The task of "reviewing" Jethro Tull's Aqualung album seems to me to be a rather pointless endeavor. Anyone out there who is unfamiliar with this music clearly has been living under a rock that sits on a beach on some faraway planet. You can turn on the radio, tune in a pop station, and within a few hours hear songs from this album (forty years after its release) crammed between modern tuneage. People, young and old, can hum or sing along from memory with the songs. These circumstances truly mark the release as a timeless classic.
So attempting to review this album is akin to teaching an adult who has been walking their entire life to walk. Nevertheless, let's give it a shot.
Fortunately, there are bonus aspects to this 40th anniversary reissue.
JETHRO TULL: Aqualung (double CD on Chrysalis Records)
This 2011 reissue release offers the entire original 43 minute 1973 album plus an extra CD featuring 45 minutes of exciting bonus material.
For this album, Jethro Tull's line-up consisted of: Ian Anderson (on vocals, flute and acoustic guitar), Clive Bunker (on drums and percussion), Martin Barre (on electric guitar and descant recorder), John Evan (on piano, organ and mellotron), and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (on bass, alto recorder and odd voices). Some tracks feature orchestral augmentation.
Classic rock (guitar, vocals, keyboards, bass and drums) flavored with nimble flutework.
The guitar is solid and present in both electric and acoustic modes. The electric riffs are searing and compelling. The acoustic stylings are delicate and emotional. Depending on what impact each song desires at a given point, these two variants of guitar are liberally applied with delightful results.
Ian Anderson's vocals combine lilting and coarse elements, delivering unorthodox lyrics with guttural puissance in the harder tracks and crisp crooning in the softer tracks. Breaking the model of the early Seventies, very few of these songs deal with love and relationships. While some tunes do deal with emotional connections, a number of the songs tell engaging tales, often analyzing the delights of excess and the psychological cost of such immoderation. And running through it all is the sentiment that God isn't "the kind you have to wind up on Sundays."
The keyboards twinkle with lively animation, frequently injecting a ragtime flair to the pounding rock tuneage. At other times, the piano lends a somber temperament. The organ provides a moody mien with its slippery drone.
The bass generates an undercurrent rumble whose subtlety often hides within the mix.
The drums offer carefully crafted rhythms that alternate between outright driving tempos to a peripheral sparse embellishment of beats.
At the time of its release the use of flute in rock music was quite experimental, and this album epitomizes one of the strongest examples of powerful flute in rock. But these fanciful warblings hardly sound "experimental." Here their presence contributes a vital and vigorous disposition, augmenting the driving tuneage with spry cascades and infecting each song with a cavorting jubilation.
Several of these compositions are timeless classics, but there are others that never achieved radio airplay, attributable perhaps to their folksy gentility. These lesser known tracks offer pensive passages, and yet despite their temperate nature they still exhibit a touch of punch. While the other pieces ("Aqualung," "Cross-Eyed Mary," "Hymn 43," and "Locomotive Breath") are so well known that their very titles (or a handful of their notes) make them instantly recognizable.
As for the bonus material, you get early versions of "My God," "Wind Up," and "Up the 'Pool," and several previously unreleased tracks. The version of "My God" is particularly stupendous: nearly ten minutes long with numerous woodwind diversions.
These alternate and early takes are more tender versions of the classic tracks. They are not unformed or crude, but simply more restrained performances, in many ways intensely intimate.
The new stereo mixes offered here were crafted by Steven Wilson (from Porcupine Tree).
This release is available in an edition featuring two CDs, and also a limited edition collector's edition including the two CDs, a DVD and Blu-Ray. A 48 page booklet is included featuring numerous photos and text insights from members of the band.
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