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Jethro Tull - War Child CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

3.33 | 806 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
3 stars (You're wrong Steve, it's only 3.5)

Holy crap. What the hell was I thinking when I bought this record? And I don't mean that in a "this record sucks" kinda way, no, I rather liked it. I must have, or else I wouldn't be here. See, Warchild was, in fact, the first prog record I ever purchased. What an introduction. I couldn't have something at least slightly closer to my radio-hit popular-music education, no; I had to have the record with the song about sealions.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Or behind. I don't know. Something tells me that this review is going to be a little like...Warchild!

Warchild takes a little heat here and there. I MOSTLY don't see why; it's a decent enough album on its own. Some people accuse it of being overly poppy, what with the shorter song structure and the lighter melodies (in fact, I know someone who has sworn off all Jethro Tull because of Bungle in the Jungle), but I just don't see it. I actually consider Warchild to be one of their most progressive albums. In fact, the way that Tull did the whole "classic prog" sound is probably purest on this album. It's certainly the most orchestral album in Tuller history, and just as thick as its lengthy predecessors. It's even got three songs that connect into one lengthy medley; fer goshsakes, what more do ya want?!?

So, what is wrong with Warchild? Well, for one thing, this album has what is known as Openyerclosur Syndrome. See, in order for any form of media to be effective, it has to have a great opening and a great closing. The last page of a book is important because, well, it's the conclusion, resolution. If you drag yourself all the way through the damn book and hit an unsatifying ending, you'll hate it. If the book sucks, but the ending wraps it up beautifully, you'll just remember how great that ending was. And the first page of a book is the most important page of all. If the author can utterly hook you with the opening lines, then it won't matter if the rest of the book is hardly interesting. Well, much...

The same is true with a movie. If the opening scene blows you away (and if you've already eaten most of your overpriced popcorn), then you won't care when the rest is crap. The same is even true with this review, which I had better get back to.

Not only is the opening/title track of Warchild boring, but I also consider it the weakest on the album. Well, the start is nice, the little sound effects and the screaming and all, but after that it becomes really boring. The only interesting thing about it is the miniature sax solo towards the end.

Ian's sax also disappoints me. On Passion Play it was average but different; on Warchild it's totally interchangeable with any other squeaky clean jazz saxophonist. The next song, "Queen and Country," at least moves, but it's just as repetitive. Oh well, at least it's shorter.

"Ladies" is a lighter counterpart of "Queen," a medieval styled ballad to the accordion driven rocker. It's also just as repetitive and short. Things seem like they're going to pick up with "Back Door Angels," but this just turns into an excuse for jam band heroics (reminds me a bit too much of the unfocused instrumental parts off Passion Play). However, it's somewhat saved by John Evan's manic psychedelic organ soloing (which is back to being Doug Ingle-esque, as opposed to Keith Emerson-ian).

But "Sealion" is where things really take off. You can tell it's gonna be good when you hear Ian going, "a 1-2-3, 2-2-3," and then it blasts you with the first real flute riff on the whole album (has there even been any flute yet?). It's a back and forth rocker, far more interesting than "Queen," and (sadly perhaps) the hardest thing on the album.

But it's the next song that takes the spot of personal favorite for me. "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day" has a simple intro, but it builds from Ian's frantic guitar strumming into a gorgeous, eclectic, shapeshifting, depressing, uplifting prog ballad Death? Eternity? Nothing? As usual, it's hard to tell. But it has since become a concert favorite (as well as entering my personal echelon of "really good Tull tunes").

So how do you follow up "Skating Away?" Why with "Bungle in the Jungle!" The orchestral rock song that you might have heard on the radio (possibly the only radio hit with a string quartet and animal sound effects). Orchestral is (for me at least) the key word here, since it's David Palmer's arrangements underneath the main tune that really make the song.

After "Bungle" you get the miniature acoustical piece (like "Cheap Day Return," only funnier) This is "Only Solitare," Ian's rant against critics. It contains, without a doubt, the greatest lyrics on the album. You just need to hear them.

The final tunes are, however, a bit of a letdown. "The Third Hoorah" is essentially a martial rewrite of the title track (complete with bagpipes). If you recall, I didn't like that too much, but "Hoorah" is at least energetic, and out of the various forms of "Warchild," it's my favorite. But "Two Fingers" is a lethargic closer which can't quite be saved by its goofy lyrics (and it's made all the more painful once you realize that a far better version of the song is available as a bonus track on the Aqualung remaster).

So, where does that leave us? A bad title tune, a boring opener, a delicious center, and a sleepy ending. This is Warchild's problem; it's scattered. In fact, it is easily the most scattered of all the classic era albums. I mean, it's sort of organized (good songs in middle), but it FEELS scattered because the opener, which sets up the album, and the closer, which is what you take from the album, are both kinda lame. See why it's important to have a good opener/closer?

I'm not a super Passion Play diehard, but that album was focused. It had a purpose. Does Warchild have a purpose? Well, I guess it must; it was supposed to be a movie soundtrack. Honestly though, I have to wonder what the hell kind of movie it would have been, between the songs about the circus animals and the British navy...the saving grace of the album is the QUALITY of the tunes (Skating!), which (usually) are focused enough within themselves (or short enough that they can't wander too far).

So if you're willing to overlook said lack of focus (and about half the record), the other half is "good" to "great." And, what the hell, maybe "Warchild" (the song) isn't that bad either, in a monotonous sort of way. But still, Warchild (the album) is all over the place. What a waste of a good cover (back cover too; look, there's Cecil!).

(By the way, the remaster is considered a bit of a treasure trove among diehard Tullers for its numerous bonus tracks. I'm not going to disagree. We start with yet ANOTHER version of "Warchild," this one entirely orchestral. The "Warchild Waltz" actually manages to be more boring than its vocal counterpart. However, "Quartet" is a baroque instrumental of a far goofier nature, and "Paradise Steakhouse" is a nice, slow rocker (love the trick ending). Both are great, fascinatingly layered tunes. However, "Sealion 2" is amazing. Although greatly stripped down (and the flute is traded for sax), "Sealion 2" rocks harder, and funnier, than its predecessor (maybe the Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond influence?) Similarly, the drier (and not terribly bloozy) "Rainbow Blues" might be better than orchestral rocker "Bungle," and "Glory Row" is definitely better than "Ladies" (as far as the progressive medieval ballad vibe is concerned). By "Saturation," the album sort of runs out of steam, but it's still based on a depressing, and very solid, riff, so it's all good. Raises the overall rating of the album by half a point, to a solid four).

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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