By Enrico Spinelli

The bitter disappointment of Ian Anderson's latest publication under the name Jethro Tull led me to listen again to what I still consider one of the most beautiful and articulated discographies in the history of music. In fact, in more than 50 years the group has lived many different lives and has embraced the most disparate styles, maintaining a constant above all, the famous transverse flute rigorously played on one leg by the talented singer, founder and leader Ian Anderson. It seems that the band has decided to devote himself to this instrument after listening to Eric Clapton: realizing that he would never be able to match Slow-hand's skill on guitar, he thought of dedicating himself body and soul to an instrument that the good Eric had never used.

Being more than 20 albums I can only mention some details of the individual releases, but I hope to enrich and make reading more interesting with some anecdotes here and there. One last thing: I am well aware that in the last few years, 2 albums under the name of Jethro Tull have been released, but since I essentially consider them two solo albums by Ian Anderson with the wrong name on the cover, I decided to exclude them from the discussion; Forgive my polemical stance. And so...

"THIS WAS" (1968)
The debut album, with a deliberately retro title and cover, is a concentration of blues-jazz, minimal folk hints well represented by the flute played by the singer Ian Anderson, rigorously on one leg. Tracks like "Someday the sun won't Shine for You" and "My Sunday Feeling" are real blues gems. But the piece that more than many others will remain in history is the more folksy "Song For Jeffrey", with the unmistakable danceable rhythm and filtered voice of Anderson will also appear in the Stones' show "Rock'n'roll Circus" with Tony Iommi as a guitarist: however, since the group played in playback, the latter did not offer any contribution to the performance.
Finally, the ballad "A Christmas Song" is delicate and pleasant, a piece of great emotional intensity.
A work altogether different from what would have been the stylistic direction of the group but germinal for its evolution.

"STAND UP" (1969)
One of the fundamental albums of the group's discography marks a change of course and an approach to rock sounds that will become more and more present. The bluesy nuances of "A New Day Yesterday", "Look into the sun" remain alongside the more direct "Nothing is Easy" and "For a Thousand Mothers". The folksy "Fat Man" is curious, while "Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square" is the second song dedicated to his friend Jeffrey. Finally, it is here that we find the famous instrumental "Bouree" inspired by a work by Bach. Little trivia: Ian Anderson has never heard the original but was inspired by a boy who tried to play this piece on guitar. In the reissue, there are some no less famous songs, including the wild "Living in the Past". Guitar debut for Martin Barre, a historic guitarist who will be present until the last "real" album of the band.

"BENEFITS" (1970)
The group's road towards rock continues, increasingly purifying itself from the blues dimension and embracing more direct sounds, without forgetting a good acoustic component and the flute. The powerful "With You There to Help Me" and the delicate "Inside" are wonderful, not to mention the classic "To Cry You a Song". We also find the third and final song dedicated to Jeffrey ("For Micheal Collins, Jeffrey and Me"), i.e. Jeffrey Hammond who will later join the group.

"AQUALUNG" (1971)
Here it is the group's rock album par excellence, the record that many will indicate as Tull's most beautiful and complete. It is above all an involuntary concept album, a work where the tracks are only minimally connected to each other but in which we wanted at all costs to see a sort of plot. There would be a lot to say, but in an annotated discography we have to be synthetic, so I limit myself to pointing out the famous guitar riff of the title track (for another song in which Ian Anderson doesn't play the flute), the ultra-classical "Locomotive Breath " (which will become famous as the closing song) and the splendid blues of "My God" with the no less famous flute solo; but the whole album shines with inspiration, which is why it will also be played in its entirety.
Curiosity: Bruce Dickinson and Steve Harris really like Tull (however the former prefers "Aqualung", the latter "A Passion Play"...never agree, huh?!) and for this reason, Maiden released their own version of Cross- eyed Mary, originally contained in this album: a journalist, not knowing that it was a cover, branded the piece as the worst song recorded by Iron Maiden... No comment!

Jethro Tull are forced into the Progressive genre and the good Anderson thinks it well to make a nice joke to the critics and the public: the parody of a concept album! So here is a work made up of a single song, divided into two parts for mere questions of space, 40 minutes of music without songs, apart from some themes that recur throughout the listening, and a text full of "English humour", the all well packaged; needless to say that critics and the public fall for it fully, only realizing the mockery years later. Questions aside, it is a beautiful work, where rock, folk, blues and jazz elements blend beautifully, giving us a suite of great intensity. However, the difficulty of including it in the lineup will often lead the group to perform a reduced version. Undoubtedly among the works to have for sure, if possible in a first edition on 33 rpm, packaged in a real English tabloid with lots of news and crossword puzzles... the first page also tells you the underlying theme of the alleged concept: a child, Gerald Bostock who wins a coveted prize thanks to the poem "Thick as a brick" but is disqualified for saying a bad word during the award ceremony. The child in question will return as the protagonist in two solo works by Ian Anderson, published later: "Thick as a Brick 2" (precisely) and "Homo Erraticus".

This time Ian Anderson decides to get serious and create a real concept! Everything looks good on paper and the prospect of recording everything in the famous Chateau D'Herouville promises well, but things don't go at all as expected: the instrumentation doesn't convince at all and a whole series of delays and inconveniences, not least the apparent loss of material, it wrecks the whole; for these reasons, Ian Anderson will call the result of those recordings "Chateau D'Isaster Tapes".
If the gestation of the album was troubled, critics and public reception were even worse: it is once again a single song divided into two parts, complicated in the text and articulated in the instrumental parts, less immediate and difficult to listen to. The live proposition itself is even more difficult due to a certain prolixity, which is why this album will be, in my opinion unjustly, put on the back burner. It is undoubtedly an album that requires a certain effort, but its nuances are truly fascinating and some parts are truly successful: undoubtedly to be rediscovered.
The interlude of the second part entitled "The Story of the Hare who lost his Spectacles" is curious, a recitation (with Jeffrey Hammond's voice) with chamber music in the background on an allegorical animal tale, from which a nice video.

"WAR CHILD" (1974)
After two ambitious and distinctly progressive albums, the group tries to return to the classic song form, creating the soundtrack for a film that will never be made. There is a return to a more rock dimension, however with the help of instruments such as the accordion and sounds very close to chamber music. Of this disc, undoubtedly with pleasant moments and rather immediate songs like the title track, two classics will remain above all, the fun "Bungle in the Jungle" and the sweet ballad "Skating Away On The Thin Ice of the New Day". Curious that one of my favourite songs is present only as a bonus track in the reissue, I'm talking about the beautiful and rocking "Rainbow Blues", back in the headlines thanks to the convincing cover made by Blackmore's Night (obviously, where it reads Rainbow the good Ritchie throws himself in!) and inserted in the excellent "Ghost of a Rose".

Without a doubt, one of the most underrated works of the group presents us with a greater complexity of the compositions, with the presence of orchestrations and very articulated texts. In this sense, the title track and the long final suite "Baker St. Muse" shine, while the ballad "Cold Wind to Valhalla" stands out for its delicacy. A multifaceted work of great intensity.

If "War Child" was to be a film, "Too Old..." was even born to be a musical starring a rock star in decline and in existential crisis who finds success after risking his life in a motorcycle accident. Everything then boils down to an album, complete with a comic inside, where rock and acoustic sounds alternate rather forcefully and where, alas, the only memorable thing is the famous title track. But the masterpiece will come shortly after.

The first album of the folk trilogy is really a nice surprise: airy sonorities, flute in good presence, a real musical party, worthily opened by the delicate title track, passing through the direct "Jack in the Green", "Hunting Girl " (from the infectious guitar line), to the more structured "Velvet Green" and the light-hearted "The Whistler". Among the true cornerstones of the group's discography.

The second folk album is characterized by a darker and more progressive musical proposal: the airiness of the previous one is lost in favor of more complex songs and with lyrics mainly focused on the world of nature, giving away some valuable pieces such as "No Lullaby" and the long and solemn "Heavy Horses". If the immediacy has disappeared, the quality is still high. Too bad that one of my dearest songs, the beautiful ballad "Broadford Bazar", is only a bonus track in the reissue.

The last act of the folk period marks a further hardening of the sound, more and more gloomy both in the atmosphere and in the themes, and also the pieces are more and more difficult and less immediate. The long "Dark Ages" is particularly hard, while "Flying Dutchman" on the other hand gives a decent shot in the arm. However, it remains a work of difficult assimilation. Also curious is the presence of a bonus track "Kelpie", covered by M├Ągo de Oz on the album "Finisterra".

"A" (1980)
There's something strange, electronics appear on a Jethro Tull record! The gloomy atmospheres already present in the previous album are here further accentuated by the use of keyboards and synthesizers, even if the imprint of the group remains. There are more than valid pieces, such as the frontal attack of "Crossfire", the subsequent "Protect and Survive" or the more articulated "Black Sunday", but the repetitiveness of certain solutions does not help the album to take off. Curious that it should have been a solo album by Anderson, hence the minimalist title, but then the record label decided otherwise, with the approval of the leader of Tull.

Carpets of keyboards and modern sounds are beautifully associated with the band's classic sounds, giving us a largely successful and convincing album, where the folk nuances take on almost epic traits, as clearly evident in the beautiful "Broadsword". The disc shines for inspiration and intensity and is extremely pleasant to listen to thanks to the great variability of the songs proposed.

"UNDER WRAPS" (1984)
Here we are, the absolute triumph of electronics: synthesizers, keyboards and drum machines dominate throughout the work, relegating the classical flute instruments included to the background. The experiment is also nice, as evidenced by the frenetic "Lap of Luxury" and the title track, but even here a certain monotony prevails and in the long run the result tires. Curiosity aside: it seems to be Martin Barre's favourite album...

The group's rebirth album. After the electronic experiments the band returns to tracks closer to rock, with flute and guitar again in the foreground. Rather direct structures and with a harder soul make this work one of the most loved by fans, and on top of that there is Ian Anderson's favorite song, the long and beautiful "Budapest".
With this album Tull won the most unusual of awards: the Grammy for best Hard/Heavy metal work, even beating Metallica's "...And Justice for All".

"ROCK ISLAND" (1989)
Among the group's least considered albums, this work continues in the wake traced by the previous one, with a massive rock component which in cases such as "Kissing Willie" and "Heavy Water" works wonders, but is often redundant and exaggerated, leading to a pleasant listening but little else. Curious is the presence of the beautiful ballad "Another Christmas Song", in some ways more structured than the previous one but of equal intensity.

This is one of the works I am in some ways most fond of, even if it is not among the most celebrated. It was born with Anderson's intention to completely clean up the group's sound from the modernities that were even only partially present in previous works. All this takes the form of an album full of acoustic components and with a great blues breath, in some ways closer to the band's early works, with lyrics with a strong humorous attitude, worthy of being recovered.

In my opinion, the last great album of the group, particularly mature in sound and lyrics, "Roots to Branches" is influenced by arabesque influences, already present in Anderson's solo work "Divinities". The lyrics focused on religious issues are rather difficult, but on the other hand the excellent musical proposal and obscure but convincing songs such as the title track and the delicate ballad "Beside Myself" to name two make the album successful and engaging.

"J TULL DOT COM" (1999)
For this work, the Tulls choose not to follow a well-defined path but to condense past experiences with minimal experiments. What emerges is an album that is far too heterogeneous, not the most inspired and with some rather weird things (the rap "Hot Mango Flush"), and in fact only "" will gain a bit of luck in the live performances. The final "Gift of Roses" is very beautiful in its simplicity, particularly successful for its arrangement and intensity, with a curious ending: after a minute of silence, in fact, announced by Anderson himself, a ghost track starts which is none other than the title track from the solo work of the same leader, "Secret Language of Birds".
The title celebrates the birth of the band's internet domain, which at the time could not have been because it had already been bought by a man who enjoyed buying domains of famous bands and then selling them at a high price... blessed entrepreneurship!

Jethro Tull's last "real" album is actually more of a collection with some unreleased and traditional scattered around, all more or less Christmas-themed. Curious reworking of "Bouree" and the famous "Greensleeves" speeded up and almost unrecognizable, to name two examples. Among the unpublished works, the opener "Birthday Card at Christmas" is worth mentioning, dedicated to those who have a birthday on Christmas day (a song also present in Ian Anderson's solo album "Rupi's Dance"). More for the completionists of the band, but still a successful work... just a pity it was the last!

There are an industrial quantity of Jethro Tull collections, more or less official. My relationship with this dimension is quite conflictual - those who know me know it - but if I had to recommend two, I would opt for those that contain unreleased material, even if part of this has been absorbed in the recent reissues of the studio albums.

"Living in the Past", 1972, contains several hit songs by the group and a couple of live pieces at Carnegie Hall in New York, at the time the only official live recordings of the group. The other is "Nightcap", released in 1993 for the 25th anniversary of the band, which in the first cd presents the infamous "Chateau D'Isaster Tapes", material from which "A Passion Play" and "War Child" were taken, and in the second a selection of unpublished works, many of which are very interesting.

I know that there are many collections and even box sets that cover a large part of the discography at a low price, but if I had to throw myself to indicate 5 titles from which to start, I would undoubtedly indicate "Stand Up", "Aqualung", "Songs From The Wood", "Crest of a Knave" and "Roots to Branches": these albums cover the main characteristics of the band and represent, in my opinion, the best of their career or, in any case, a good way to enter the magical world of a fairy tale called Jethro Tull.

Giovanni Gagliano

Passionate about music I wrote my first article for "Given To Rock" in 2012, reaching now 30K global followers. I am also a musician, gigging around London.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post