I decided a few days ago to finally start reading the Jethro Tull book I received for Christmas as a gift two Christmases ago. To accompany this reading I also decided to listen to every Jethro Tull studio album (as well as a few compilations and a few live albums). I ended up listening to 350 Tull songs in a row, uninterrupted by any other music.
I was going to post a review of each album in turn, but I’m short on time and patience. However I still have some things to say on the matter, and so I’ve opted to post this general week of Tull blog.
So, here is a list of how my mind divides the Tull catalogue, some personal opinions on them, and a few favourite songs. Its not a review, its not a history, its just some assorted quick fire thoughts that my tired brain is leaking after such a big Tull binge.
First off, I don’t really like their debut album as much as what was to follow. I don’t care for Blues or Jazz as much as the average Prog fan, so I guess that’s no surprise. Still, even with it not being as good as what was to come, there’s still some great moments on this album. I really like the album opener for example.
Next up; comes what I’d call the indisputable period parts 1, 2, 3 and 4. Together, all these albums are near flawless and form the largest part of what I think about when I say I like Jethro Tull. The entire Indisputable Period starts with Stand Up and ends after Broadsword And The Beast. The period is so-named because I never wonder if these albums are good, if I still like them, or if anything from them should be included on a compilation or playlist…. this period is ALL excellent in my opinion.
Indisputable Period Part 1, is from Stand Up to Thick As A Brick. This was the early, exuberant, anything goes phase. There’s a sense of enthusiasm and more or less no weak tracks. I could do without the bells/drum solo part on ‘Thick As A Brick Prt 2’ but otherwise its arguably the best album ever written. Even all the B-sides and outtakes from this period are golden, as are the non-album singles. I should really count the compilation Living In The Past as part of this. I usually skip the on-other-albums songs such as ‘Locomotive Breath’ and treat this as an actual album rather than a compilation. I particularly love ‘Up The Pool’ and ‘Sweet Dream.’
Indisputable Period Part 2 I consider from A Passion Play up to and including Too Old To Rock And Roll Too Young To Die. The reason I’ve made this a mental period is partly the association of film projects as well as the mixed fan reactions. I think this period is equally as strong as the previous one, and am not one of the crowd who think Warchild is too bitty or Minstrel In The Gallery is weak. No sir. Some of my favourite ever Tull songs come from this red hot run of classics. ‘Queen And Country,’ ‘Sea Lion,’ ‘Cold Wind To Valhalla,’ and ‘Quiz Quid’ are all amazing and should be looked at as equal to the classic likes of ‘Aqualung’ ‘Lifes A Long Song,’ ‘Locomotive Breath,’ and ‘My God.’
Moreover, the bonus tracks ‘Paradise Steakhouse’ and ‘Rainbow Blues’ are arguably my two favourite Tull songs. Absolute gems. And ‘Minstrel In The Gallery’ is such a banging hard rock song, I’d love to hear someone heavy cover it.
I wish the Mother England Reverie section of Baker Street Muse was repeated more often. Its so big and catchy and exciting but it comes and goes in passing and you never get enough. Its like someone rubbing chocolate across your tongue when you weren’t looking… you go ‘oooh, chocolate!’ but then its gone, and you feel like you’d like to eat some chocolate. (Can you tell its Easter Saturday?)
I will admit that the sound effects on War Child now get skipped (cup of tea making, bombs falling etc) as outside of my big prog phase I’ve lost a little patience, but the music is still great. I’ve become even more fond of Too Old To Rock N Roll than I used to be. I’ll always remember disliking it the first time I heard it because I was not in a receptive mood due to being freezing cold. Its grown on me a lot. ‘Big Dipper’ is great fun, as is ‘Taxi Grab’ and I like the story. Its worth watching the film from the era on Youtube.
I think the only song I don’t like from this whole era is “From A Deabeat To An Old Greaser” but that’s just personal taste… its too slow, and a bit depressing. A momentum killer. I’dve preferred one more hard rock song instead but that’s just me. I know Minstrel didn’t have a film project, so you may disagree with me on the era classification, but there’s the early run, and the folk run, and these nice prog albums fit in the middle. Oh, and seriously, how good is “Only Solitaire” ? Lyrically, musically, vocally, this is just so good.
Don’t let that one flaw throw you off though, its such a solid, interesting and diverse series of songs. Bizarre guitar lines, odd rhythms, structures that defy expectations. Its such an interesting set of records to listen to and pay attention to and listen to all the little bonkers decisions and sparks of genius.
Indisputable Period Part 3, for me, is the folk trio of Songs From The Wood, Heavy Horses and Storm Watch. Some people act as if these were acoustic albums (as if Aqualung, Stand Up and Minstrel In The Gallery weren’t chocked full of acoustic parts). These three albums are more or less pure perfection. The one thing that makes them even extra good is confidence and consistency. I think they’re also lighter, and more fun. Just listen to ‘The Mouse Police Never Sleeps,’ ‘Something’s On The Move’ and ‘Hunting Girl.’ These songs are just such fun. Then when you mix in the nice Double Kick work on ‘Heavy Horses’ and the aforementioned ‘Hunting Girl’ and the big riffing in ‘No Lullabye’ and ‘Orion’ its all just so brain teasingly perfect.
The live albums from this period, Live At Madison Square Garden and the classic Bursting Out are some of the best in Rock history in my humble opinion. The performances and production take the already magnificent material from all 3 parts of the Indisputable Period, and multiplies them tenfold. The riffs are heavier, the drums are more energetic, the singing is bigger and more impressive.
Ending the Indisputable Period are the albums A and Broadsword In The Beast. Some people think A doesn’t count, or is poor. Not Me. I can’t get enough. Who doesn’t like ‘Black Sunday’ ? and ‘Flyingdale Flyer’ is tremendous fun. On Broadsword, I’d like to especially highlight ‘Flying Colours’ and the still-relevant “Fallen On Hard Times” …also one of the band’s best ever songs. Bonus tracks from this period are brilliant too.
Sure there are synths, but its still all gravy. Its not Power Windows Rush, its Moving Pictures Rush.
Under Wraps follows. I’m not a fan. I love ‘Under Wraps 2” but as an album it doesn’t float my boat. I try a lot to like this the same, especially since Martin Barre likes it so much, but somehow its arguably the worst Tull album. I’d like to like it just to be contrary, but I can’t. Its such a loner it doesn’t even fit in one of the periods.
The next period is what I’d call the Dire Straits Period. That’s Crest Of A Knave, Rock Island and Catfish Rising. I call it this because, well, just listen to Ian’s voice. These albums have heavier guitars, making them better for me, and stiff drums, making them weaker for me. I like a lot of the singles from this period. ‘This Is Not Love’ (a song about wanking) and ‘Kissing Willie’ may be tasteless in a way, but the guitars make me smile. Also, ‘Budapest’ is great. You know, the thing with these albums not being perfect like the Undisputable Period however, is not down to stylistic shifts. Its not Ian’s new voice, its not 80s synth sounds and its not the non-jam style of recordings. Its just that the songwriting isn’t as flawless. There’s now filler. There’s now saminess. This is the House Of Blue Light/Battle Rages On phenomenon. When I first got into the band, I didn’t like this period at all. Now I’ve actually came to like it a lot. I can’t use the word ‘perfect’ but I can use the words ‘pretty good.’ If I wasn’t comparing them to perfect albums, then these would really be even more satisfactory. I think a playlist of the highlights from this period would make a damn high quality listen. Some fans (like my 2008 self) ignore this period, and act like ‘Seal Driver’ was the last good Tull song, but just tell that to ‘Doctor To My Disease,’ ‘Thinking Round Corners’ and ‘Sparrow On The Schoolyard Wall.’ (Oh, and why does everyone say Catfish’ is a return to the Blues of This Was… it is so not, as far as I can hear. It is exactly the same Dire Straits-Tull collision of Rock Island and ‘Knave to these ears).
The final period is the trio of Roots To Branches, Dot Com and The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Or maybe not the Xmas album, its confusing because it has rerecordings of existing Tull songs on it.
This period is a bit more proggy and adventurous, while retaining the heavy guitar. The drums are more live though, and it just feels a little bigger. The albums are perhaps overlong, and too soft, but there is some seriously strong material here. I can imagine Tool or Dream Theater covering it. I used to ignore these albums, but on this relistening I wonder why, there is some seriously exciting bombastic material on here.
Oh, and I also listened to Ian Anderson’s Thick As A Brick 2. I’ve already talked about it extensively though, so I’ll just say I still feel the same.
The main thing I’d like to discuss however, is how often do Tull and Ian mention jam. Jam, bread and jam, jam sarnies, jampots. I never noticed this 40 year jam fandom. Listening to it all in one go though, there’s more mentions of jam than your average discography.
Anyway… I’ll just summarize. No Jethro Tull album is devoid of good music, not even the ones I used to dislike. Stand Up through to Broadsword’ is some of the world’s best ever music, especially the live albums. A is underrated. The band’s offcuts are as good as their official releases. Most of all, I’ve really come to appreciate the post-Broadsword stuff now. You don’t get the 99% brilliant ratio, sure, and the vocals and production make it a bit different in atmosphere, but it is far from poor.
Looking at the catalogue as a whole too, man, what an endless supply of creativity, what consistently entertaining lyrics. I don’t think Jethro Tull will ever slip from my list of favourite bands. If you like the idea of the band, but are short on cash, I’d highlight the following as especially necessary: Stand Up, Aqualung, Thick As A Brick, A Passion Play, Minstrel In The Gallery, Broadsword And The Beast. I’d say it would feel absolutely impossible to give up on those albums, and missing out on them is missing out big. Furthermore I’d add, if you want to get into the band, my top pic is to get Bursting Out first. Bursting Out is some otherworldly brilliance, the like of Pantera 101 Proof and Judas Priest Unleashed In The East.