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Jethro Tull - Aqualung CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.36 | 2707 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars A review for the poor old sods . . .

I don't usually do reviews of this type anymore because I realized quite early in my reviewing career here that so much has already been said about these classic prog 'staples', my opinion thrown on top of the daily-growing pile of opinions isn't going to do much to sway a potential newcomer's decision. However, after reviewing several lesser-known albums from lesser-known artists, it's always fun to return to the familiar now and again. In this particular case, I felt the need to review Jethro Tull's ''Aqualung'' because it's one of the handful of great records that first sparked my interest in advanced music. Had it not been for these albums in particular, I may not be where I am today in my musical journey. In fact, I may not even be a musician. So I owe it to these classic artists and their influences to pay my respects.

''Aqualung'' was the first Jethro Tull record I ever heard, and still remains my most personally beloved. Is it Tull's best? probably not, and from a realistic standpoint, I'm not even sure I can rate it a full five stars, as much as I would want to. I was actually ready to sing its praises to the Nth degree just yesterday, but after speaking with one of my colleagues, he made me realize that my personal love for this record may be clouding my judgment. So I slept on it. Today, after giving it some careful thought, I have come to realize two things:

1) As much as I love this piece of classic prog-rock, the album does start to run out of steam toward its end, and I would be giving it too high a mark at the full five rating.

2) No Jethro Tull record has ever held my interest from beginning to end.

Perhaps it is simply because I still need to mature more in my musical tastes, but despite how great a Jethro Tull outing may be (of which there are many), none of them have been able to keep me completely engaged for their whole length. I promised myself early on when I first started investing time in this website that I would limit my five-star reviews only for the records that impressed me the absolute strongest. Some bands have released more than one album that has done so, but as of now, Jethro Tull has not. I would like to think albums like ''Aqualung'', ''Thick As A Brick'' and even ''Roots To Branches'' (One of J-Tull's most grossly underrated works) are all around the same caliber, and they all seem to be the best the band has to offer.

But just because a band's best possible efforts are in my collection, it does not mean I absolutely must rate them all five stars. Four stars for me don't mean an album ISN'T 'essential' per se; that rating simply means that while the record is among the band in particular's best work, it doesn't reach the same heights for me that it may for others, and that is absolutely a personal thing. I now believe five-star ratings should be reserved for the albums that speak to me the most on a personal level, and as such you will most likely see much less five-star scores coming from me from now on.

Right, now that I have explained my intentions, here, let's get to the review. it will be shorter than most, but as I said, so much has already been said about this record, I will merely explain what it means to me on a personal level, then move on.

The album's first track is also the title track, and among many circles, the most well-known track. It has a very wonderful chorus section, catchy, electric guitar-driven verses, and of course the graphic, appalling description on Aqualung, the subject of the first half of this album, many say. I'm still on the fence as whether or not this truly IS a concept album. Ian Anderson apparently claims that it isn't, but the connection between the tracks lyrically and musically suggest otherwise. Either way, this character (a bum living off the street, watching the crowd and having bad intentions) seems to be the subject of the first few tracks, intentionally connected or not, and tis is one hell of a starting place. Much more heavy rock-oriented than folk, and not particularly 'prog', it still gets the job done and straps the listener in for the wild ride to come. ''You poor old sod, you see it's only me''.

'Cross-Eyed Mary' seems to be yet another tale involving the Aqualung character, though he takes somewhat of a backseat here. Ian Anderson's signature flute makes its first appearance on this song, and along with it enters the first truly 'prog-folk' elements. It's a great song, and absolutely strengthens the album as a whole.

'Cheap Day Return' is the first time in which I can understand why Anderson doesn't consider this a concept record. This song has absolutely nothing to do with the Aqualung story. In fact, It's apparently a personal tale of when Anderson himself was traveling, on his way to see his terminally ill father. This is also a very nice track. Also quite short; the second-shortest song on the whole album. Though it doesn't need to be any longer. It's just some lovely acoustic guitar work accompanied by Anderson's tender, folk- style singing. This is more like a bridge between songs rather than a full-fledged song in and of itself.

The most fun-loving track on the record, 'Mother Goose', was a personal favorite of mine when I was a kid, and it still stands out as one of the better entries. Not much else to really say about this one . . . just listen for yourself, and you'll enjoy it.

Once again, a short, acoustic bridge section in 'Wond'ring Aloud'. Very beautiful track that also has some nice piano and strings coming in near the short track's end. I didn't fully appreciate this song until i got older, but now find it quite enjoyable. It certainly shouldn't be skipped when listening to ''Aqualung'' in full.

'Up To Me' is truly a Rock 'n' Roll / Folk hybrid. The flute rocks out just as much as the electric guitar does, and and twice as energetic at times. It's not all energy, though, as a softer middle section comes in to tame it. Actually a song that I honestly feel could have a been a little bit longer. Too short for such a cool track. Still a decent length, however.

Alright, so Side B begins, and the apparent 'theme' of this side (if there even is one!) is all about how organized religion has stifled many people's spiritual growth and help the church higher that God himself. Some people this this song is speaking out against the big guy upstairs, but those people obviously weren't paying attention to the lyrics. It's quite clear what Anderson is talking about, here. This may possibly be my favorite song on the album. It's powerful, has a very generous length (longest track on the record, clocking in at just over seven minutes), and has the best instrumentation out of all the tracks. The flute solo at the song's center is reason enough to love this mighty track, but so much more is there, as well. Just go listen to it! It's brilliant.

'Hymn 43' is very southern gospel music meets R&B. The piano work is really groovy, and Ian Anderson's singing style here makes him sound as if he could have come out of the heart of Louisiana, rather than Fife, Scotland, where the frontman was actually born. He definitely knows how to play the parts with his voice. Anyway, this is a great track too, although by this point if you're a first-time listener, the last track may have worn you out already.

'Slipstream' is the final acoustic interlude on the record, and wow, is this beautiful! I love how the strings bow and ebb at the end. Very unusual and . . . well . . . prog!

'Locomotive Breath' has one of the more interesting intros. The piano begins playing something that sounds very classically- influenced, then quickly shifts into ragtime, finally ending up in Jazz land. Wonderful. The rest of the instruments don't really come in until around the 1:22 mark, and when they do, I would expect more of that same freshness that began with the piano, but honestly, by this point, i feel the album has begun to run out of steam. This particular locomotive's breath is far from hot, and I think this is actually one of the weaker tracks the album has to offer, despite the cool-as-hell beginning. Still better than most music that was happening at the time, but by Tull standards, not as strong, in my opinion.

Okay. The last song on the record. It's really good. Great, even. Again, that southern vibe is quite prevalent, and once again Anderson is taking swings at religion. The lyrics are once again brilliant, and the music is up to par with the rest of the album's output. It starts out very soft, melodic and peaceful, then soon kicks into high gear with that trademark rockin' folk style that only Anderson and crew could pull off. It makes for a fabulous ending to a very fabulous album.

For the most part, this is an album you should not be without if you are a fan of this type of music. i would say having it in your collection is strongly encouraged, if not 'essential'. Like I said, this is a four-star album, if I am just honest with myself. As much as I love it, I do not listen to it as often as I do my typical five-star records. Having said that, I would indeed think you quite out of your mind to NOT buy this album. It's quite popular, even among non-prog listeners, and is available at nearly every store that sells music, so if you haven't picked this one up already, you really should. I just don't find it as 'essential' as others, perhaps. It's still worth owning, though.

Happy listening.

JLocke | 4/5 |


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