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Ian Anderson - Divinities - Twelve Dances With God CD (album) cover


Ian Anderson


Prog Folk

3.62 | 129 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Now, if you're anything like me, as soon as you got your new copy of Ian Anderson's Divinities: Twelve Dances with God, a friggin' Ian solo album, we said to yourself, "HOLY CRAP! This sucker is gonna be so metal! There's gonna be LOADS of headbangin' riffs, and blistering solos, and Ian playing all the instruments at once, and...and...wait, new age?"

This record isn't really new age, of course. If my understanding of new age is what I think it is. It's classical. I guess. If classical is a viable genre. Which I'm not sure any more, that phrase has been so bastardized that it's meaningless these days. Ugh. The music is serious, but it's never without a sense of humor. It's meditative, but not without bursts of energy. Chinese hip hop? If you can classify this, do please tell me.

Suffice to say that this record is quite unlike anything in the Tull canon. It's closest related to Passion Play in purpose, but not in style, mood, et cetera. In fact, I'd say that this is the biggest shock to hear after contemplating that bloozy kid on This Was; Passion Play is still a collection of ROCK SONGS. There's no Martin here, and the Minstrel hangs up his lyrics sheet; this does not rock, nor can you sing along.

Now, I could sort of review this album with some kind of grand, musical analysis of all the tracks, or I could go based on the "gut feelings" or "emotional resonance" of each the album, both of which would be highly appropriate. But, no, I think I'll stick to my usual two-per-paragraph song breakdown. What the hell. I'm not doing anything tonight.

We open with "In a Stone Circle," which contains some moody synths and pastoral flute lines, the ocean waves. But no ballad of the sea here. No words, just like everything else on the album. Is it gorgeous? Sure. Ian plays soft and sweet, but nothing really sticks in the brain.

"In the Sight of the Minaret" is an amused, jumpy tune, with some Mozartian influences, do I not detect? Sometimes it does fall into an Eastern themed variation though. "In a Black Box" is a little weird, occasionally drifting into...circus music? Funny.

"In the Grip of Stronger Stuff" is actually kind of cool. I guess it makes sense that this was the one that got played at live shows. It's definitely toe tappin', and the flute occasionally gets a little violent. "In Maternal Grace" sounds oddly familiar. The flute is gorgeous, but when the synthy pianos get in the way, it sounds a little dorky. "In the Moneylender's Temple" is energetic, if a little much at times. Andy Giddings should stick with the organ rather than the sound effects.

It was not easy to choose a favorite track on this thing by any means whatsoever, but after a while, one finally sunk in. Okay, that's not really true. Not sure if I can hum this one. But at least I always look forward to the Celtic flute 'n organ lines of "In Defense of Faiths." Really quite charming that one, especially when the flute ascends.

"At Their Father's Knee" is...uh, I'm running out of ways to describe all this. It has more great flute, more Back in the bach-ground (and "Bolero?"), and the orchestrals are a bit turned up for this one. "En Afrique" is the most "world music" of the lot, and it's actually kinda groovy. Definitely top tappin', and maybe the best use of the orchestrals on the album.

"In the Olive Garden" is another sorta floaty, ethereal flute piece. Which is, in essence, the album. "In the Pay of Spain" is a little livelier, as one would expect of the Spanish Inquisition (which I've just realized can be interpreted...well, you know. Not how I planned it though). Maybe the best keyboard parts here.

"In the Times of India (Bombay Version)" leaves one wondering how the non-Bombay version sounded. I kid. The song itself is an okay piece of atmosphere, but by now, the record has sort of done all it can do. Oh well, at least the final movement contains the sounds of the sea again, so we know we've come full circle. Is this album conceptual? And what the hell do the titles have to do with the tunes anyway? I wonder if Ian's "intelligent" music has played us for fools once again...

So, on the one hand, this album is very easy to listen to. Remarkably so, even if you're not a diehard Ian fan (if you are of course, then this album is "great"). The record never offends, and usually impresses. And that's because the Minstrel himself is in top form for sure. The flute is always brilliantly played, and if you listen closely, you'll hear that it's not all atmospherics; some of the marks of his trade are still firmly in place. As for the rest, well, Giddings is Giddings. He has his moments, but he has his synths too. Doane Perry is understated, which is probably for the best (although the militant drumming on...some track or other, I can't remember which, is not bad at all).

On the other hand, none of this is terribly memorable at all. And sometimes the "orchestra," which sounds mostly like Giddings at the keys, gets a little overbearing. It's also more than a little samey, the Celtic/Eastern flute line broken only by that "En Afrique" thing. Honestly, aside from the "highlights" mentioned above, it all starts to run together after a couple of listens.

As I said before, this album is a lot like Passion Play, so I think it's alright to rate them the same, an even three. Both are highly intellectual works, but I think of the two, Passion Play is probably the more rewarding in the long run. However, Divinities has the distinct advantage of being more listenable right now. Which is, admittedly, not the most important thing in progressive works. But, with Passion Play, it was hard to both listen AND digest. At least with Divinities, you have a shot at the listening part.

And, I guess if you ever wanted to get away with playing some prog over the PA system at work, this album is easier to get away with than, say, Brain Salad Surgery...

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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