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5 stars Aqualung 5/5

Jethro Tull's most famous album to those outside the prog community: nonetheless if they wanted to hear an essential album, this would certainly be one to spin a few times. This album has a distinct feel to it, much more refined in its heavier moments than Benefit and a lot more nostalgic feeling in its implementation of piano, acoustic guitar, flute, etc (See 'Locomotive Breath', 'My God' or 'Wind Up'). Recorded at the same time as Led Zeppelin's IV, and in the same studio Ian expressed that there were difficulties in recording Aqualung in the new Island Records studio- apparently many new gadgets and gizmos.

Anyway, this is album is slightly lower than Stand Up or Thick as a Brick, but still warrants a 5. A concept album with a group of character sketches on Side 1, and a treatise on organized religion and its effect on the individual on Side 2. Ian contends it is not a concept album ('just a bunch of songs') and thankfully he held fast, rubbing his nose at the concept of a concept album in the near future. Now to the music.

'Aqualung' begins with the now famous riff everyone is subconsciously born knowing. Personally, the acoustic sections around Martin Barre's solo are better than the riff as there is coldness and doubt in Ian's voice, almost reminiscing and regretful. Martin's solo grabs at the listener's heart and twists it around in a flurry of directions, and just when one thinks he's done- he goes for the gauntlet. If there was a moment in which he elevated himself to the level of Ian in the group, this is it folks. Truly one of my favorite guitar solos for its timing, placement and efficiency.

'Cross Eyed Mary' begins with this tasty flute intro, lovely mellotron in the background as the drums enter with Ian progressing from longer notes to quick staccato phrases. Then come Ian's vocals, a complete contrast to the loveliness of the intro- another example of Martin Barre doing excellent things on guitar with new member Jeffrey Hammond adding texture on bass. The band descends into an interesting instrumental section with Ian and Martin both trying solos on for size.

'Cheap Day Return' is the first of the short acoustic pieces and is my favorite of the bunch, beautiful melody, distinct lyrics and a folk dream. Too short, but that is another discussion; this song was written after Ian visited his critically ill father so there are obviously a wide variety of feelings and emotions. 'Mother Goose' continues the folk theme, with timbre that resembles Stand Up until Martin's guitar comes in with these long extended notes: an essential song that displays the integration of Stand Up and this album. Notice how as Martin and Jeffrey enter, the song picks up momentum. 'Wond'ring Aloud' is another beautiful acoustic piece, Ian and his guitar play this gorgeous melody before John Evan enters on piano. Orchestration adds another layer of texture as Ian weaves a lyrical gem. 'Up to Me' finishes out Side 1 with energetic outbursts by both Martin and Ian; a much more earnest prog-folk piece featuring a wide variety of drums from Clive Bunker. So thus finishes the first side of Aqualung, one of the finest side with a coexistence of acoustic and electric Tull.

'My God' opens Side 2, and is arguably the strongest piece on this album, though not as eclectic as the music on Side 1, its raw tenacity and simplicity is a marvel. Beginning with an acoustic part by Ian, this slowly builds as John Evan enter with the same riff on piano and enter Ian's vocals. The vocals are self explanatory, an exploration of religious themes (He is the god of nothing/ if that's all that you can save/ you are the god of everything/he's inside you and me/so lean upon him gently/and don't call on him to save) with Ian's tone going from reflective to contemptible as he rejects organized religion but accepts the existence of a God. A Martin Barre solo takes the piece into Ian's dramatic solo, with church choir effects in the background! The piece returns to its acoustic introduction after Ian's solo before returning with the massive riff of Martin Barre.

'Hymn 43' continues the religious concept of this side with Ian's smug tone. Out of all the songs I find this to be the weakest. The same cannot be said for 'Locomotive Breath', with a piano introduction out of the 1940's (try not picturing Michael Corleone sitting in a chair ruminating!). Martin provides a nice guitar track alongside John's piano, and then the piece descends into the main riff. Jeffrey's bass anchors the bottom of the track with a thick and powerful punch as Martin's guitars weave around the main theme. Ian provides a classic jazz flute solo, and then John (?) begins this fuzzy effect that mirrors Jeffrey's bassline. 'Slipstream' is sandwiched between the two and features similar orchestration as the other two short acoustic numbers.

And then the album closes with 'Wind Up'. The intro and coda are mixed a bit too softly with nicely textured piano and acoustic guitar, but this does provide a nice contrast to the Martin's guitar outburst in the middle of the piece. The piano section after this electric part is very nice, Evan providing another part that seems like something out of the early 20th century. This is one of Tull's finest albums and an essential album in any progressive rock collection. Enjoy!

mr.cub | 5/5 |


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