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Jethro Tull - Benefit CD (album) cover

BENEFIT

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.91 | 1052 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

thief
4 stars There is a tendency to underrate LPs sandwiched between two landmark, universally acclaimed albums. The most jarring example - as far as I'm concerned - is Deep Purple's "Fireball", often forgotten classic of Mark II lineup, mostly because it happened after "In Rock" (a truly groundbreaking affair) and was followed with "Machine Head" (no introduction is needed). "Fireball" contains lots of goodies as well, but they quickly disappeared from concert setlists, being replaced with "Lazy", "Space Truckin'", "Highway Star" and other hits.

"Benefit" suffers a similar fate, to a lesser degree.

Everyone and their mother loves accessibility, variety and fresh arrangements of "Stand Up", and I can see why. Then we have "Aqualung", album so good (and popular) that even casuals give it a spin on the regular. But "Benefit" is much darker. "Benefit" gets rid of the flute, in large part. "Benefit" comes forward with crunchy guitars, cloudy lyrics, stormy vocals and a pinch of psychedelia. And for some reason it's not clicking with all fans.

Or maybe there is no beef with the esthetics, but rather quality of particular songs?

I must admit some pieces aren't really 5-star material. But as I understand five stars on Progarchives - that should be reserved for uncanny masterpieces, music so good it gives you goosebumps and makes you wonder how a bunch of 20-year olds came up with such a marvel. "Benefit" has those moments, too, but often it's just a Very Good stuff. And neither "very good" or "great" are enough for the promised land of five star ratings.

There isn't much room for improvement though. "To Cry You a Song" has one of the hookiest riffs in Jethro's catalogue, prominent bassline and Ian's youthful, belligerent delivery. Bridge at 1:45 could pass as "Aqualung" sessions material, the same could be said about guitarwork at 4:00 minute mark - decent stuff, no doubts. But I think this particular song would benefit (heh) from cutting off the last minute and introducing edgier, more meaty distortion. When it comes to guitar sound, I think Martin could've done a better job on "Son", which is a bit fuzzy and incoherent. But I like how it changes moods from Cream-inspired, brash rocking to dreamy acoustic madrigal in the vein of George Harrison.

I consider these two songs the album's lowpoints. And they're still good. "Benefit" has a very high floor, let me tell you.

I delved into Ian's vocals before and must say I applaud how he sings with chagrin and a bit of angst. "With You There to Help Me" shifts back and forth between broody and rebellious vocal tones, beautifully enhancing the band's behind. Although it takes more than six minutes, I'm enjoying every second - the moody intro on piano, flute echoes (wandering somewhere in the woods, I feel), touches of acoustic guitar, intensifying hand clapping and escalating storm in coda - as if it was a rainmaking ritual. A terrific, progressive piece. "Nothing to Say" evokes similar moods - John Evan's inclusion works wonders, especially when the band's shooting for dramatic effect. Anderson's wailing fits like a glove here.

Don't get me wrong, "Benefit" isn't all doom and gloom. "Alive and Well and Living In" is more upbeat, utilising flutes in small doses, just to give it more carefree, airy attitude. If I were to find a comparison, I'd say this one sounds just like the woody album cover, instrumental outro at 1:50 in particular. So tasteful and relaxing. "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me" ends the 'Jeffrey Trilogy' on a joyful note, at least once the main theme kicks in. One of those tunes staying in your head all day long.

In my opinion "Benefit" truly shines on B side. "A Time for Everything" is so ballsy yet romantic, the flute sounds triumphant and very inspiring - I could listen to it twice in a row and stay pumped up. "Inside" is another short, but fantastic tune with great doses of "feelgood", enough to share with whole neighborhood. That's what Jethro Tull does to you with flowery arrangements and catchy melodies, cheers you up for good!

"Play in Time" might just be my favorite song here, starting with tight, bluesy riffing, but quickly branching into psychedelia with twisted tape loops from the Wonderland ("Tomorrow Never Knows" breed) and Mad Hatter fluting his brains off. Spiritual antecedent of "A Passion Play", if you will. Looking for analogies, "Sossity You're a Woman" is an acoustic ballad with emphatic storytelling and ardent, folksy chorus sung by an antihero... much like "My God" and parts of "Minstrel in the Gallery". Another win, in my book.

I think "Benefit" was a necessary stepping stone towards prog rock of the seventies. While it doesn't have the epic scope of "Thick as a Brick" or mind-boggling variety of "Aqualung", it introduces more advanced composition and changing moods within a song. Perhaps Jethro Tull wanted to prove they can write accomplished music without aid of mandolins and balalaika "trickery"? Anyhow, the band should be applauded for progressive approach, especially that recording sessions began in September 1969, even before ITCOTCK was released. There is no weak song here, and some of its highlights are ridiculously good (opener and B side come to mind). Plenty to choose from really, and I don't mind the darker mood at all - nobody bashes "Minstrel in the Gallery" or "Stormwatch" for ominous atmosphere, and "Benefit" was clearly a forefather of sombre ambience.

Even if we exclude "Teacher", "The Witch's Promise" and other bonus tracks - ALL of them brilliant - we have a surefire 4 star album here. Four and a half, on a good day. Jethro Tull was alive and well and getting ready for a masterpiece, and this album paves the way in a convincing fashion.

thief | 4/5 |

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