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Jethro Tull - Aqualung CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.36 | 2707 ratings

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5 stars Quite simply put, this is one of my favourite records of all time - one of those I know practically by heart, one I've never got tired of listening to. While some have questioned its progressiveness, and others seem to think it is a bit overrated (oh, no, not that word again!), to my mind it still represents one of the best examples of what was great about music in the Seventies - fantastic cover art, intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics, fearless blending of genres, even on-stage theatrics. Even though all these things still exist in some measure, there was an innocence to it that seems to be sadly lacking in today's corporate music world, where images are created on purpose and nothing is left to chance anymore.

While its status as a fully-fledged concept album is debatable (though it seems indeed to be built, however loosely, around a sortof concept - that is, criticism of the role of organised religion in modern society), "Aqualung" shows Anderson at its biting, lyrical best. His voice (not classically beautiful in the way of a Lake or a Sinclair, but highly expressive and always effective in its delivery) snarls and soothes in turn - as the album's musical content strikes the right balance between acoustic, folk-flavoured moments and fiery, hard-rocking numbers, enhanced by Martin Barre's aggressive guitar. Actually, "hard rock" is probably the most suitable definition for the album's overall sound. Barre, more restrained on the band's previous albums (where he was still the new boy), here pulls out all the stops and delivers some of the most incendiary solos in the history of prog - notably the one on "Aqualung", a real showstopper, allegedly done in one take in the presence of Jimmy Page. The contrast with Anderson's wistful, delicate acoustic playing on songs like "Cheap Day Return" and folk-rock masterpiece "Mother Goose" (also featuring nice flute parts ) is really one of the album's strenghts.

With so many reviews written before mine, I feel a track-by-track analysis to be quite superfluous. The standouts, though, are nothing short of superb - starting with the title-track, which veers from the crushingly heavy opening riff (one of the most immediately recognisable in the history of rock) to the melancholy, acoustic part in which Ian, at his most heartwrenching, bleakly illustrates the reality of the titular tramp's squalid life, to the galloping instrumental middle section and Barre's blistering solo, before the reprise of the initial theme. A masterpiece of songwriting if ever there was one. "Cross-Eyed Mary", about a day in the life of a teenage hooker, is another hard-rock-flavoured number - once covered by Iron Maiden, whose bassist Steve Harris has never hidden his love for JT; while the next three tracks see the tempo slow down and the folk influences come out to play.

The real masterpiece of the album, though, and my personal favourite, comes at the beginning of what used to be Side Two. With caustic, bitter lyrics decrying the hypocrisy of organising religion and the way it demeans the true meaning of God, "My God" features some of Anderson's best, free-form flute work in the middle, and some guitar work by Barre that would not be wrong to call heavy metal. The way his guitar kicks in at the beginning of the song, after Anderson has sung "So lean upon him gently/and don't call on him to save..." literally slices the air in two. Anderson spits out his words with genuine venom, and the lyrics are among the best he's written in a career spanning almost forty years. Then, of course, we have traditional concert encore "Locomotive Breath", a driving, hauntingly heavy song with great flute and guitar work, and rock-solid rythm backing. Album closer "Wind Up", probably the most traditionally prog song on the record, is also my least favourite, in spite of the excellent lyrical content.

The recently remastered edition contains some excellent bonus tracks, including early JT classics "Fat Man" and "A Song for Jeffrey", the evergreen "Bourée", and an interview with Ian Anderson himself reminiscing about the way the album came about. "Aqualung" is one of those records that get better with age and never go out of date. This is essential listening for every lover of great, classic, solid-gold rock music.

Raff | 5/5 |


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