Written on the 26th of March 2014
After thinking about several bands I could write some stuff about, I decided I’ll rack my brains some other day. I’ll just write about the next Jethro Tull album this time. The band started the 70s with Benefit (1970) and their best known album, Aqualung (1971), which actually would make this post a bit too long, soooo… I’ll leave it for next week. Rather short post this week, again.
Benefit is the first album in which the band has a proper pianist. Sure, Ian Anderson did play some piano in the previous album, but always very simple stuff. John Evan, who had previously played with Anderson in The John Evan Band, made it clear that he would only work with Tull for one or two years at the most. Apparently he liked it there quite a lot, because he stayed with the band for ten years, and when he left, it was in “strange” circumstances (I’ll talk about that when the time comes). Evan was famous for his outfit in concerts: white suit, yellow shirt underneath and pink-and-yellow polka dot tie. Not the stuff one would wear for a funeral, I guess. Because of the suit, Anderson would refer to Evan as “everyone’s favourite ice cream salesman” during band introductions in concerts. Evan would do lots of theatrics during concerts and he certainly had a lot of onstage presence, but apparently once he left his piano, he was an extremely introverted and shy man.
It was also the last album for bassist Glenn Cornick. Apparently, he was “invited” to leave the band by Tull manager Terry Ellis. Apparently, while the other band members were, in Anderson’s words, “book-reading, early-to-bed”, Cornick was more of a party animal, so he was growing apart from the rest of the band. A pity, because the guy was extremely talented. It’s funny, though, how many musicians would take drugs around that time, or at least that’s pretty much the stereotype you’ll hear, while Tull members (except Cornick? And later John Glascock was apparently a party animal too) were quiet people who were totally anti-drugs (well, Ian Anderson did smoke like a freaking chimney back then). Actually Anderson didn’t like hippies, as you can read in the answer of the second question of this interview.
About the album… it is loved by die-hard Tull fans, I think mostly by people who were into their 70s stuff. Oh, one of Martin Barre’s favourite albums too. I do like it, but after the colourfulness of its predecessor Stand Up, it’s just kind of dull sometimes. Too gloomy, too thick, I don’t really know how to express it. In words of Ian Anderson, his songwriting became “harder, slightly darker”, maybe because of the “growing cynicism” resulting from his “disenchantment with the music industry and the commercial pressures coming from the record companies”.
The funny thing is that I rarely listen to the album as a whole, because of the reasons I just stated above, but half of the songs are remarkable. The backward-recorded flute sounds amazing in With You There to Help Me, and Nothing to Say and To Cry You a Song are two almost hard-rock tunes (interestingly enough, although Tull’s music is usually rather “soft”, quite a few heavy metal bands have covered some of their songs).
For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me (the third “Jeffrey song”) and Inside, on the other hand, are much softer; the second one particularly puts me in a very good mood. Sossity, You’re a Woman is also acoustic, but, as most of the album, very gloomy.
Some bonus tracks were added in the remastered edition, songs that were recorded, I think, a few weeks before the rest of the album. They lighten up the whole thing quite a lot. Teacher is one of Tull’s catchiest songs, and Just Trying to Be is beautiful in some delicate sort of way. The latter would be included in the Living in the Past album.
Bonus track: John Evan was an extremely talented pianist with a classical music background, and here’s good proof (around 4.00 or so).