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Jethro Tull - Stormwatch CD (album) cover

STORMWATCH

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

3.46 | 726 ratings

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thief
4 stars Have you ever heard about Jethro Tull's "folk trilogy"? I stumbled upon this term some years ago and was quite amazed to see these three consecutive albums - "Songs from the Wood", "Heavy Horses" and "Stormwatch" lumped together. There surely was a deep-rooted connection between the first two - but the latter seemed like a different animal to my ears. Thematic similarities between all three - or their absence - will be a recurring theme in this (and subsequent) reviews.

Jethro Tull was definitely a song-oriented band at that point. Translation: tracks are 4 minutes long on average. Is it a bad thing though? Not really, as long as they manage to make their point in a shorter span. "Stormwatch" features a whole bunch of slim-but-efficient compositions, opening with uptempo "North Sea Oil" and intense "Orion". The band once again proves its wide ranging abilities, effortlessly moving between lavish orchestral arrangements ("Old Ghosts"), overwhelmingly Scottish folk tunes ("Dun Ringill", "Warm Sporran") and edgier hard rocking detours ("Something's on the Move"). We've seen that aptitude before, but staying true to this well-tested formula commands respect, especially when we consider the musical landscape of 1979. The outlook was pretty grim, wasn't it?

I sense all these tensions - both real and perceived by reviewer's imagination - took a toll on band's members and pushed "Stormwatch" to a relatively darker tone. You'll be hard pressed to find anything as theatrically dramatic as "Orion" on previous releases, unless you go back as far as Minstrel era. It may sound overly emotional to present listeners, yet I don't find it jarring or naive. Stark contrast between hard-hitting riffs and wistful vocal melodies work very well due to Ian's charisma and not-so-obvious lyrics. Conclusion: if you'll ever come up with a sorrowful tune, make sure the words are mature and meaningful. The "Orion" way.

The other way is to have no lyrics at all. This is how "Elegy" gets away with heartbreaking melody AND stealing ideas from Bach - they don't go over the top, keep it trim and let Martin Barre do the talking. Weeping lead guitar and conservative rhythm section are elegant and thought-provoking, a rare trait indeed. The result is a powerful, soul-cleansing composition, a proper closing track for the album, or even for the era.

In my opinion, "Stormwatch" is a tale of nostalgia, but the woody, rural background of its predecessors is largely gone, now replaced with seafaring motifs. The album cover, oil rigs, sailors dreams of home, even Dun Ringill's location - they all have strong maritime undercurrent. Penultimate song, "The Flying Dutchman", is the obvious one. Majestic, spacious grand piano leads the way, soon joined by common suspects - mandolins, acoustic guitars, flute and powerful drums. You can sense buoyancy, high winds and candle lights trembling in the storm; the song feels very poetic and nocturnal. "Dark Ages" also shoots for the epic feel, yet takes a very different route - highly energetic, fast paced and bombastic - and it largely succeeds. I see these two as backbone of the album, where all ideas come together.

What's the root of "Stormwatch" nostalgia then? There are many sources, if you ask me. Ruined castles, age of sails and long gone Scottish ways are its fuel, but I always interpreted it as uncertainty of changing times. The last album of Barlow-Evan-Glascock crew, the last one without synthesizers, the final display of trademark Jethro Tull sound. These claims might seem overblown, but even staunchest supporters of "Broadsword" or "Crest" wouldn't mistake them for 70s classics of "Minstrel" or "Horses" mold. I suppose the band had a gut feeling it's all coming to an end in some way, back in 1979. While "Stormwatch" wasn't their most progressive or adventurous effort, it was recorded with the same mindset and breathed the same air.

The greatest sin of "Stormwatch" is being 'good' across the board - good, but not ingenious. Jethro Tull have many reasons to be proud, their genius transpired in mighty 15+ minutes suites as well as 3-4 minutes wonders, such as "Mother Goose", "Cup of Wonder" or "Moths". The brilliancy could wake up the dead from eternal sleep and change people's hearts in the blink of an eye. "Stormwatch" does have such moments, especially if you're willing to give it a chance... but it's not brimming with 'awesome' the way "Aqualung" does. We shouldn't expect perfection around every corner though. I can settle for a bit less, and I vouch "Stormwatch" delivers the goods. It's superbly arranged, poignant, rocking - refined experience full of variety.

So if you're up for a reflective blend of baroque, distorted riffs and nautical folk, look no further. In a gloomy musical landscape of 1979, "Stormwatch" will light your way.

thief | 4/5 |

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