Alternative music reviews

October 25, 2005

Aqualung Live by Jethro Tull

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This live limited edition of Jethro Tull’s 1971 big seller ‘Aqualung’ was recorded in front of an invited audience for US radio station XM with royalties being donated to homeless charities. With the album’s premise over, let’s discuss the new re-workings of songs approaching 35 years old. The first side is the story of a homeless vagrant called Aqualung and the second side is an attack on organised religion. Band leader Ian Anderson introduces his songs politely; the band plays faithfully and professionally, each song pretty much what you’d expect from a band playing these songs for several years. The downside is Anderson’s weak vocals, not much variation and lacking the bite of his youth. The trademark flute does get annoying after a while especially on the extended flute solo on ‘My God’, maybe it’s because I’m not a “flute” fan, thus missing out a large component of Jethro Tull’s appeal. The hunger is missing on this re-recording which is understandable as the flourishes of youth are long gone. And let’s get one fact straight, this is Ian Anderson’s band with an ever rotating list of musicians, so all you need to know is that Ian Anderson plays along with only other original guitarist Martin Barre – the rest are some other blokes who actually do a sterling job; the guitars are fairly complex and the rhythm section does a fine job in holding the record together. The performances are restrained through, as if the band are holding back, preferring to play the notes in the correct order rather than letting rip.

The undoubted highlights – ‘Aqualung’, ‘Crosseyed Mary’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’ are classics in the progressive rock field, but there are a few clunkers in the form of ‘Wondering Aloud’ a Moody Blues pandering pop piece which comes off as trite and ‘My God’ is a dark song obviously against organised religion which starts off interesting but just goes on and on with that blimin’ flute solo, killing any velocity gained. The acoustic intervals define the word “prettiness” but are really insubstantial fluff, resulting in a maddening inconsistent album with moments of sublime greatness. Of course, Tull-fanatics will not care one bit about the flaws and kinks, because this is a better recorded version that the original 1971 version. The limited edition disc also contains short interview snippets which cover themes such as how ‘Aqualung’ is NOT a concept album (okay, you got that!) but a “bunch of songs” and discussing how riffs are really simple using the same permutation of notes. This is all very insightful for fans and non-fans alike to understand the thinking behind the record.

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Review by Nick Collings

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