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Jethro Tull - A CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

3.21 | 618 ratings

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3 stars Jethro Tull's "A" lives its own life and doesn't really mimick anything they've done before. This is where synthesizers arrived with a bang, guns blazing, tearing their way to the foreground and leaving only laser beam, pinkish trails behind. Eddie Jobson brought digital pianos, electric violins and technical marvels of Yamaha CS-80 kind, while the rest of the band seemed on board with these novelties. I applaud Ian Anderson for trying to revolutionize the band without betraying prog/folk legacy built in previous era. But dramatic changes and establishment of new formulas always come with growing pains, and "A" has some of that as well.

I don't really enjoy production on this album, I feel it's very dated and murky - but when everything clicks, this is hardly a problem. "Crossfire" is an exciting opener, brimming with funky basslines, tasty piano and sweet melodies. Though I'm not enthusiastic about synthesizers of that era, they are used tastefully on this one - to enhance and accentuate. Anderson delivers good vocal lines and awesome flute - it's worth noting. Then we have "Fylingdale Flyer", more laid back and poppy effort with cool vocals. I'm still on board with this one, although it screams early 80s with F/X utilised.

"Working John, Working Joe" is basically "Stormwatch" era song with Vangelis guest appearance, it seems. Nothing to write home about - decent track with heavy synth usage in the middle, maybe reminiscent of Rick Wakeman or Zeppelin's "Carouselambra". If you like that new, electronic and spacey approach, you'll be delighted with "Black Sunday". I think this is a clear highlight of the album, with often changing motives, superb musicianship and memorable parts. Just take a look at rocking 1:20 theme with armor-piercing flute, Martin's edgy solo at 3:00 or cosmic ambient at 3:30. And then it all beautifully comes together around 4:20, the thumping bass, screaming guitars and perfect blend of remaining instruments. In my opinion this is a truly progressive song, despite esthetics differing wildly from Tull classics.

"Protect and Survive" brings exciting electric violin parts, but also cranks up the synthesizer use significantly - manageable, but too much 80s for my taste. "Uniform" displays that Jean-Luc Ponty violin style as well, but gets old quickly with subpar melodies. "4.W.D. (Low Ratio)" is the most obvious filler - directionless and gimmicky with distorted vocals.

"Batteries Not Included" is also quirky, heck, it's the wildest synthfest on entire album, often feeling like a cross of earliest Depeche Mode with Jaco Pastorius and rock band. I quite enjoyed it, despite antiquated sound and 80s 'overdrive'.

The last two tracks tip the scales from 'mixed results' towards 'recommendable'. "The Pine Marten's Jig" is a classic, vintage Jethro thanks to rustic, evergreen melodies married with adventurous basslines (hats off to Dave Pegg) and modern guitar. This particular song addresses the tastes of hardcore Tull fans, so if you're ready to dismiss "A" for electronic approach, make sure to at least check Pine Marten's. "And Further On" ends the album on a more serious note, especially once majestic guitar lines come to the front. It's no "Elegy", but those guttural, underworld synths are put to good use.

To sum it up: "A" turns out to be a solid effort for a band that just lost four of its members and found itself on the brink of extinction. Eddie Jobson was a double edged sword - on one hand we get tons of synthesizers, and it's always a hard pill to swallow for enthusiasts of organic, historically oriented prog folk; on the other, Jethro Tull acquired a wildly talented musician that gave them an extra gear in live performances, as well as chaotic, jazzy passages of Frank Zappa mold. I think the good stuff equals the amount of filler, but if you're open-minded and willing to turn a blind eye on production and common quirks, you'll be rewarded with some gems ("Black Sunday", but also "Crossfire" and "The Pine Marten's Jig"). It's enough to get a nod and three stars in my book.

thief | 3/5 |


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