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Customer Review

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tull do World Music - with hit and miss results, 8 Jun. 2008
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This review is from: Roots to Branches (Audio CD)
Nobody ever made themselves popular in the world of music criticism by "coming out" as a Jethro Tull fan. But then, if you're reading this page, you're probably not averse to a riff of hard rock guitar, a bit with a flute, some nasally folk-inflected singing and the obligatory mandolin. In fact, you're probably a Tull fan already and what you really want to know is "Is this as good as their classic '70s stuff?".

The surprising answer is "Yes". Yes it is as good as their '70s stuff. It's certainly a whole lot better than the hard rock cul-de-sac they went down in the '80s. Ian Anderson seems creatively reinvigorated, both through a flirtation with World Music motifs and a return to a classic Tull theme: God, or the lack of Him. This musical Big Concept makes the album similar in style to the '70s big-hitters like Aqualung (grumpy at God) or Heavy Horses (incorporating English folk instrumentation and melodies). All of which is definitely Good News for the seasoned Tull afficionado.

The Bad News is that the album's just not consistent enough. While the best material here could pass for a Thick As a Brick outtake or (even better) suggests a brand new Arabesque direction for Anderson's compositions, there's a fair amount of Tull-by-numbers here too. Okay, none of it as banal as the worst stuff on Catfish Rising or Rock Island but the thing about their great '70s albums was that they just didn't _do_ filler back then.

The opening title track swirls in ominously with Anderson's flutes hinting at desert oases and belly dancers. The lyrics sparkle with sharp, mordant reflections on the world's big faiths. "True disciples carrying the message," he observes, "colour it just a little with their personal touch". Frankly, you don't get that many rock songs satirizing the apostolic creed and after dallying with cod-rock nonsense about Kissing Willies on previous albums, this song is a clear statement of intent: Ian Anderson is back and he has something to say.

The religio-cultural theme is picked up again on Valley. This is another one of those Big Long Songs that Tull traditionally lodge in each album - like My God, Heavy Horses or Flying Dutchman back in the day. There's a nice acoustic lead in, lurching into Martin Barre's trademark crunchy guitar for the angry bits. The lyrics trace the discontents of two river-valley tribes competing for resources, but it's all a cute little metaphor for today's sectarian squabbles in the Middle East (and elsewhere).

The spiritual sister to this song is the epic Beside Myself, a song boasting the same byzantine musical structure as Budapest, back in their Grammy-winning days. This song accurately diagnoses the frustration of the bleeding-heart liberal confronted with the endemic poverty and injustice in some Third World megapolis.

All of this represents Tull doing what they do best: ingenious songs with thought-provoking language, linked to rousing choruses and guitar-hero heavy riffage from Barre. Not everything is carried off so successfully, however. Anderson's dirty-old-man persona makes an incongruous and unwelcome return in Dangerous Veils, where he speculates pruriently about what Muslim women are hiding behind their burqas. Not very nice. Other songs like Rare And Precious Chain or This Free Will thunder and bounce most satisfactorily but behind the world music dressing these are conventional tales of erotic encounters in sweaty foreign climes - a topic that seems to fascinate Anderson in his middle age but leaves all but the most voyeuristic of listeners perplexed (at best) or (at worst) slightly nauseated.

A couple of unusual tracks restore the musical balance. Out Of The Noise joins that respectable Tull roster of Animal Themed Songs. In this case, the beast is a street dog in an Asian city, dodging rickshaws and scavenging for dinner, but wary of ending up the succulent ingredient in some tourist's chow mein. As with Dangerous Veils, Anderson's reactionary stereotyping of Johnny Foreigner is grating, but the music is springy, complex and energetic in the style of Tull in their glory days. The same can be said for Wounded Old And Treacherous, a song which lyrically ticks the thematic boxes (religion = bad) but remains cheerfully obscure, allowing the listener to concentrate on the music, which is a delight. This song channels the ghost of early This Was era Tull, with its jazzy opener and percussive breaks, and Martin Barre's Wagnerian guitar solos looming like a stormhead. Marvellous.

A scattering of songs remain that don't carry any Third World or God Bashing baggage. Of these one, a track called At Last Forever, is simply sublime and probably the most beautiful thing Anderson has written in twenty years. The others, some doggerel about Harry's Bar and being Stuck in Autumn Rain, are forgettable pieces of late-Tull lounge-rock.

So, it's a mixed bag with compositions of real charm and inspiration set against other pieces that veer from the anodyne to the outright embarassing. Typical late-Tull then, except that the strong songs carry the day, the production is warm and enveloping and Anderson is singing crisply and wittily to melodies that fit his now-faltering vocal range.

Overall, the best Tull album since The Broadsword and the Beast, with stand-out moments that can take their place among some of the best songs the band has ever done. Definitely one for the fans - but if you're new to Tull (and you made it this far!) then go try their accessible '70s stuff first, Heavy Horses is as good a start as any.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 24 Apr 2009 12:05:25 BDT
S.R.J says:
Disagree with your comment re 'dangerous veils'-given the current debate around the issue specifically and the wider context, I find the lyrcs qiute prescient really, a has been he case with lots of Tull stuff-however I have no qualms with the rest of your review, which is well put. Ta ta

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jul 2009 18:05:27 BDT
Jonathan says:
Fair point. I used to interpret this song as prurient (Anderson's character wondering if Muslim women are "fit" behind the veils) which I found distasteful. Reading the lyrics more closely, I realise the song is in fact more oblique than that and the "veils" could be interpreted as the barriers of misunderstanding, prejudice and stereotyping that separate people from different cultures. Thanks for making me re-evaluate that song!

Posted on 1 Nov 2009 20:01:25 GMT
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In reply to an earlier post on 1 Nov 2009 20:02:17 GMT
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In reply to an earlier post on 19 Nov 2009 10:38:12 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Nov 2009 08:32:17 GMT
Jonathan says:
Good grief. Do the "low-IQ police" REALLY go around attacking people for using too many big words and telling them to stop it? Well apparently they do. Stephen, I write like I talk. It feels pretty natural and normal to me. I don't think the review was any more wordy or highbrow than something you might get in Mojo or a Sunday supplement (though probably less concise and witty). But even if it was, so what? What sort of inverted snobbery makes it "wrong" to use a wide vocabulary? I can understand someone growing up afraid of "big words" if they were bullied at school by swots or abused by the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary, but if it's just taste, then go read some short, unreflective AC/DC reviews and leave me to my pretentious wordy ones. Live and let live!

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Apr 2012 11:28:19 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Apr 2012 11:31:17 BDT
A.Sturgess says:
Quite right - I did not find your review to be in the least loquacious but, rather, I found it to be lucidly and eloquently illustrative.

Now, if you'd written like THAT, I'd have agreed with S.McKay, but you didn't, so I don't.

Nuff said.
Innit?
Knows what I mean?
Like.

Posted on 17 Aug 2012 04:17:25 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Aug 2012 04:35:48 BDT
mancheeros says:
Yes, 'Dangerous Veils' is a bewitching song and Ian Anderson does seem to be playing a rather ambiguous 'game' here. There is clearly a sexual element - "I'm not inviting a stiff reaction" - but finally he seems to be adopting a respectful attitude to this somewhat exotic and mysterious woman. "Sister, silent to the likes of me" suggests that the woman is unattainable to a westerner, who approaches her at his peril (therein lies the danger and also the allure) since she is bound by strict religious tradition. The song's title is also a teasing reference to the Dance of the Seven Veils. It's a thoughtful lyric and very carefully weighted. I think the lyrics on this album are especially insightful. Definitely a return to form.

Posted on 8 Jun 2016 19:39:05 BDT
Jonathan: a beautifully written review. I am finally getting round to going through the JT back catalogue after ignoring them for 50 years, and your review is the the most descriptive, helpful and lucid I have yet come across for any of the JT albums. I *really* want to listen to it now. Well done, sir. Your comments greatly appreciated.
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Jonathan
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Location: UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 2,125