Written on the 5th of February 2014
Everyone who knows me has no doubt that my favourite band is Jethro Tull. I guess I’m pretty much a JT freak, so it’s just a matter of time before I write about them… probably three, four or five posts… however I want to write about Ian Anderson solo albums first.
Back to today’s musician! Ian Anderson, for those who are totally unfamiliar with the stuff I’m talking about, is Jethro Tull’s singer, flutist, acoustic guitarist, multiinstrumentalist in general (I’ve heard the guy also play piano, saxo, electric guitar, bass guitar, bouzouki, drums…), and absolute showman. He’s composed tremendously complex music, and his lyrics (although I often don’t really care much about lyrics in music) are often very intelligent and kind of poetic. By the way, about the complexity thing, I guess his solo efforts are slightly “easier for the ear”, if you know what I mean.
He was born in Scotland in 1947 and moved to England when he was twelve. He started a band with some childhood friends in 1963, called The Blades, which didn’t last long. Those friends would be members of Jethro Tull at some point, though. In 1967 Tull was born, and while they’ve never totally disbanded, Ian Anderson has found time to produce a few solo CDs.
Anderson has four solo albums, if we exclude Thick As A Brick 2, which, although it’s supposedly a solo effort, has a very Tullish sound to me. My blog, my rules, TAAB 2 is Tull stuff, end of the story. Oh, and he’s apparently going to release another album in April, can’t wait!
Ok, I’m done with the little introduction, to business, to business! The first, and worst, of those albums, is Walk Into Light (1983). It was released at a time when Jethro Tull stopped releasing one album per year (1983 was the second year without a Tull album since 1968), and also a time when the band started making very 80s-welovesynths-pseudoelectronicrock music. This album is no different, with Peter-John Vettese (who was a Tull member then) on keyboards and co-writing half of the songs on the album (he’s a big reason for the electronic era of Jethro Tull).
The album is overloaded with heavily electronic keyboards and the other instruments barely tiptoe throughout the whole thing. Half of it is totally forgettable, and the other half, although catchy, is nowhere near the variety, complexity and brilliancy of Jethro Tull’s previous music (I told you I love the band!). Fly By Night, Made In England, Walk Into Light and Different Germany are the only songs that are really worth listening to.
Fortunately for many (at least for me), Mr Anderson would soon wake up from his synths fever. Four years after this, he would prove that he still could make great music; however his next solo effort wouldn’t see the light until 1995. But oh, what an effort.
Divinities: Twelve Dances With God, even if it has some songs in which it’s a bit easy to stop paying attention, is an absolute masterpiece. In fact I’m getting overexcited and I don’t know where to start. Hm. Ok, first of all, the album is totally acoustic, or rather orchestral. Forget about electric guitars or anything like that; the instruments played are the following: different kinds of flutes, keyboards (not the 80s electronic style ones, thank God), percussion, clarinet, oboe, violin, cello, harp, french horn and trumpet. Ian Anderson doesn’t sing at all, which I don’t really mind, as his voice was already screwed by then.
The album opener, given its title (In A Stone Circle), reminds me of a foggy dawn in Stonehenge where the mist slowly disappears until the sky is a clear blue. Slow song that makes you little by little more curious about the rest of the album. Here, as well as in the whole CD, Ian Anderson doesn’t play the flute in his usual harsh style which has been so acclaimed in many Tull albums, but rather in a much smoother one, which suits these songs much better.
Many songs in this album are fantastic. In Sight Of The Minaret has a cool Arabic touch, In A Black Box reminds me of a circus, In Maternal Grace is a really sweet lullaby, En Afrique… well, I can’t help thinking about Africa. In The Pay Of Spain doesn’t really remind me of Spain, though…
The last song, In The Times Of India (Bombay Valentine), is a really mood-lifting piece that intelligently uses the opener’s melody in the second half of the song to disappear little by little leaving the listener with the feeling of having finished a worthy, somewhat spiritual album.
Anderson’s next solo project was The Secret Language of Birds. There are some differences with the previous album, mainly that all of the tracks (except Boris Dancing) feature Anderson’s voice, shaggy, but still decent, as it was a studio album and not a two hour concert. Also, while it’s still an acoustic album, it’s not the same orchestral stuff. You may hear a violin here and there, but this time most of the work (at least the colorful one) is done by Anderson’s flute and acoustic guitar, another instrument he masters. Interestingly enough, a barely twenty-year-old Ian Anderson gave up putting much effort into learning the secrets of the electric guitar because he thought he’d never be as good as Eric Clapton.
The music here, although consistent, is not really pretentious, but rather a nice and calm bunch of sometimes ethnic flavored songs to enjoy in a summer day while laying on the sofa. The flute in Postcard Day is absolutely refreshing and I’d say it makes this song my favourite track of the album.
I’d also like to highlight Aside, Sanctuary, The Habanero Reel and Circular Breathing. The first is a little ninety second piece which… well, I just like it, what can I say! I guess it’s nothing special for others. The second is tremendously peaceful (the violin was a nice touch indeed, Ian!). The Habanero Reel rocks because the accordion plays an important part, enough said. It talks about… capsicum. Spicy stuff. For food, I mean. As I said, don’t take the album too seriously, just relax and enjoy. Finally, Circular Breathing is one of the only songs where you don’t miss Ian Anderson’s 70s voice. His then weak (and nowadays sadly weaker) voice kind of fits the music.
Last but not least comes Rupi’s Dance. It’s basically another few flute-and-guitar based, generally acoustic tunes (the electric guitar is only heard is only heard in Lost In Crowds, if I’m not mistaken). However, while I described the previous CD as a summer-ish album, this one sounds more like winter music, at least most of it. Wrap yourself in a blanket and stuff like that.
I’ll unveil one of my darkest secrets now. Eurology is my pre-party song. I know, I know… I guess I’m weird and proud about it? It just makes me start dancing around like a (stupid) madman. Actually, that’s what I do while I put on my clothes. One day I’ll break my neck while trying to put on my trousers and jump around at the same time.
Old Black Cat is proof that Ian Anderson can describe grief and sadness perfectly. It’s amazing how a song about (the death of) an apparently bland cat makes you want to cry over a cat you’ve never had; the helplessness with which he sings here is almost pitiful. Anderson has always loved cats and I think I’ve read that this song was indeed about a cat he had.
Forgot to give his Christmas present.
Black cat collar, nice and new.
Thought he’d make it through to New Year.
I guess this song will have to do.
There are two more songs I want to talk mention. Griminelli’s Lament is a beautiful two-fluted composition dedicated to his friend (and flutist) Andrea Griminelli. Finally, Two Short Planks is a smile-maker epilogue for a very pleasant album. Again, it contains some delightful flute playing. It reminds me of my hate-hate relationship with tax law, though…
So these are Ian Anderson’s solo albums… one of these weeks I’ll start with Jethro Tull, however I’ll try to write about some other music first, as Tull will take quite a few weeks. Or maybe I’ll do one week Tull, next week non-Tull. Meh, I’ll see.
Bonus track: Ian Anderson in one of his flute playing frenzies. He’s the man.