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Jethro Tull - War Child CD (album) cover

WAR CHILD

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.33 | 841 ratings

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thief
3 stars Overlooked Tull albums, vol. 2.

"War Child" was one of the least played LPs in my family home. Kinda weird since everything's in place, it seems: we're in the middle of most cherished Jethro's lineup, orchestrations are numerous, saxophone leads in abundance, all served in well known ten songs format. But after dozens of listens it becomes clear not everything is clicking on "War Child".

I'll start with the good stuff, though.

Orchestral arrangements by David Palmer are just top-notch. On many songs they either lead the charge ("Queen and Country") or provide entertaining bridges ("The Third Hoorah" being the most prominent example). Saxophones are used a dozen times really, I won't bother counting all appearances. In most cases it's a welcome change, I remember sax melodies from the title track and "Two Fingers" vividly; same could be said about lovely fills on "Ladies", accompanied by castanets, strings and 'sleigh bells'.

If we take number of instruments played into account, "War Child" is an impressive album. Aside from aforementioned saxophones, rich orchestral arrangements and variety of drums and bells, we have all sorts of acoustic/Spanish guitars and noteworthy addition of accordion to John Evan's arsenal. It's often used to illustrate war-related lyrics ("Queen and Country" comes to mind), as well as evocation of circus/carnival themes. And we're treated with swaths of quirky atmosphere reminiscent of yesteryear's pastimes - trapeze artists, jugglers and lion tamers seem to pop out of every corner, especially on closing tracks. I must say I like it a lot: I was always drawn to old-fashioned (now almost extinct) forms of entertainment, be it magicians, clowns or jesters. The latter is extremely captivating, it has something to do with "jester archetype", so prevalent in Western culture. "War Child" isn't the weirdest album around, but jovial mood and circus connotations are common features here.

There is also a fair share of inspiring songs. "Sealion" is brimming with ideas - string fills, accordions, forcefully strummed guitars, it's so busy! I just adore all its moments: angular guitar riff, inert chorus melody and unforeseen bridge at 2:05. Although the structure itself is straightforward, other elements of the song point heavily in the "progressive" direction.

At times we hear tunes foreshadowing future albums. Pastoral "Skating Away" sounds like madrigals from "Heavy Horses", and "Back-Door Angels" is direct antecedent of "Black Satin Dancer" thanks to light/shade contrasting. These are all fine tracks, well worth your attention.

I happen to like most of the material here, even if I'm not ecstatic about it. The natural medley of "The Third Hoorah" and "Two Fingers" sit very well with me - melodies are spurting left and right, or perhaps the illusion of novelty is laid out perfectly. The drumming and basslines are superb, John Evan shines with accordion attacks and organs bolstering the sound. "War Child" is of similar quality, especially once the atonal main theme comes into play. (Or maybe it's not really atonal despite chalkboard scraping semitones? I need a clarification on this)

But I have complaints as well. "Bungle in the Jungle" was the radio-friendly tune and I find it dull, to put it simple. Well, it's not the worst, but I really dislike the chorus, I don't find it catchy nor enjoyable, and it spoils the rest of the song (however string arrangements are yummy). "Queen and Country" repeats itself over and over, and the sea shanties feeling doesn't help. "Only Solitaire" could be a nucleus of terrific song, but ends abruptly at 1:39. It's not "Aqualung" with TONS of good stuff - Jethro Tull couldn't afford to abort its best ideas and turn them into brief interludes!

I think the biggest flaw of "War Child" is either lack of coherence or shortage of truly groundbreaking songs. I've listed some highlights, but none of them reaches the highest echelon of "My God", "Velvet Green" or "Heavy Horses". "War Child" is very listenable as a whole album, but you will rarely feel the urge of revisiting specific songs separately. And when it comes to coherence, it feels like a bunch of songs without a common denominator - and I sense it has something to do with aborted movie project. Who knows if "War Child" wouldn't be a masterpiece if Ian worked a little more at a drawing board. If you have a remastered CD with bonus tracks, you'll find good ideas there - material potent enough to rewrite and include in original LP, wrapped under 45 minutes.

After long consideration, I decided to give it a 3 star rating, but with a caveat: that's the strongest 'three star effort' in Jethro's career. I reckon it more ambitious than "This Was", more enjoyable than "Too Old...", BETTER than anything they've done post-Stormwatch. It's not a dropped ball, not a fumble... more like being just short of a first down. Embrace its quirks, carnival atmosphere and treat it like an unique experience. Jethro Tull never went that route again, so enjoy the ride.

Almost Four!

thief | 3/5 |

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