Written on the 2nd of April 2014
Good Heavens, now Ian Anderson wants us to think! Headline from Disc & Music Echo about the album Aqualung. If you know Jethro Tull, you know this album, as it’s the one casual fans know (maybe Thick as a Brick too). It’s an excellent album, although not my favourite. I guess saying Aqualung is the best Tull album would be too mainstream and I’m too hipster for that? Actually I’m not sure I have a favourite, six or seven of their albums are just too good and I can’t choose.
Regarding the lineup, Glenn Cornick, as I said in the last post, had left, and Jeffrey Hammond replaced him. Poor Jeffrey was baptized as Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond by Ian, as his mother’s maiden surname was the same as his father’s. No blood bonds between them, mind you. Also, John Evan couldn’t resist it and became a permanent member of the band.
This album may not be as diverse as Stand Up, but it still combines very rocking songs with sweet and soft two-minute “quickies”. Although perhaps the real twists are inside the songs, and not from song to song, Aqualung and My God being good examples of this.
The lyrics… I’ve mentioned a couple of times I usually don’t care much about them, right? However, this album, particularly the second half, has some very interesting ones… I’ll get there a bit later.
So, first song, title track, probably best known song the band has ever produced. And still my Tull-hipster side doesn’t allow it to be my favourite. Aqualung (I mean the character, not the song) is a homeless paedophile. Sweet, huh? The idea came to Anderson thanks to some photographs his then-wife Jennie took of homeless people on the Thames Embankment. A man in particular caught the interest of the couple, who wrote this song together. It’s actually the only song of the album that doesn’t features lyrics written in their entirety by Ian Anderson.
Best part of the song? The solo. Yes, the guitar solo is simply awesome, I think it’s the 25thbest guitar solo ever according to the magazine Rolling Stone. Not that I care much about what those guys say, I disagree with most of the stuff I’ve read there (haven’t really read much from them). But this particular solo is great. I’ve read somewhere that Martin Barre recorded a few attempts for it but it was finally the first one that made it into the song. There’s a tiny moment when Martin stops playing and apparently it was to wave his hand at Jimmy Page, whom he had just seen.
The rest of the song is pretty good, and I love the changes in the tempo and the mood (slow stard- slow but kind of lighter- faster- awesome solo- back to the slow start). However, there’s quite a big bunch of Tull songs I like more than this one. Anyway, without further ado, here’s the song, for those who don’t know it:
Then comes Cross-Eyed Mary, a song about a schoolgirl prostitute. Sweet stuff again. Aqualung has a little “cameo” in the song, by the way. The track starts with a very Tullish intro (can’t think of a better way to describe it), a wavy flute melody accompanied by Evan’s mellotrons that slowly turns into a proper rock song with a very catchy riff.
After the first quickie of the album (Cheap Day Return) and Mother Goose (a filler, but in this album even fillers are very good) comes the second quickie, a beautiful love song, a proper love song, not one of these cheap I’m-horny-for-you songs, dammit. Wond’ring Aloud sounds almost weird compared to the thematic of so many other Tull songs, but oh it’s so sweet.
After the second filler, Up to Me (again a good song), it’s time for serious stuff. This album deals with God and religion, but it’s not until My God where this really happens. Amazing song, both instrumentally and lyrically. Ian Anderson wastes no time criticizing the Church (well, at least the English Church… “the bloody Church of England”) and people’s hypocrisy (People what have you done/ Locked Him in His golden cage/ Made Him bend to your religion/ Him resurrected from the grave… brilliant). Lyrics like these made the album be censored for a little while in Spain, which had a dictatorship at the time. If I’m not mistaken, there were a couple of tracks that didn’t even make it then, I’m not sure which ones, though.
Musically, the song’s great too, as I said. It starts slowly, gloomily, darkly, and then, before you know it, it has turned into some kind of hard rock. But when you’re slowly assimilating it, Ian Anderson has gone wild with the flute and is spitting sounds like a madman while some strange Russian choirs are heard in the background. Finally, back to rocking hard. It’s a true work of art.
The next song is Hymn 43 (ah, thank God John Evan was there!), again talking about the hypocrisy of organized religion (Oh Father high in Heaven/ Smile down upon Your son/ Who’s busy with his money games/ His women and his gun). Very catchy indeed.
Then comes the last quickie, Slipstream, which I don’t really care much about to be honest, it’s more like a bridge between the previous song and Locomotive Breath, maybe the best known Jethro Tull song after Aqualung. There are a few things to say about this song. First of all, lyrics. They talk about an unavoidable train wreck, which is in fact the portrayal of a man’s life falling apart. There are few covers; I’ve only heard the one by W.A.S.P., and I didn’t really like it much.
A funny thing happened with this song. Ian Anderson wasn’t really being able to communicate his musical ideas about the song to the rest of the band, so he had to record, apart from his usual flute and vocal parts, some bass drum, hi-hat, acoustic guitar and electric guitar, and then John Evan did the piano parts and Bunker and Barre finished the drums and guitar parts. In conclusion, most of the parts of the song were recorded separately, being put together with overdubs.
The bluesy piano intro is great, and some live versions feature an explosive combination of Evan’s piano and Barre’s guitar. Also, Ian’s flute solo is one of his best known. Killer song, it usually ends the band’s concerts. The studio version is cool but some live versions are seriously too good, so here’s one of the second (plus a nice John Evan piano almost-solo plus some cool instrumental stuff).
The last song is Wind Up, where Evan does some more nice piano work. Anderson criticizes his religious education here. Great lyrics again (So I asked this God a question/ And by way of firm reply/ He said “I’m not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays”/ So to my old headmaster (and to anyone who cares)/ Before I’m through I’d like to say my prayers/ “I don’t believe you: you got the whole damn thing all wrong/ He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.”).
Again, there are some twists inside the song, which starts in a very peaceful way and then turns into a catchy rocker, as a few other songs in this album. All in all, an excellent recording, and I think that after writing all this, it’s time to give Aqualung another well-deserved listen.
Finally, as I write in every post, there’s this little facebook group for this blog with almost nobody in it, but hey it’d be nice to discuss music there. I write the links for all posts and some random songs from time to time.
Bonus track: ok I just happened to find another Locomotive Breath cover. It’s impossible to beat the original, but it’s not bad either.
There’s one last thing I’d like to say. I made a pretty big mistake in Ian Anderson’s solo music post. I wrote Andrea Griminelli is dead, and well, he’s not. Somebody (thanks!) pointed it out a few days ago. So, if you see any mistakes, I apologize in advance, and please let me know so I can correct them.