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Jethro Tull - The Zealot Gene CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

3.34 | 190 ratings

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3 stars Can The Zealot Gene be called a proper Jethro Tull album? It's the first effort under their name in almost 19 years, but it definitely comes off as more of an Ian Anderson solo record than a full-band effort. After all, five of its songs were recorded solely by Anderson because of - as you may have already guessed - COVID reasons. However, when looking at his rationale behind billing The Zealot Gene a full band project, the situation starts becoming more understandable. The lineup behind the album is the longest in the group's history, and yet they never recorded a full-length record up until now; thus, Anderson wanted to give them a chance to be on a proper Tull release. Plus? well, let's be real here: the Jethro Tull name was always going to drum up more interest and revenue than an Anderson solo record.

However, name conflicts aside, how does Zealot Gene fare against the rest of Jethro Tull's lengthy catalog? Well, the best word I can use from a musical perspective is "agreeable". It's very agreeable, from the pleasant-enough rock tunes to the tried-and-true folk leanings. This is immediately apparent from the opening track "Mrs. Tibbets", which sets Anderson's aging voice to a backdrop of midtempo drums and power chords; other than a flashy and virtuosic solo section, there really aren't many surprises here. If anything, though, the song does set the stage for the The Zealot Gene's stylistic duality: midtempo rockers with folk elements sprinkled in. None of the wild prog experimentation of Thick as a Brick or A Passion Play makes its way onto the record, though to be fair, that hasn't been a factor in Tull's music for quite some time. If there's any album whose well this release draws from the most, it's definitely Aqualung; it's all there, from the hard rock/folk contrasts to Anderson's musings on religion and faith. However, The Zealot Gene proves to be much looser conceptually, expressing a wide range of religious themes without stringing them together in any cohesive way.

As for the other band members, they do a decent job of carrying out these tunes; however, The Zealot Gene happens to be the first Tull album without longtime guitarist Martin Barre since 1969, and his absence is felt greatly. This is not as noticeable on the record's folkier songs such as "Jacob's Tales" and "Sad City Sisters", which fare quite well with the stripped down acoustic guitar/flute setup. But on more electric guitar-driven tunes such as the aforementioned "Mrs. Tibbets" or the title track, one wishes that Barre lent his creative take on blues and hard rock riffing to the songs to spice them up a bit. But that does provide some insight into what works about The Zealot Gene vs. what doesn't; the rockers are usually the blandest and most middle-of-the-road tracks here, and the folk numbers - while safe by the standards of classic 70s Tull - are much more enjoyable and creative. As always, Anderson's acoustic guitar and flute performances are absolutely stellar; "Sad City Sisters", "Where Did Saturday Go", and "Three Loves, Three" are certainly highlights in this regard, utilizing sparser arrangements and letting the whimsical flute melodies do the talking.

The Zealot Gene definitely plays out like a tale of two styles, one being executed much more strongly than the other. But it's nice to finally have a new Jethro Tull record, even if its status as a band effort is a bit questionable. There's nothing truly bad here, but most of the record doesn't elevate itself above simply being passable either; there's way too much "been there, done that" for it to match up with the band's classic releases. However, if you absolutely need more Tull in your life and are willing to put up with some boring middle-of-the-road material to get to the good stuff, you could do much worse than The Zealot Gene.

Necrotica | 3/5 |


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