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Jethro Tull

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Jethro Tull Rock Island album cover
2.70 | 520 ratings | 26 reviews | 5% 5 stars

Good, but non-essential

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Studio Album, released in 1989

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Kissing Willie (3:32)
2. The Rattlesnake Trail (4:02)
3. Ears Of Tin (4:55)
4. Undressed To Kill (5:25)
5. Rock Island (6:54)
6. Heavy Water (4:12)
7. Another Christmas Song (3:32)
8. The Whaler's Dues (7:53)
9. Big Riff and Mando (5:58)
10. Strange Avenues (4:10)

Total Time: 50:33

Bonus tracks on 2006 EMI remaster:
11. Christmas Song (Live) (3:06)
12. Cheap Day Return / Mother Goose (Live) (3:09)
13. Locomotive Breath (Live) (3:38)

Line-up / Musicians

- Ian Anderson / vocals, flute, mandolin, keyboards (Synclavier), acoustic guitar, drums (2,7), producer
- Martin Barre / electric guitar
- David Pegg / electric & acoustic basses, mandolin
- Doane Perry / drums

- Martin Allcock / keyboards (1,10)
- Peter-John Vettese /keyboards (3-6)

Releases information

Artwork: Anton Morris with Jim Gibson

LP Chrysalis - CHR 1708 (1989, UK)
LP Chrisalis CHS 41708 (1989, Canada)

CD Chrysalis - CDP32 1708 2 (1989, UK)
CD EMI 70976 (2006, Europe) Remastered by Peter Mew w/ 3 bonus Live tracks from "The Dressing Room Tape" recorded in the dressing room at the Zurich Sports Hall on 13th October 1989

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Quinino for the last updates
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JETHRO TULL Rock Island ratings distribution

(520 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(5%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(18%)
Good, but non-essential (40%)
Collectors/fans only (29%)
Poor. Only for completionists (7%)

JETHRO TULL Rock Island reviews

Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Peter
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars I bought this disc when it came out in '89, and really didn't care for it. Its predecessor, CREST OF A KNAVE, I thought, was much better. In the interest of fairness, I'm listening to ROCK ISLAND again as I write this, but it's no labour of love. I suppose this recording has its supporters, but I'm not one of them: enough, already, Mr. Anderson, about your precious "Willie." Stick to your metal flute! (You explored that theme with far more cleverness anyway on SONGS FROM THE WOOD, when you wrote "I'm tight against the seam," or, my favourite, "She took the simple man's staff all in hand; I raised the flag that she unfurled.")

In my opinion, ROCK ISLAND is a sub-standard album that doesn't approach the quality of other 80s Tull releases like BROADSWORD or CREST, and is only marginally better than the dismal UNDER WRAPS. None of these songs -- with one notable exception -- grab me, or evoke that old Tull magic. The album feels like a rushed and contrived effort to put out another disc in the mold of CREST OF A KNAVE (which, incidentally, gained Tull an award for "Heavy Metal Album of the Year" -- ahem....). There's lots of "sound and fury" here, but it signifies nothing. Some parts aren't TOO bad ("Heavy Water" is OK), but, in general, these songs pale next to most of those that have come before. The notable exception that I mentioned is "Another Christmas Song," which is a thoughtful and worthy successor to its near-namesake. (But don't worry: "Another Christmas Song" is available on the new JETHRO TULL CHRISTMAS ALBUM, which I understand is good.)

Unless you simply must have every Tull album, I wouldn't bother with this one.

Review by Sean Trane
2 stars 2,5 stars really!!

Knave part II. As Tull had a mini-surprise success (both commercial and artistically as the album was the first relatively convincing Tull album since Heavy Horses) in 86 with the previous album COAK album, they certainly sought out to duplicate the formula of the Hard-Blues-Rock (I'm being a little reductive here, but it is to stress my point) developed in that album. I say that this era (from Knave to Catfish Rising also - so from 86 to 92) is more convincing than the previous one (from Stormwatch to Under Wraps - so 79 to 84) , but I did not say that the songwriting is more imaginative or inventive. Quite the contrary, the music is definitely more conventional on this Rock Island album than in the directionless but inquisitive Stormwatch or Wraps albums. Obviously Tull not successfully experimenting on those albums, they chose to play it safe and duplicate the Knave formula.

Opening on the fast-tempoed Kissing Willy (always reminding me of Pussy Willow, for some very strange reason), the album follows on an 80's-esque rhythmed Rattlesnake Trail, the atrociously uninventive Undressed To Kill and wheezy Ears Of Tin; RI is not off to a good start, but let's face it, Tull is down to its "business-as-usual" tricks and apparently most un-demanding fans are easily satisfied with minimal efforts from the mad flauter. From the title track onwards, the album does take an upward swing, but don't get your hopes up too high: this means that the better tracks would find space on SFTW or HH, bumping some filler tracks, but not much more than that, even if Whaler's Due (better in concert) and the closing Strange Avenues (used as an intro to another track in concert) are indeed fairly interesting.. But most of the RI album is made of uninventive songs that might qualify as fillers if they weren't so numerous. Just to get a good idea at the general inspiration of this album, the ill-advised track called Another Christmas Song (yep, another one of those!!!!!!) speaks loads and undermines much of the album's credibility.

So in a way for a newbie to Tull music, this is likely to be a safer bet than A, SW and TB&TB, but it will be only safer. BTW, I don't have any problem that Anderson sounds like D S's Mark Knofler (not that obvious a remark, though), as the "Tramp" had some voice problem in the nineties (his voice was weakening and now he forces on his vocal chords too hard) to answer another review below (He also got operated to a leg because of his prolonged one-legged-stances). I have another "BTW" remark: I haven't heard the remaster bonus tracks, which are live versions of early 70's classic tracks, thus no doubt providing an undeniable added value to the album, bur unfortunately underlining that era's weakness ? this also highlights than Ian was using all of his ideas to make an album, when he had plenty of choices/ideas some 15 years sooner to construct an album. As I said above: business as usual; so please don't go looking for anything essential with this album. Reserved to second or third generation Tull fans at best.

Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars This album with a cool cover pic has some very commercial oriented rock music on it, but as for such product I consider it as a quite good record. Sadly there are not much artistic efforts to be found from it however, the main focus being on quite easy pleasing from the rock'n'roll riff appreciations. The opener "Kissing Willie" has a nice guitar theme which should smash this hit to memory of any listener. As a song it reminds of ZZ Top with some flute lines, and this characterization sadly fits to the most of the songs here. "The Rattlesnake Trail" has nice bluesy opening riffs, but the main song won't venture to this direction. All of the songs are written by Ian Anderson, and he also plays even drums on some tracks, so this album can be seen as being very heavily a product of his own choice. "Ears Of Tin" has a fine opening with flutes and classical maneuvers, and the song combines elements of slow ballad and a bluesy rock anthem, creating a quite pretty song. Personally I just didn't like the country music oriented solo guitar and the party hi-hats. "Undressed to Kill" sounds then like a song directly from the last Dire Straits studio album of the 90's, also having a fade-out ending during a solo (sarcastic applauses). The title song "Rock Island" starts with a calm impressionistic section, bringing some basic pop rock outbursts in the middle of it. Later the nearly seven minutes long song evolves as a fast instrumental with lots of good playing. "Heavy Water" confirms my growing feeling, that this album is full of great openings, which degenerate as basic pop rock songs from the late 1980's. Melodies are though catchy, and there are lots of small but professional arrangements done in the compositions. "Another Christmas Song" ended also to the Jethro Tull's Christmas album, and it truly holds the Christmas feeling in its melody and sounds. The other longer track here, "The Whaler's Dues" running nearly eight minutes, begins again promisingly with ethereal synthesizers and the calls of guitar and flute. The track luckily continues with delicate manners and fine lyrics, and makes it as the best track of this album. "Big Riff and Mando" builds up from a bluesy hard rock riff and a more folky troubadour theme. Though there are some interesting rhythmic changes in the composition, there are also quite annoying hard rock movements here too, making the full appreciation very hard. "Strange Avenues" quits the album with some mystical and beautiful licks. If there would have been more this kind of stuff on the album, it could have made a a really nice record. There are also total number of six fade out endings on the ten tracks on the album, which will soon fade out from my music collection and end ups to the shop of used records.
Review by NotAProghead
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Errors & Omissions Team
4 stars I can't understand too why so many people dislike this album. As for me, this album is a mature work, songs are absolutely natural for 42 years old man. No need to expect another "Aqualung", Mr. Anderson has the right to tell you new stories.

There are no bad tracks at all, even more - the title track, "Another Christmas Song", "The Whaler's Dues" (my personal favorite, what a great story's told) and "Strange Avenues" are excellent. I don't care whether it is prog or not, the band is much bigger than any genre, so I prefer simply listen and enjoy this very good album.

Review by Andrea Cortese
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Strange Avenues, where you lose all sense of direction."

May Jethro Tull have lost their direction with 1989 Rock Island?

As always it depends on what you were expecting..another Songs From The Wood sounding like? In 1989? Ok, after that great success of 1987 Crest Of A Knave (and of the 20 Years Of Jethro Tull box set, released in 1988) it was almost impossible to write and record a new album that would meet the same high standards. But they did (in my opinion), this one is even better than the previous.I'll explain the reasons why:

Sincerely, it's just with this one that Jethro Tull exit definitively from the (by many hated!) 80's! Most of the material has a hard rock feel, featuring Martin Barre's electric run-wild-guitars. What the album lacks is the previous humour and lightness. This seems to make all too serious. Ian Anderson has been the first one to admit that. The same happened to earlier albums like Benefit and Heavy Horses and are by fans sometimes referred to as "the dark albums" (when you look at the lyrics, much of this album deals with themes of alienation and loneliness-see the cover's lonely island), separation from the mainstream of society and wandering down (those) "Strange Avenues". There's nothing on here to compare with the warmer, more comfortable stuff you've seen previously (the theme is then continued in 1991 Catfish Rising, but there it's tempered a little bit).

The Doane Perry's percussion was recorded at Dave Pegg's Woodworm's studio. To apply different keyboard playing styles, Ian invited Martin Allcock, Peter-John Vettese and JOHN EVANS (!!!), but the latter refused having lost his interest in music years before (I think he became a constructions' boss or similar.).

Rocky flute-shape-mount in a solitary and tart Island seen from the distant, by the bull's eye of a ship (nice cover).

The first song is Kissing Willie, a good hard rock one. The first thing you see with the song is that Ian wrote it in a first-person perspective. The second thing is the relationship between narrator, Willie and the "she" person. The first question to ask is: who is Willie? Or rather WHAT is Willie? Well I don't seems to be HIS PENIS!!! (or Ian has a friend called Willie, but I would bet he doesn't!!!!). Some (indirect) proof lies on the lyrics: "She shows a leg, shows it damn well"; ".Willie stands and Willie falls"; "Me and Willie just can't help come, when she calls"!!!!

The Rattlesnake Trail reminds me of Jump Start while the good Ears Of Tin was originally destined to be titled "Mainland Blues" (Ian was really touring a lot.).

Rock Island: individual people isolated on their home ground ("Doesn't everyone have their own Rock Island? Their own little patch of sand?"). There is no connection to each other ("And all roads out of here seem to lead right back to the Rock Island"). Great song, anyway, with un-expected electric guitar parts by "Monsieur Le Barre".

Another Christmas Song (remember the "first" Christmas Song? It was a far 1968's single that now you can catch also as a bonus track of the This Was remastered album). By the way, the song praises the importance of home, family and harmony. The narrator describes an old man who wants to gather his children around him: I'm going to call, call all my children home" (....) Calling for his sons and daughters, yeah - calling all his children round." .and then I was "shocked"! because the only reason the Old Man is calling all his children round is not that Christmas' approaching. He is dying and his life is at the end!!!!!! (I told you that Rock Island is not a lightness' example!): ".proving that the blood is strong!". This great song is findable now in the last 2003 JT Christmas Album, in a newly arranged (and fine) version.

Then, BRUTALLY it's up to The Waler's Dues: "Now I'm old and I sit landlocked in a back- country jail to reflect on all of my sins". This is the apex of this album and represent the decisive reason why I'll rate it with 4 stars! This is a must-have in your CD player, or to put it as a mp3 in progarchives!!! What an incredible opus!!!

Other remarkable ones are Big Riff And Mando and Strange Avenues. Excellent, excellent (I, at last, confirm!). I can recommend to all you out there!

P. S. Is in the ISLE of Skye where Ian managed and builded up his famous salmon farm???

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars I know that this is not Tull's best album but I really enjoy this one very much despite modern sounds used down here. "Kissing Willie" is a straight rocker with organ and guitar rhythm. "The Rattlesnake Trail" continues the same vein with more use of flute in rock style. "Ears of Tin" is a very nice mellow track with good melody and nice acoustic guitar. "Undressed To Kill" brings the music back to rock but this time with harmonious flute and electric guitar work. "Rock Island" is my best song coming out from this album. It has a very strong melody with solid composition. It reminds me to the band's "Heavy Horses" album. "Heavy Water" is another good rocker with aggressive flute work and electric guitar. "Another Christmas Song" is a slow ballad with pop structure. "The Whaler's Dues" has an ambient opening with flute and keyboard augmented with electric guitar work. It's another good composition with a bit of complex arrangement in some segments. Melody-wise, this is the strongest track of the whole album and it has become my favorite as well. "Big Riff And Mando" brings the music up to an energetic one with guitar riffs. "Strange Avenues" is another excellent track with ambient flute and guitar work in atmospheric setting. Oh, I love the aggressive flutework in dynamic music setting and spacey nuance. It's a favorite.

It's not the best album from Tull but it's good one. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Review by b_olariu
3 stars Beacause i'm a big Jethro Tull fan i will try to be obiective with my review as much as i can on this album. It's obvious that the very good times from the '70 were gone in the thin line of music history, but what we have here is good , with enjoyble moments like The Whaler's Dues, the best track on this album. The rest of the music on Rock island is not bad as much of the reviwers write here, but has no catchy tunes, has nothing. I listen to it and that it, nothing convince me to put once again the album in my Cd player again and again like 70' stuff of the band. Maybe i'm wrong, but that what i feel regard to Rock Island. 3 stars.
Review by clarke2001
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars One of the weakest Tull's albums that sounds so typical for the power-pop from the late 80's. I don't think this is a "Catfish Rising" predecessor, or "Crest Of A Knave's" style follower. This album is an independent, standalone piece but overall impression is not very good.

There are a few good tracks scattered over the album; "The Whaler's Dues" perhaps being one of the best. It's a multi-part composition with great flute playing (style is untypical for Ian), great atmosphere and excellent, sad lyrics. "Big Riff and Mando" will also provide some enjoyable moments for a prog rock fan. "Kissing Willie" is a rare attempt from the prog band to write a song with implicit sexual content. It's not very demanding, but it's fun.

The other tracks of interest are lovely "Ears Of Tin", "Rock Island", "Another Christmas Song" and "Strange Avenues". However, they are far from the best songs from the JETHRO TULL's wide catalogue. The other tracks on the albums are not worth mentioning, they re just hard-rock-blues clichees wrapped into a late 80's cheesy sounds.

This is not a good starter for a JETHRO TULL newbie, or for the progressive rock newbie in general, unless you are already into that 80's rock sound and you like it.

Review by ZowieZiggy
3 stars As far as I am concerned, their previous and quite rocking album was a halt to the last two poor studio albums the Tull has produced ("Under Wraps" and "A Classic Case"). So, what to expect from "Rock Island" ?

With such a title, I can only hope that they are going to be rocking all over again.The opener "Kissing Willie" sounds a bit like "Steel Monkey" and is just average. But definitely the hard rock orientation is back and confirmed with "The Rattlesnake Trail". Strong tempo and good drumming.

"Ears of Tin" starts almost as a folk song, but rapidly turns into a heavier beat with master Barre on the guitar. An OK song.

When you listen to the whole album in a row, there is a bit of a feeling of "Déjà Vu". A bit too monotonous and repetitive. No classic, but a few highlights : this album is mostly a range of average songs (like "Undressed to Kill", or "Heavy Water") so far.

The title track is more elaborated : is is almost the longest track and has some nice theme changes. A very good tune after all : a bit mysterious in its initial phase, then completely salvage during a great instrumental passage (the whole band being involved). FANTASTIC.

"Another Christmas Song" is a mellow folk ballad and the weakest track so far. IMO, the highlight is undoubtfully "The Whaler's Dues" : complex song like in the good old time, a bit dark. Almost eight minutes of the best Tull. Ecological song about the end of the whale (I guess everybody should be aware of this, now more than then) : "Two whales in the ocean, cruising the night search for each other before we turn out their light". A great Tull song. Pathetic and unfortunately premonitory.

I do not know who decided the track order, but it it sounds strange to me that the best two songs are so far in the album because " Big Riff and Mando" is another very good Tull composition : great accoustic guitar, wonderful flute, some hard-rocking rythm changes. In one word : the Tull as I like.

The closing number is also very good. Nothing to do with some other Tull ones. It starts as a acoustic pure instrumental with a crystal clear guitar sound and evloves into a hard and scary theme. Flute is great.

This is basically a good album. I recommend you to listen to it. You will not be losing your time. I think that fluting has not been so good for quite a long time.Three stars.

Review by The Whistler
1 stars (Falling on 1.5)

Under Wraps is generally regarded as the worst album in Jethro Tull history. And, well, there's a good reason for that. In fact, there're a few good reasons for that. But I contend that it's this album that was, in fact, the most useless Tull album I've ever heard, if not the most useless prog album. That I've ever heard. At least. Uh, review time!

We open with "Kissing Willie," which is a really bad number! It's a little different than "Steel Monkey" because it useless mandolins instead of keyboards. And it sucks. Not because of the subject matter (if you've no stomach for naughty songs, why're you listening to Tull?); it sucks because of the forgettable soloing, and the uninspired riff. So it's played on a flute. Big deal. "The Rattlesnake Trail" has a little more charm I guess, but it's hardly better. In fact, some days I can't tell the difference between the two.

Now, I thought things were gonna take an upswing with "Ears of Tin," a quick break from the radio metal. Yeah. A ballad, and it's pleasant! Gentle folksy strumming. Nope. Why would Ian give us something nice? It takes a turn for the worse in the chorus with some dreadful guitar noise and, arguably Ian's worst vocals, and when the verse starts up again, you wonder if it was ever that good. Oh, wait, it's a mini-epic (actually, since it's less than five minutes, it's a mini-mini-epic), so we have a second movement, "Mainland Blues." And it's...alright. In fact, yeah! Call them mainland blues Marty! And then Marty calls in some of the most laughable soloing you ever heard. Ugh. Too bad, the tune was decent, as is proven when Ian steps in with the flute to save Marty's pasty English butt. Remember when the rest of the band didn't necessarily need Ian to be good? Now, he's their only hope. And, while the concept of a lone flautist pulling his prog rock band through the eighties under his own steam does hold a sort of hopeless romanticism, considering Ian's new sense of melody and voice, it just can't be a good thing.

"Undressed to Kill" is one of the dopier bits of heavy met-Tull in existence. It's "Steel Monkey" part two. I can't even remember anything about it, just that Ian sings higher on that one. "Rock Island" is another ballad. And, you know what? It's boring. As sin. It's just a slow version of "Mountain Men."

"Heavy Water" is just as, if not more, dopey than "Undressed," but at least it's sort of catchy. But the lyrics? "It's no night to be out dancing in a party town." Ugh. "Another Christmas Song" was my great white hope for this album, as I'd heard the Christmas Album version previously. And I'm so glad I did. This version is about ten times as schlocky and laughable. That point where Ian's vocals slow down, it gets all quiet, and then...THE DRUMS EXPLODE! What is this, the Transiberian Orchestra? Oh well. It is possible to take some emotion from it. Good luck.

Perversely enough, my sympathies still lie with the longer numbers. "The Whaler's Dues" is built around a decent, ominous riff...or maybe I like it 'cause it sounds just like the riff from "In the Flesh." Gotta love the concept though; a man is jailed for blowing up a whale. Or something. "Can you forgive me? NO!" How un-PC, eh? You have to admit, Ian's pretty socially neutral. Of course, you still have to sit through a boring introduction, but at least it leaves on a high note: Marty's soloing steps up from third-rate radio metal to second rate! I mean, it's still an awful song, but on this album, it's the best song you're gonna get.

"Big Riff and Mando," wow. I don't even want to talk about that. Sometimes it's quiet, sometimes it's loud. It's almost decent when it's quiet, but absolutely moronic when it's not. "A little slow in the brain box?" That's for sure. And "Strange Avenues" ends the album on the worst note possible. Pointless atmosphere, an ending that chokes to death on itself, a dull as dirt introduction (that sounds suspiciously like "Rock Island"); and what's with this reference to Aqualung? No Ian, please don't remind me. It's painful enough.

Alright, so this isn't the absolute worst record imaginable. I mean, the two longer numbers are sort of fascinating in their hit and miss philosophy. Sometimes I just like to listen to the instrumental mid-section of "Ears," or the wailing solos on "Whaler" and try to imagine what could have been. And it's not like the instruments are played particularly badly or...well, the flute at least is actually pretty good. Just latch onto that.

However, there are still two major things wrong with this album, and right now, I'm going to talk about them: First, not many artists take the term "progress" literally. King Crimson, Frank Zappa, these guys did. They changed their styles as often as they changed their underwear (although I think Fripp sometimes just flipped his. Underwear, not style). Tull was another such band. Can you think of any two Tull albums in a row that sound truly alike? No. Not even Songs and Horses, the closest of any Tuller records, take the same approach to folk prog.

But Rock Island sounds exactly like Crest of a Knave. EXACTLY. No, wait, that's not right. It doesn't sound exactly like Crest, because Crest didn't take itself so deathly seriously, and at least pretended like it had a mild amount of variety with the country- ish edge and the folksy art pop. Island ONLY takes the radio metal and dull ballads. So Rock Island is, in fact, REGRESSIVE rock. Reg-rock, if you will. Okay, so re-recording an old "favorite" isn't necessarily the most sinful thing in the world. Half a point off I guess, for a prog band at least. But there's more.

There are some albums that are so good, you can't choose a favorite track. Then there are really good albums, but the best song is clear. But there are albums so bad, that's there's only one option for best song. And then there's Rock Island, where everything is so evenly bad, I can't choose a real best song. There is no song on this album that's actually good! Like, I might give some praise to "Whaler's Dues" and "Ears of Tin," but in truth, neither one is solidly, thoroughly good. In other words, if I was going to make a best of Tull record, there is no song on this album that I would consider. Nope. Not even "Heavy Water!" None of it would even come into my head, except to say, "Oh, let's NOT take something off Rock Island." Please, take THIS record, put IT Under Wraps, then toss it off your own personal Rock Island.

(Okay, what the crap? There's something off in the universe. How come Heavy Horses has such mediocre bonus tracks, and this thing has...alright, I'm getting ahead of myself. When I first saw the bonus track listing, I figured, "Oh good. I get to hear the radio met-Tull live versions of some nice old songs. Wowee skippers, what a treat. I'm being sarcastic." But then, I put 'em on. Holy carp, what a shock. These aren't exactly live tracks; I mean, they are live runs, but in front of a microphone, not an audience. More important, this proves that they hadn't lost it. Not completely. And by "they," I mean Ian, Martin and Dave, no drum machines or such. "Christmas Song" is, well, "Christmas Song." No Santa/bottle part though. "Cheap Day Return/Mother Goose" is a short medley of the two songs (I TOLD you those things flowed perfectly on the album). That's not bad at all, with even the heartbreaking stutter in "Cheap" left in place. Ah, but, "Locomotive Breath?" That's great. Martin actually plays his metal well. In fact, this version sometimes excites me more than the one on Little Light Music. Kinda short, but dig that hilarious ending. For the past twenty years, the Tullers have never had to actually END "Breath," it always became "Aqualung" or "Protect and Survive" or whatever (or had the common decency to fade out), and they don't know what to do, so they just play everything they've got! Now, it is only three tracks, and they probably aren't that good, but I think raising this to a 2 is plausible. Too bad the rest of the record sucks.)

Review by febus
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam

This album ROCK ISLAND is one of the most debated JETRHO TULL release by the fans. Some loathe it as a bland new unimaginative version of CREST OF A KNAVE and others consider it as a solid TULL album with its own personality. I guess the truth lays somewhere in the middle of the road. This is not a great album, neither it is a bad one! ROCK ISLAND is definitely not essential for a great JT collection, but should not be compared as low as UNDER WRAPS for example.

Yes, after the commercial success of CREST OF A KNAVE, IAN ANDERSON and CO would l not take any chances and go back dance a Bourree in the woods. This is mostly a very rock album with some hard edges ( don't forget they were the heavy metal champions at this time.ha.ha!) but there are still goodies to be found here, well in the good old TULL tradition .

The amazing thing about ROCK ISLAND is the deeper you get in this album, the better it gets!. Trying to capitalize on the hit STEEL MONKEY, this album opens with 2 bland hard rockers KISSING WILLIE and THE RATTLESNAKE TRAIL with no originality or finesse at all; I guess IAN was looking for a new hit and satisfy the new TULL fans who board ship with CREST OF A KNAVE. Yes, KISSING WILLIE became a -minor- hit but was sure not to please the old faithful JT veteran who has been part of all TULL campaigns for 20 years.

There are some more rockers of this kind with UNDRESSED TO KILL or HEAVY WATER . Not that they are bad, they're not, this is still JETHRO TULL playing and IAN singing, but as soon they are over, you already have forgotten about them. There is nothing to distinct these songs from each other, they're build in the same mould, simple dull rockers destined to hopefully make some impact on the charts someday.

Now the good part is there are also some great songs to be found on ROCK ISLAND mostly on the second part of the CD like the excellent title track or the great acoustic ANOTHER CHRISTMAS SONG with gorgeous flute all over the song. The highlight and most elaborated song on this set is THE WHALER 'DUES with a nice build up well in the old TULL vein,nice flute, great MARTIN BARRE guitar breaks and solos . A great classic JT song which could have been featured on any great release from their past.

The mandolin is back on BIG RIFF AND MANDO, A mix of quiet and loud passages, great flute once again, everything to please an old TULL aficionado. ROCK ISLAND ends up very nicely with the athmospherisque STRANGE AVENUES , JETHRO TULL at its most creative with again a wonderful flute , nice melody and a great BARRE.

How can an album starts so poorly and finish on such a high note? amazing! Worth noticing that the voice of IAN ANDERSON is sounding sadly very tired again and you sense he can't force it!

3 bonus tracks have been added , somewhat different from the other remastered CDs as they are 3 ''live'' recorded the dressing of a concert venue in ZURICH; there are songs we all know but they are played differently and are a pleasure to listen to them; Usually i am tired of listening for the millionth time LOCOMOTIVE BREATH, but this new version is fresh with only flute and electric guitar and the same goes for the mandolin-led CHRISTMAS SONG or the acoustic CHEAP DAY RETURN.

ROCK ISLAND is not a masterpiece by any stretch, but that's not a bad album either, so the rating will be....


Review by ClemofNazareth
2 stars Beyond just being tired of hearing Anderson ramble on about his 'willie' ("Kissing Willie"), this album is a fairly tired rehashing of things done before with not many of them being all that good the first time. "Undressed to Kill" is another of Anderson's perverted fantasies set to music. Not that I'm a prude, it just gets old after a while.

Sometimes referred to as Crest of a Knave II, 'Rock Island' continues the progression of Jethro Tull from an innovative and colorful progressive force to just another aging prog dinosaur trying to find their niche in the musical abyss known as the eighties. And not doing it very well. 'The Broadsword and the Beast' started this transition but at least that album had some spark and rather creative production and some variety. This album sounds like a compilation of the band's b-sides. Nothing at all stands out, and if I recall the album sank like a stone when it was released, which is a shame for a band of Tull's caliber.

One thing that tends to bore me about this band, and particularly their eighties albums, is Anderson's tendency to write songs with limited lyrical appeal. Too often the theme of a tune is an inside joke for the band, or a retelling of a tale the rest of us know nothing about, or some clever play on words that Anderson has to go to the trouble of explaining in a live setting or interview since the rest of us don't get the punchline. I much preferred his writing when it was more fanciful, literary and colorful.

Some others who have reviewed this album have pointed to "Another Christmas Song" as the standout track and I have to agree, mostly because nothing else is worth pointing out and because that one ended up on the band's Christmas album (which I do like quite a bit).

Otherwise I'd say this ranks right about as low as 'Under Wraps' as a forgettable Tull album. There are no interesting guest musicians, no musical or studio innovations, and no really noteworthy tracks. Just another one mailed in much like 'Knave' but in this case even without the benefit of extensive liner notes like that one had. This is just a collection of rather tepid heavy-rock tunes that only get tagged as progressive because Ian Anderson wrote them and because there's a flute. Otherwise this would be lumped in with what Dire Straits were doing around the same time. In fact except for the flute this sounds a bit like 'Making Movies'.

If you aren't familiar with Jethro Tull then I wouldn't make this the album you choose to get acquainted. Stick to their classics ("Aqualung", "Thick as a Brick", "Heavy Horses" and "A Passion Play") and leave this one somewhere around the bottom of your list if you ever get to the point where you decide to become a completionist of the band's music. That makes this by definition a two star album, which is what I'll close with.


Review by Atavachron
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Here's the thing: sometimes appreciation of an artist is almost absolute. High points and low, blatant sellouts, uninspired contract-fulfillers and what-were-they-thinking moments, it's all of interest to the diehard fan. Not because followers are blind, deaf or gullible, but because they want to hear any new work by a band proven over years to produce music a true devotee will probably dig. And while Rock Island is no shining moment, this 1989 follow-up to Crest of a Knave is several miles from their worst. An honest, straightforward offering of well-recorded songs with enough minstrel rock, Anderson's pipings, and Martin Barre's icy diacritic chords and slippery circumfusions to please most fans. Neither very prog nor very pop, the record is just fine and I'm at a loss as to the cold shoulder it often receives, except perhaps because so much of the group's other work is exemplary. But it can't all be gold, guys, and Rock Island stands firm as a solid affair that will get few complaints if put on unexpectedly for a room full of people.

A recurring theme of debauchery and prostitution appears in the material, as on opener 'Kissing Willie', a pop-rock chugger with a suggestive double entendre. Quasi-cowboy 'Rattlesnake Trail' keeps the pace for a dusty hike over the range and is continued in proggie 'Ears of Tin' with more outdoor adventure and a mariner's yearning. Strong echoes of the previous album in 'Undressed to Kill', an ode to a lady of the evening, and the centerpiece title is typically strong 80s Tull with a soft intro, catchy verse, rockin' midsection and tasty twin phrasing from Ian & Marty. It's followed by leviathan 'The Whaler's Dues', a powerful rock chantey of men determined to live the cetacean life. A killer cut and among this period JT's best, finishing with the Andalusian warmth of 'Strange Avenues'.

Nothing to run out and grab but if your itch for all things Tull has been bothering you and you're curious, find it used and I don't think you'll end up using it as a coaster. At least I hope not.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
2 stars Ears of tin?

The previous Crest Of A Knave was a rather good Jethro Tull album, certainly not among their better efforts of course, but at least much better than Under Wraps. Rock Island tries to be Crest Of A Knave part 2, there is that same Dire Straits sound and feel to some songs, but the material is a lot weaker here I'm afraid. There are a couple of good songs, but there is nothing as good as Budapest from Crest Of A Knave. This album opens very weakly with a handful of rather lame rockers. Not until the title track does things start to get moderately interesting, this is also the first track that can be said to be at all progressive.

Another Christmas Song is a follow up to Christmas Song from the band's early days and it is exactly what the title indicates. Apart from the title track, The Whaler's Dues and the closing Strange Avenues are the only good songs to be found here. If they had taken these rare few good songs and transferred them to Crest Of A Knave, replacing the least good couple of tracks on that album, they could have made a rather good album. But as it stands, Rock Island is definitely one of the weaker Jethro Tull albums.

Only fans and collectors would probably have made it this deep into the band's vast discography, so it is only for them that this disc is really recommended. But the few highlights points into the promising direction of the excellent Roots To Branches a few years down the line from here.

Review by tarkus1980
1 stars While Crest ended up growing me at least a smidge (to the point where I could acknowledge that there was, at worst, a non-trivial amount of honestly good material), this one has remained, to my ears, an unadulterated piece of crap. It's rather similar to Crest in a lot of ways (I guess, Grammy in hand, Ian decided this was a good path after all), but amazingly, it's much worse. See, while a lot of the tracks on Crest might have essentially been undercooked frameworks for extended instrumental stretches, I could still call most of them (with the possible exception of Mountain Men) honest-to- goodness songs. They might not have been what I'd considerable consistently enjoyable, and they might have a lot of weak aspects, but there was at least some vaguely consistent sense to the tracks.

Not here, though. Most of these tracks feature Tull on auto-pilot like never before. The emphasis is (as usual) clearly not on the melodies, which are incredibly crappy and unmemorable, but on the extended instrumental passages. This, of course, wouldn't be so bad, were it not for pretty much all of them consisting of the same flute-guitar sparring we've heard a million times, only over monotonous plodding drums. Naturally, the guitars follow the same pattern as on Crest, but the novelty is largely gone this time around, and I'd be hard-pressed to identify a single guitar part that kept my interest for more than a minute after it was over (there is one flute part, which I'll mention later). When Ian does sing, he makes his lyrics as generically pompous as they've ever been and more (in fact, the album seems to be more-or-less conceptual, not that it makes any positive difference). In short, it would be difficult for me to think of many albums where there's been a greater distance between the results the band was shooting for (this has many of the airs and trappings of a big, awe-inspiring experience) and what the band was able to pull off (an incredibly uninteresting, disjointed mess).

There are two songs that redeem this album a smidge. The first, "The Rattlesnake Trail," is fairly terrible and typical of the album otherwise, but it does have a pretty humorous (albeit seemingly unintentionally) chorus, what with Ian singing, "The rattlesnake trail, WHOO!!!." The other one, "Another Christmas Song," is basically a sequel to that glorious song from so long ago, and as such it's not extremely original (musically or lyrically; Ian had used similar themes in both these areas a few times before), but it's very lovely. The drums are probably too loud for what's supposed to be a tender ballad, but I don't find myself noticing that as much as I notice the most tender and inspired flute-based melody of the album. It's basically the only time on the album where Ian actually bothers to write a start-to-finish melody, and it sticks out like a sore thumb among the rest of the tracks.

Otherwise, this album is sheer boredom. The "rockers" and "ballads" alike make me regret all of the minutes of my life wasted on this album, and I really don't know why anybody except a seriously hardcore fan would even bother with it. If you can hunt down "Another Christmas Song," do it, but avoid this like the plague otherwise.

Review by Chris S
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
2 stars More of the same, pretty much, as Crest Of A Knave. Perhaps slightly better with a bit more vigour and balls, pardon the pun. Rock Island had the potential to be a lot better than the ratings suggest yet JT have never really returned to a rich vein of form as far as studio albums go since Heavy Horses from 1978. In saying that if you are a Tull completionist then Rock Island will be right in there amongst it peers. " Heavy Water", " Ears Of Tin" and " Whale Divers" offer some sanctuary from mainly a sterile work so unless you are looking for a down buzz or a completionist of their work try some earlier material out instead.Two stars at a push.

Latest members reviews

2 stars Jethro Tull continued with Crest of a Knave's sound on their next album, 1989's Rock Island, which was  an unremarkable, entirely forgettable hard rock album. Doane Perry officially joined the band as a full-time drummer, though Anderson still handled most of the keys. Almost nothing on this albu ... (read more)

Report this review (#2903242) | Posted by TheEliteExtremophile | Friday, March 31, 2023 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Probably their heaviest album overall, with more rock-heavy and harder rock songs, with very little acoustic work. This may have been in response to the backlash they received after winning the Grammy Award for best hard rock/heavy metal album in the previous year for an album (Crest of a Knave) tha ... (read more)

Report this review (#2879422) | Posted by BBKron | Monday, January 30, 2023 | Review Permanlink

2 stars I always approach "Rock Island" with healthy enthusiasm, as if it was "Stormwatch Part II". Jethro Tull fully recovered from synthesizer aberrations, Ian's regained some of his voice strength and the album cover is full of promises: I love its dark, nautical art and find the "woodsy" bordering a goo ... (read more)

Report this review (#2080628) | Posted by thief | Monday, December 3, 2018 | Review Permanlink

3 stars One of those albums that is obviously constructed with the intention to please the more mercantile rock crowd, Rock Island is the final 80's album released by UK's own Jethro Tull. The album sounds much like the prior Crest of a Knave, albeit with more disregard of artistic input and a substanti ... (read more)

Report this review (#1499035) | Posted by aglasshouse | Sunday, December 13, 2015 | Review Permanlink

1 stars It's hard to listen to the whole Jethro Tull discography at the point they went from bad to worst. They were 'falling on hard times'. Rock Island offers you nothing more than the same Jethro Tull without creativity, following the road down to the cheesy and poor songwriting, trying to c ... (read more)

Report this review (#991857) | Posted by VOTOMS | Thursday, July 4, 2013 | Review Permanlink

3 stars I'm kind of hoping that Tull have left their Dire Straits thing from the previous album behind. Sadly it quickly becomes apparant that although this is a harder rocking album I still here those danged Dire Straits inflections - if I wanted Dire Straits that is what I would get hold of. "Kis ... (read more)

Report this review (#943030) | Posted by sukmytoe | Friday, April 12, 2013 | Review Permanlink

2 stars While a bit better than it's followup, CATFISH RISING, this album seems to be a rehash of ideas found on the prior, CREST OF A KNAVE, which was okay, but not great. "Rock Island" and "The Whaler's Dues" (by far the best offering here) and "Another Christmas Song", are pretty good, but the rest ... (read more)

Report this review (#443193) | Posted by mohaveman | Thursday, May 5, 2011 | Review Permanlink

4 stars You'll keep living in the past forever? I love this album so special because for the first time I heard these songs performed live during a concert in Italy. It was the tour intended to promote the album, it was my first Tull concert, and then it was the first time I take a trip away from hom ... (read more)

Report this review (#416094) | Posted by Dark Nazgul | Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars The band sounds good on this album, much in the same vein as Crest of a Knave. Ian Anderson is adjusting to his new vocal limitations, while Martin Barre is maintaining the sharper, leaner sound he developed for the previous release. Judicious use of the flute is effective. Most of the keyb ... (read more)

Report this review (#399457) | Posted by Progosopher | Saturday, February 12, 2011 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This album is absolutely essential to any Tull fan. The song "Rock Island" is one of the top 10 Tull songs ever made. Every song except for "Rattlesnake Trail" is either very good or great. I have no idea what you people are thinking of when you trash this album. Not every album can be "Aq ... (read more)

Report this review (#16790) | Posted by | Saturday, May 29, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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