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Jethro Tull - Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die! CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

3.09 | 740 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars You can't judge a book by its cover or a car by its color but I think we're all guilty of doing that very thing from time to time. I know I am and this album is a case in point. I was a big fan of Jethro Tull in the early days from "This Was" through "Benefit" but our relationship has been rocky ever since. In '75 I was gradually getting over what I still consider a sellout move on their part, "Aqualung." (The childish grudge I nurtured over it deprived me of knowing first hand the brilliance of "TAAB" and the sublime quirkiness of "Passion Play" for decades. A pity.) But due to the passage of time and the interesting cover illustration that adorned "Minstrel in the Gallery," I bought that record on blind faith but was once again disappointed by the uneven music it contained. The irony is that the following year I deemed the brazen cartoon image on the front of "Too Old to Rock & Roll, Too Young to Die" so off-putting that I never even entertained the thought of purchasing the record. It wasn't until 37 years had come and gone before I got around to listening to the album. I expected to justify my shunning of it but, as this group often does, they surprised me when I least expected to be surprised. I like this record! A lot! It might behoove you to note that I'm not always in sync with my fellow reviewers regarding Jethro Tull discs. "Aqualung" and "Minstrel" are rated much higher than I have them while some that others don't cotton to at all I consider among their best. (For instance, I found "J-Tull Dot Com" intriguing while the heralded release that followed this LP, "Songs from the Wood," put me to sleep.) What I'm saying is that while I stand behind my opinions there's a good chance you'll disagree with my assessments and think I've lost a marble or three. You could be right. So there. You've been warned.

"Too Old" was the first record made with their new bassist John Glascock and his enlistment seems to have given them a shot in the arm. (Jeffrey Hammond had traded in his long neck for a paint brush and retired to the countryside.) Sometimes change is a good thing and, in this instance, John added a spark to the entourage while settling in nicely with his pal in the rhythm section, the underrated drummer Barriemore Barlow. TOTRRTYTD is a concept album but the story line is so vague it doesn't really matter in the by and by. From what I can tell the plot centers around a fictitious musician named Ray Lomas who was a teen idol in the 50s but faded into oblivion. After winning a ton of coins on a TV game show he finds that having all that cash still doesn't make him happy so he tries to off himself. He fails and ends up in a coma instead. Years later he reawakens and, due to advances in plastic surgery and the fact that he kept all his nostalgic clothes, he's able to relive his glory years as a rock & roll idol. The message is that what goes around comes around and it's déjà vu all over again and again. Like I said, it's a weak script but it proves inconsequential. Ian Anderson, who wrote all the tunes, claims it wasn't about him in any way, shape or form but I suspect that he injected some of his own fears of the future if only subconsciously.

The opener, "Quizz Kid" sports a folksy yet invigorating intro that escalates into something even stronger thanks to Martin Barre's bold guitar riff and power chords. The song also benefits from a clever combination of different beat patterns and a comprehendible vocal melody line from Ian. The impression I get is that they were intentionally revisiting their progressive roots this time around and, for whatever reason, I find the music to be much less pretentious and forced than what I found on "Minstrel." The next cut is "Crazed Institution," a great song that demonstrates they still had an adventurous spirit and it's a throwback, if you will, to the prog attitude they grabbed me with on "Stand Up." I find the array of instruments from Anderson's flute to David Palmer's saxophone to John Evans' piano that bounce in and out of the number engaging. I also enjoyed Ian's snarky line that goes "You can ring a crown of roses around your cranium/Live and die upon your cross of platinum." They follow that with another terrific song, "Salamander." The spirited and deftly performed acoustic guitar work is fascinating and I admire how they were willing to let the singing be secondary to the impact of the music. This one reminds me of why I can never bring myself to give up on Jethro Tull. Despite their faults they always have the ability to make me smile when they get it right.

"Taxi Grab" is one of those tunes that could've gone south quite easily. Often when these guys try to get "heavy" they misplace their originality but here they stay the course and maintain a respectful edge by backing it up with Anderson's raspy harmonica and some cool slide guitar from Martin. The trick ending is a gas, too. "From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser" is a highlight. Admittedly it has an unlikely title for a pretty ballad augmented by a string quartet but it they make it work. David's flat, undecorated sax adds a noble character to the track. "Bad-Eyed 'n' Loveless" is short and sweet but very effective. Its naked aura featuring only a bluesy acoustic guitar and gritty vocal is arresting. "She's a warm fart at Christmas/She's a breath of champagne on a sparkling night," Ian croons with a wink. I also recommend indulging in "Big Dipper." The playfulness that epitomized their work in the late 60s abounds in this song and it makes for a delightful listen. I admire how Barlow's drums stay on the outside of being ordinary or predictable without the groove losing its momentum. The title cut is next and, while it unashamedly steals its melody from "Quizz Kid," they add a more forceful dimension to the theme that sets it apart. Palmer's punchy orchestral score is stirring and the band's brief foray into a straight-ahead rock beat is witty and well-placed. I like Anderson's nod to former rockers when he sings, "And some of them own little sports cars/and meet at the tennis club do's/for drinks on a Sunday, work on Monday/they've thrown away their blue suede shoes." However, the band slips a notch on "Pied Piper." I don't care at all for the first minute or so but then it improves slightly when other sounds enter and embellish the droll melody as well as they can. They end with "The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)." It has an unexpected beginning sequence where Evans' Rhodes piano and light strings establish a mellow atmosphere that floats around this unobtrusive ballad. In addition, it exudes a slight ELO aroma that, since I'm a fan of that ensemble, I find it pleasing to the ear.

I can't help but feel like a dunce for missing out on the quaint elegance embodied in "Too Old to Rock & Roll, Too Young to Die" but Jethro Tull has to bear at least half the blame due to their inconsistent nature. When it came out in May of '76 I found the cover too garish to warrant further investigation and, since the radio only played the title song sparingly and nothing else from the LP, I chalked it up to probably being another letdown from Ian and the boys and left it at that. More fool me. I'm just glad I got around to giving this album a fair shake because it just goes to show that I can't always trust my instincts. Especially when it comes to this eclectic bunch. Just ignore the cover. 3.8 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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