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Jethro Tull - Aqualung CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.36 | 2707 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Oh boy. What can be said about Aqualung that cannot have been said before? I don’t know exactly, but I’ll give it a shot (or at least, I’ll blow the standard hard rock review through my personal flute). Aqualung is of course THE album that you think of when you think Jethro Tull. At least, that’s true in the “real” world, in the “proggy” world where we tend to live that’s more of a Thick as a Brick thing. Still, if you were to walk up to anyone on the street and say “Jethro Tull,” he might respond “Sit-ting on a PARK bench!” Or at least air guitar that menacing riff, which is more than some prog bands get these days (say to another person, “Van Der Graaf Generator,” and he’ll probably respond, “Don’t hurt me!”).

Now, interesting issue with Aqualung is the conceptuality of the album. Ian says it’s not a concept album, everyone else on earth says it is. Well, that shouldn’t matter; what matters is whether or not I think it’s a concept album (it’s my review after all). And I don’t...know. It’s somewhat thematic, that’s for sure. It’s about society, man’s relationship with God, and life and death (lightweight stuff), which is what gives the album its dark edge. It’s sort of set up like a concept album; the sides are titled, the cover “goes” with the album (does the picture look like Ian, or does Ian look like the picture?), and the character of Aqualung pops up here and there (and half the album is named for him). Still, I’m not sure if that’s enough to warrant a concept album (I was never clear on what does and does not warrant a concept album, but I don’t think you can have HALF a concept album). Hmm. I wonder if ‘Lung is, in fact, a bigger joke than Thick was? Ha! Bet THAT’S never been said before!

Anyway, we open with the earlier mentioned bit, “NEE-ner nee-ner NEE-nee,” a.k.a., “Sit-ting on a PARK bench.” Besides that unforgettable, angry riff, the song offers us the greatest guitar solo EVER! Or at least, one of the greatest solos ever (if you want to be a killjoy). Riff? Solo? Dude, this is, like, the greatest song ever! And it’s about a hobo! Who dies! What else could possibly open the album (not to mention blaze the way for every Tull mini-epic to come)?

“Cross Eyed Mary” is actually even better, as far as grab your pants rocker goes. The mellotron intro and ghostly flute make you think it’s going for atmosphere, but then Barre starts playing through a box and Ian’s sneering vocals hit you. It’s all so angry, it’s great.

“Cheap Day Return” is the quick, stunningly beautiful acoustic piece I mention in half my reviews (in my Foxtrot review, I compare it “Horizons,” and in my Court of the Crimson King review, I compare it to “21st Century Schizoid Man”). Jokes aside, I really mean the “stunningly beautiful” part. This is the first of a few short, acoustic songs across the album (mostly just Ian and Jeffrey), and it’s the best. It’s also Tull’s best example of effortless beauty to date, possibly ever.

This turns right into “Mother Goose,” a slightly more built up acoustic number that, well, builds over time, until the whole band’s playing. The chorus part is lovely, with Jeffrey singing along (the first singing bass player, a Tull trend that shall continue). “Wond’ring Aloud” is a milder acoustic piece, according to Ian it’s his best love song. Well, it’s not bad. I might even like it a little more than the Living in the Past outtake “Wond’ring Again.” It’s a bit shorter and simpler, and the delivery is a little colder. “Up to Me” is a sort of sing along almost ethnic rocker. ‘Lung’s “Fat Man” I guess. It’s bouncy and fun. Listen for the percussion parts and other effects under the song; Clive goes nuts.

The second side, codename My God starts with, well, “My God.” Aqualung is one of those records where it’s hard to choose a favorite number, but I nominate “My God.” It’s pretty awesome (er, I mean, “clever musically”). You think it’s going to be another acoustic number, but after a minute, it becomes a violent rocker. And then halfway through, after a bout of awesome soloing, it becomes a sort of stately gothic flute improvisation. And I didn’t even like it at first! Ha!

“Hymn 43” might be the hardest thing on the album (even if the central focus of the song is Evan's piano), with another great, chuggin’ riff. “Slipstream” is the final short acoustic number (later reincarnated (in name only) as an infamous video project). The song itself is inoffensive enough (the strings are cool), but it’s a little samey. Either way, it perfectly sets up “Locomotive Breath,” the OTHER radio favorite off the album. The song alone is good enough, but in the context of the album, it’s prefect. The band imitates a choo-choo train speeding up, and Ian sings about suicide, plus there's killer piano, cool guitar riffage, and a bloozy floot solo. These dudes were so bad ass (in a “we’re gonna imitate a choo-choo train” sorta way).

Some people have a little trouble with “Wind Up.” It’s another “you think we’re gonna be acoustical, but now we’re gonna rock” number. It’s not as good as “My God,” but it’s good enough, especially in the middle where all hell breaks loose. My problem is more with the ending of the song, where everything kind of falls off. Or maybe it’s just “winding down,” maybe I should just shut up.

So, the album’s pretty sweet (“well put together and engaging”). The only thing that stops it from getting a perfect rating is, I don’t know. Maybe a lack of variety? I mean, there’s only so many ways to do the whole loud/soft thing. Although, all things considered, it’s pretty variet-ous within itself. Maybe it’s the balance; there’s a little too much “soft” on the first side, a little too much “loud” on the second. Still, the album flows pretty evenly.

And it’s got everything in its favor besides that. The songs are all pretty much excellent. The musicianship is amazing within and throughout; new members Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond just swings his way through the record, John Evan' potential finally brought to the front of (or behind) the band, Barre has found the perfect balance between fuzzy and clean tones, Clive Bunker beats “a thousand drums and percussion” with inhuman, sometimes psychotic, zeal, and Ian’s vocals are perfectly sneering and touching. His flautistry is maybe not as technically good as it will later be, but it’s twice as manic as it’s ever been.

Yep. This really is a key album in Tuller history; it’s more inventive than This Was, louder than Stand Up and darker than Benefit. These dudes TOTALLY invented metal, aside from “Cheap Day Return” (and you know, the fact that metal had already existed for a couple of years). I’m still not sure why I can’t give it all five stars. Crap. Maybe I just should and be done with it. UGH. I hate this album, I love this album. Buy it. You’ll love it/hate it too.

(Okay, wow, SIX new songs on the Aqualung remaster. Surely this will guarantee that I’ll raise it the half-a-point mark to five that it so richly deserves, right? Most remasters with that many songs make it through sheer quantity. If only. The first two songs are Aqualung outtakes, and of these, “Lick Your Fingers Clean” is PERFECT. I mean that. If it were the album closer instead of “Wind Up,” or if it were just on the album somehow, I’d overlook EVERYHTING and give it the flawless rating. I mean it. Whatever else I might say, this song is worth the entire ticket price. It’s an earlier, far superior version of Warchild’s “Two Fingers;” it’s everything that song was only faster, more energetic and goofier (what with the backing voices (great flute too)). Unfortunately for us, there have to be those five other tracks. “Wind Up (quad version)” is, uh, different than the original. Some folks prefer it; I am not such a man. The instruments are too distant from each other and don’t mix as well, and Ian’s voice sounds whiney and tinny. Speaking of Ian, he gives an interview (“THE Ian Anderson Interview,” to be precise). It’s amusing when the minstrel talks about the hair-thin relationship between Led Zeppelin and J Tull and plastic recorders, but when he starts stressing the importance of the song “Budapest” over the album Aqualung, even I get bored. Then there are three live numbers (from...wherever): an energetic “Song For Jeffrey,” a bouncy “Fat Man,” and a very interesting “Bouree; all good, but not necessarily essential. No change in the rating.)

The Whistler | 5/5 |


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