WG Kaspar wrote:It's got to be Aqualung
I recently finished reading the book Harvest
, by Jim Crace. Nominated for last year's Booker Prize, it tells the story of the destruction of a rural English village some time in the Stuart era, observed by one of the villagers, an educated serving man who has left his master's manor to be among the peasants and workers, knowing even after working alongside them for years that he can never quite be one of them. It's a superb book.
Ian Anderson reminds me a little of Walter Thirsk, the narrator of Harvest
. He was raised in Edinburgh and later Blackpool, and studied Fine Art. But what he really wanted all along was to lie in a ditch in 17th-century Norfolk, scratching his beard and fiddling with himself through piss-stained breeches, and every so often rolling out of the way of a passing plough.
Anderson's image is not one that I can imagine earning his band many new fans in the modern era: a codpiece-wearing, bug-eyed flute-playing goon, a cross between Shakespeare's Robin Goodfellow and the sinister tramp on Aqualung
's cover, is not the kind of person most would choose for 45 minutes of entertainment. Jethro Tull, though, do have some pull for me. The folk influences they're known for draw me in, and they are particularly prevalent on Aqualung
, in songs like the very pretty 'Cheap Day Return' and 'Wondrin' Aloud', both of which I could quite happily listen to for much longer than their brief running times. 'Mother Goose', in between the aforementioned two tracks on the album, and where Anderson's famous flute gets a proper workout, is also a good effort, although it has a bit more bluesy crunch. These songs are as much psych-folk as prog, I think, Anderson's voice even having a suggestion of finger-in-the-ear about it.
I'm not a big fan of blues rock, though, and that side of the Tull leaves me colder. The famous title track, that opens this record, has some very fine moments but they're largely the acoustic passages. The heavy riffing and sneering vocals do less for me, not just on the title track but on other songs too. After the flurry of attractive folky numbers early on, it's quite disappointing to hear the hard rock of 'Up to Me', and 'My God' sees the album cross over into lumbering, over-serious portentousness for the first time. I did enjoy the nimble-fingered flute solo (with monastic backing vox) on the latter, but in a "don't-overdo-it" kind of way, and I think that though the song is not entirely without charm, it's just too heavy-handed.
The remainder of the record is a mixture of the previous styles, with the same results. I like the lighter, folkier parts, and am not as keen on the pounding rock bits. What I can say, though, is that the riffs are memorable enough and the performances punchy enough to make up for some clumsy transitions and what I generally consider an uninteresting bluesy production. It's a shame that so many of the more delicate, acoustic numbers are so short, as I think this is what I'd like to hear more of from Tull: this is where they really show their ability with a melody and with some intricate but not intrusive playing. The rock numbers are lively and catchy but not as much to my taste, but while they do suffer from being a bit plodding compositionally, they avoid a lot of prog pitfalls by not being too indulgent or overcomplicated (it's not actually that stereotypically proggy, as an album, more just a mix of genres). I've enjoyed listening to this album, certainly a lot more than I thought I would, but it's the folkier side of Tull I want to hear more of; I've heard Thick as a Brick
before and wasn't too keen, though I'll give it another go at some point.