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Jethro Tull - Heavy Horses CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.04 | 1195 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
5 stars What happens if you take the folkish good nature of Songs From the Wood, the hard rock and calm acoustics of Aqualung, and the dry art of Minstrel in the Gallery, toss ‘em all in a blender and hit “puree?” Well, you get a heaping pile of plastic dust, that’s what! Not to mention the fact that you’ve just nuked about forty dollars worth of music there...honestly, why do I even bother?

Of course, if you did all that in a figurative sense, like you were supposed to, well, you’d probably get an interesting mess. But it would sound an awful lot like Heavy Horses.

Heavy Horses is a funny sort of album (heh, heh, Heavy Horses). Initially, I didn’t like it. Certainly not the title tune (too slow! Too boring!). I compared it to Songs, most obviously, which I considered to be God’s greatest invention since the seed drill. Later on though, I realized that it was good, and Horses and Songs entered into Mortal Kombat deep in my brain over which one was better. And, oddly enough, Horses won out.

We start out with the gentle sound of cats purring. This very quickly (in a “blink and you’ll miss it” sort of way, only audio-ically, of course) turns into a mighty, organ based rocker. This is “The Mouse Police Never Sleeps,” which is just about the most perfect song ever written. I’m kidding of course, but I love it. It’s insane, it’s hilarious, and the coda with the repeating “the mouse police never sleepsthemouse police never sleeps” chant is great. Although it does piss off the occasional listener...

Anyway, “Acres Wild” is a jolly jig with a great backing of bass and drums, not to mention fun flautistry and mandolin banging (sounds like a community arts class). The lengthy rocker “No Lullaby” kind of lets me down though; the tune itself is decent enough (I especially love at the end where it speeds up), but it’s just too damn long.

However, “Moths” earns everything back. It’s the best shot at effortless beauty that Jethro Ian has handed us since “Cheap Day Return,” easily, complete with a haunting acoustic guitar line, and equally haunting vocal delivery.

“Journeyman” is just a good old bloozy number, with buzzy fiddle, crunchy guitar and an amazing bassline. “Rover” is a folk rocker, but unlike the stuff from Songs From the Wood, the emphasis is more on the folk than the rock, so it comes off as lighter. Not that that’s a bad thing; the song is really good. I don't see why everyone thinks it's about escaped convicts though; I think it's about misplaced love.

“One Brown Mouse” is not my favorite track, but not for the reason you might be thinking. Some people don’t like it because it’s based on a nursery rhyme, so it’s not the most serious of numbers. I have nothing wrong with the lyrics, I’m just not one hundred percent crazy about the arrangement (it comes off much better live).

Anyway, all this has been good, don’t get me wrong. But “Heavy Horses,” the majestic miniature epic of a title track, is the best thing on the whole album. And I didn’t even like it to start with, so it must be good! The introduction is amazing: it’s this painful, heavy guitar line courtesy of Mr. Barre, that fades into soft piano and Ian singing about the decline of the heavy horse...don’t pay too close attention to the lyrics, it’s the angry, post-apocalyptic melody that lurks underneath it that counts, and when it rears it’s head, you’ll now. And post-apocalyptic it is, as the tune speeds up and becomes a spooky, folksy, jig...of doom! Yep. The horses come back, and they’re pissed. Or something. Still not sure.

Anyway, “Heavy Horses” eventually fades into “Weathercock,” a medieval styled rocker about, well, uh, birds forged from iron that predict weather. Or so we speculate. “Medieval styled rocker” is the best description, as the instrumentation includes the trusty flute ‘n mandolin, as well as extensive portative pipe organ and electric guitar soloing.

So, what makes Heavy Horses so damn great? I don’t know. Maybe it’s guest violinist Darryl Way of Curved Air fame, whose buzzy fiddle is welcome on “Acres Wild” and “Heavy Horses” (and...JOURNEYMAN perhaps? Hmm?!? Thought you’d slip that past me).

Maybe it’s that the band really, I mean REALLY gels here. The songs flow (even “No Lullaby”) perfectly from start to finish, and flow into each other just as well. Martin is perfectly balanced between the heavy and light traits of folk and rock. He even plays some cool, real watery guitar ("Acres Wild," "Moths"), which we haven't heard since...I dunno, Benefit? Johnny Glascock never played better (“Acres,” “Journeyman”). Barrie and John Evan play like their lives depend on it, and David Palmer’s personal additions are never intrusive (“Weathercock”). And Ian. The flute and guitar are great, as always, but his voice is amazing. He sings like he’s a kid again (no offense, of minstralic one), with a youthful, energetic, yet knowing and dark tone.

In fact, maybe it is the tone that sets the album; it’s darker than Songs ever was (which is where the Minstrel in the Gallery connection comes in for me). Only something like “Acres Wild” or “Rover” could have really fit on Songs weight-wise, and both of those are kind of dark anyway, lyrics-wise at least (coincidentally, the only song on Songs worthy of Horses is "The Whistler"). Even “Moths,” beautiful as it is, is really cold and sad; it’s about suicide, get it?!? Moths? Flame? Aw, forget it...

But maybe what makes Horses so great is that sad fact that it’s is the last great Tull record. It’s the last true classic Tull record anyway, the last time this lineup would play as a unit. And you can feel the stony chill in the rising introduction to “Heavy Horses,” as if they all knew that this was the last time. Sniff. Kicks the crap outta “Aqualung” even.

Yeah, what the hell. I’ll go out on the proverbial limb here; it would be too easy to declare an Aqualung or a Thick as a Brick to be the greatest of Tull albums. I hand that honor off to Heavy Horses; you see, THIS was the album Ian had to make. We've always known he was a folkie, proggy though he may be, and Songs was just training. THIS is the serious record, perhaps the first truly serious record Ian's ever made. Even with "Mouse Police." It’s not quite Thick as a Brick, but hey, what is? Get it. Get it now. Why haven't you gotten it yet?

(Oh yeah, the Horses remaster comes with two bonus tracks. The first one, “Living in These Hard Times” is okay, but kind of dopey. The title suggests something along the lines of what would become Broadsword’s “Fallen on Hard Times,” but it’s more like the Stormwatch outtake “A Stitch in Time.” Oh well, it’s not as good as either of them anyway. But the second track, “Broadford Bazaar,” is a gorgeous folk melody. It’s just Ian overdubbing his ghostly lyrics over pounding acoustic guitar and lifting flute lines (as usual). As only he can, of course. That’s probably a really bad description, but trust me, it’s a nice song. Not nice enough to raise the overall album rating, but still nice.)

The Whistler | 5/5 |


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