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Jethro Tull - Living In The Past  CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.12 | 346 ratings

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3 stars "Living in the Past", what a strange album to review. The band certainly felt strong at the time: few months removed from "Thick as a Brick", showered with critical acclaim, touring all year long (bar summer break), selling tickets in New Zealand, United States and Japan... What better opportunity to come up with compilation album and make sure fans don't forget? The difference between "Living in the Past" and your run of the mill box sets is obvious though: instead of repackaging same ol' songs, Jethro Tull decided to put together a dozen of singles and previously unreleased tracks (read: rarities), with a sprinkle of live recordings on top.

In other words, "Living in the Past" was NOT redundant.

Personally, I've always seen it as a full-fledged studio album, perhaps a bit diluted with well-known material (few songs picked from "This Was", "Stand Up" etc.). In this case they could be treated as bonuses, I guess... I'll do my best to review this album in few words, side-by-side. Depending on your version, there is up to 90 minutes worth of music, so it's easy to get lost!

SIDE ONE (1968-69) Four UK singles and two re-releases. "A Christmas Song" and "Living in the Past" are especially yummy. The former would be a highlight on "Stand Up", string arrangements and mandolins sound adorable and successfully evoke times of Dickens and Tennyson, but in a light-hearted manner. The latter is instantly recognizable for pounding rhythm and characteristic flute melodies. The band sounds young and all instruments click together. "Love Story" is also invigorating, although fuzzed guitars and wah-wahs usually leave me cold. You feel sixties here, for better or worse. The only subpar offering is "Driving Song" - it sounds empty-ish even for blues rock standards. On a sidenote: I like how it all kicks off with "A Song for Jeffrey". Great opening track, makes sense to start there. "Bourree" is nice too, but you all know that.

SIDE TWO (1969-70) Things get really interesting here. Not everyone got to know "Teacher" since UK and US pressings of "Benefit" differed a bit. It just might be the best mid-paced rocker from that period, really a perfect blend of prominent basslines, crunchy arpeggios and exciting flute ornaments. "Sweet Dreams" will also grab your attention with marching rhythms and orchestral arrangements, tastefully intersecting with rockier choruses. And that galloping break in the middle! Side two is mighty strong folks... Of course there are small hiccups, such as "Singing All Day" (bit monotonous) or 90 seconds long "Just Trying to Be", but it's nitpicking. Actually, the latter is a fine piece - it sounds like a nucleus of "Benefit" era ballad - but it's sadly underdeveloped. Not the first time when Jethro Tull left us wanting with a sweet little morsel. The clear highlight must be "The Witch's Promise". Captivating since the very beginning, dancing smoothly on a thin line between good and evil, light and dark - the lyrics certainly remind me of traditional/retro doom metal bands i.e. Blood Ceremony, although sound is very tender and... peculiar. I thoroughly enjoy the moment when mellotron kicks in; rarely used by Jethro Tull, but here the legendary instrument is perfectly applied. The atmosphere and Ian's singing - so young and yearning, reminiscent of "With You There to Help Me" - is burnt onto my mind. Very underrated track!

SIDE THREE (November 1970) Twenty minutes worth of live material, late 1970, John Evan finally on board. "Dharma for One" is yet another take on established classic from Mick Abrahams days, easily recognizable by lengthy drum solo of "Moby Dick" or "Toad" proportions. It's basically Clive Bunker's playground, nice to hear from time to time, but is it essential? I find "By Kind Permission Of" a tad more interesting, although the buildup is disproportionately long. There is some admiration for bringing up Beethovens and Rachmaninoffs in me, but it sounds odd here. John Evan is a crafty pianist, no doubt about that, but the juicy part only comes at 6:30, when Ian joins him in the most touching melody. It dissipates quickly, but I adore this moment - go check it out now. The ending is also decent, though brief. "By Kind Permission Of" loses focus a bit too often.

SIDE FOUR (1971 EP & Aqualung) This is where "Living in the Past" comes back strong. I really need to check Jethro biography on this one, I'm not sure if 1971 EP songs were "Aqualung" outtakes or completely separate material, but let me tell you: it doesn't change zilch. These ~5 songs definitely live up to Jethro's lofty heights of early 70s, beautifully produced, brimming with ideas, full of life and juicy bits. Especially "Life is a Long Song" and "Dr. Bogenbroom", they belong with "Skating Away", "A Time for Everything" and other top tier three-minute pieces. I think Bogenbroom even references the latter in the melody... no difference really, it's good and honest. One caveat though: I don't know why it took so many years to put together "Wond'ring Aloud, Again" - the seven minutes version circling around the internet. Don't get me wrong - what we get here is a PRIME material, all "Aqualung" fans surely fell in love with LITP edit; I just wish both songs were merged together at this point.

SUMMARY I'm not quite pleased with this review, it took me much time to get through "Living in the Past" twice this week and to pen down some of my impressions... and yet, I feel like I haven't told you the important stuff. And to me, "Living in the Past" is usually an opener for December Jethro Season. The first day of snow, the day I bring winter clothing from the cellar, the day I start decorating the tree or looking for gifts - that's when "Living in the Past" works best, for me, as a kind reminder that there is so much Jethro Tull's stuff to hear in upcoming weeks. I genuinely believe the "original material" here (sort of original) looks as good as the bulk of "Stand Up" or "Benefit" albums, both highly acclaimed and praiseworthy. In the same time I feel the record would work much better if they got rid of "Locomotive Breath", "Inside" and other core JT songs, as well as a bit dull "Dharma for One". I even made such compilation for myself - all the goodsies bunched together (sweet dreams, witches, bogenbrooms & xmas) with the other live song in between - it flows much better and allows to appreciate "Living in the Past" for what it truly is, a collection of overlooked gems.

3.5 stars, rounded down.

thief | 3/5 |


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