When I was getting into Jethro Tull in the mid-to-late 70s, I was drawn to both the newer albums of the time ('Songs from the Woods', 'Heavy Horses' etc.) as well as the classic earlier albums ('Aqualung', 'Stand Up' etc.), but wasn't sure if buying an album with my prized pocket money with apparently no track listing, and a newspaper for a cover was going to be a major disappointment or not. I'm pleased I took the plunge, because for me it remains their best album and the one I return to even in my older years!
Firstly, the whole thing just flows... from its classic acoustic guitar start through all the guitar and keyboard-orientated sections (some amazingly powerful) and then takes you back home right at the end. Great recurring themes and tunes (very melodic at times), a variety of time signatures, and an engaging lyrical theme - make this not only a Prog Rock concept album masterpiece, but a Classic Rock one too!
Do I follow all the lyrics? - well, not really. But I can see it's about a boy's journey towards adulthood (autobiographical by Ian Anderson?) into the world where freedom is despised and conventionality is praised. In fact, I always think Ian did a better job with this album than Roger Waters did with parts of 'The Wall' in expressing this anti-establishment sentiment.
What the album really benefits from are some really great tunes that stay in your head and have you humming the notes for hours after listening to them (something lacking in the likes of 'A Passion Play' and some later albums). However, I agree with an earlier reviewer that despite this melodic accessibility for a concept album, the album needs to be focussed on (rather than played in the background) to get the most out of it.
On the new CD version itself and in recent interviews, Ian likes to treat it as a humourous attempt to make the ultimate 'tongue-in-cheek' prog rock concept album. Well I just don't buy that (well not all of it anyway) and think for credibility reasons he's trying to distance himself (in hindsight) from what is often a mocked concept by the music industry (to be fair some concept albums deserve it!). The idea of 'creating' a concept might have been a fun one for the band at first, but you only need to listen to the complexity and exhurbence of the playing and most importantly the acidity and bite in Ian's lyrics to know they were well into the concept. Whatever the thinking behind it, it's a 70s masterpiece and well worth a few pounds of anyone's money, especially those younger listeners rediscovering 70s prog via Yes and Genesis reissues or the likes of 'Spock's Beard'. It's just a shame the CD can't give you all the 'Monty Pythonesque' newspaper articles - but long live Gerald 'Little Milton' Bostock (wherever he is!)