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Jethro Tull - A CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

3.23 | 650 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
2 stars (What the cheese, a 2.5)

No prog band entered the 80's peacefully. It's a sad fact of life; I wish it weren't true too. Pink Floyd and Yes were falling apart, Genesis were selling out, King Crimson was giving a New Wave sort of a thing a shot, and no one honestly cared where Emerson, Lake and Palmer had gotten themselves. I'm not judging, I'm just reporting the news.

Well, what about Jethro Tull? If memory serves you right, they'd actually fallen apart last year. Ian has a fancy explanation for that one (involving solo projects and newspaper clippings, which sounds suspiciously like the Passion Play incident), but facts is facts. Whether his domination started in '69 or '75, '80 is the year that "Jethro Tull" truly became "Jethro Ian." But that shouldn't matter; what matters is how well did the lad(s) enter that golden age of simplistic, sythn driven pap (er, "pop")?

Well, Jethro Ian decided to make an "electrono-folk" album called A; for Anderson, naturally, although it should be for Acceptance, because not only is the old Tull gang gone, but the old Tull sound is too (for good, in both cases). Yep. It's the electronic values of the 80's, blasted through that familiar folksy flute. Sounds doubtful, doesn't it? Well, for a while, you actually think ole Jethro Ian can pull it off. "Crossfire" is a catchy hard rocker about a shootout. It's not bad for an album opener, and it's got a surprisingly solid guitar solo.

Every album needs a "classic" song, the one that makes its way onto the latest compilation. For A, it's "Fylingdale Flyer." And for me, it's the best song on the album; it's certainly the most memorable. It's also the first experiment in that "electrono-folk" I was talking about earlier. It's got a bunch of synthesizer driven special effects, but at its heart, it's just rich vocal effects. It's also got the best subject matter on the album: a glitch at a nuclear missile launch site.

"Working John, Working Joe" is another sorta folksy shuffle. It's still fed through synths of course, and a little slow for my tastes, but it's pleasant enough. "Black Sunday" is a layered, driving, somewhat sad mini-epic about leaving home, or going home, or, wait, it's about leaving home. It might actually be more solid than "Flyer;" but it's much more laden with electronic gimmicks (particularly the intro), so I prefer "Flyer" just THAT much more. Still, it's got the best soloing on the album, in the instrumental break.

Unfortunately, it can't last. If only side two were a copy of side one, I might enjoy the album a little more. "Protect and Survive" has a folk jig for an intro, but don't be fooled! It's so drenched in electronic effects, you'll barely be able to understand it. Which is really too bad, because there's actually a good song screaming to be let out underneath it all.

Not so with "Batteries Not Included," which is just a wretched ride from point beginning to end. It's repetitive, ugly and uncharming. Want to know what it's about? It's about a kid...who dies. Oh, good one guys. Now you've offended me AND depressed me. "Uniform" is totally unmemorable, and if it has any saving graces at all, is Jobson's violin. "4.W.D. (Low Ratio)" ranks as one of Tull's worst songs ever. It's about a guy who buys a car. It's trying to be funny (I hope), but, along with "Batteries," it's so buried in its own electronic effects it's unlistenable. And, like "Batteries," it's one of the worst offenders, not to mention the fact that the drum intro us ripped out of "No Lullaby." Waste of a plinky-plink pianer, I tells ya...

Some grace is won back by "The Pine Marten's Jig," but even that has issues. It's an instrumental that's, well, a jig. More folk. Probably better than "Warm Sporran." Jobson's violin is great as it duels with the flute (particularly during the climby part). But Dave Pegg's bass, although lively, is showing signs of drifting into the "poppin'" bass sound I dislike so, and even more annoying is Barre's tin laden solo. Of course, if you're a shred head, this might be the Tull song for you.

We close with the utterly ineffective ballad "And Further On." It's soft and gentle, but it's still got those Goddamn cheeezy 80's electronics in it! Even so, it's a pretty boring song.

So there 'ya go. I mean, in spirit, the album's okay. It has a mild conceptuality to it (sort of a plight of modern society/end of the world type of thing, so it's really just picking up where everything else left off). And it's still about experimentation. It's just that the experimentation failed, and for the first time in his career, Jethro Ian let me down. There have been albums that just got past on the "okay" mark before, but this is the first Tull record that really displeases me.

Of course, I give it the extra point-five for a reason. First off, Jobson grew on me. I know he's a guest player, but his guest keyboarding is pretty good (the best keyboarding we're gonna have for a while). And his violin is really good; of the various Tuller violinists on record, he's my favorite.

The second thing is largely the electrono-folk aspect. Specifically, "Pine Marten" and "Protect" have also somewhat grown on me (as much as they're capable of respectively). But they're still somewhat lost. Which is probably how Jethro Ian was feeling as he recorded this album. Just look at 'em in their white jumpsuits; they hardly know how to get off that helicopter.

(Although A itself isn't much of an album, the remaster is pretty damn sweet. Why you ask? Because it's got the concert footage/music video collection of Slipstream on it, that's why! A definite cult highlight within the Tuller community, Slipstream contains a live show with a rendition of "Black Sunday" that's probably better than anything off the A album itself. There's some goofy music videos of "Dun Ringill" and "Fylingdale Flyer," and beyond that: a good "Songs From the Wood," a great "Heavy Horses," an amusing "Sweet Dream" and "Too Old to Rock 'n Roll," a gorgeous "Skating Away," a rockin' "Aqualung," and a messy "Locomotive Breath" (deep breaths). Screw it, just read my review of Slipstream. Now, rather than suggest that Slipstream is sullied by the A album philosophy, I prefer to think that A is benefited by the former's presence. Raise the remaster one whole star, to 3.5 (2.5+4.0=6.5, 6.5/2=3.25, round up to nearest one half, 3.5). Crap, betcha never thought you'd have to do math in a Jethro Tull review!)

The Whistler | 2/5 |


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