Released in April 1970, `Benefit' was Jethro Tull's third album after the successful but unremarkable R&B-themed debut `This Was' and its best-selling follow-up `Stand Up'.
It was on `Benefit' that the band finally found its definitive sound, introducing jazz-influenced syncopated rhythms and changes of pace, more complex song structures and thoughtful, clever lyrics. Flute, acoustic guitar and cascading piano runs share the soundscape with hard rock guitar and a tight but never over-dominant rhythm section. Every track is a star, and the album is a complete listening experience with a distinctive character unlike anything heard before or since; an album you can listen to year after year and always find something in the music you never heard before. It's full of distinctive individual songs, rather than (like the later `Thick as a Brick' and `Passion Play') an attempt at a single-story concept album. The result has more than a hint of that eccentric genius so characteristic of the best English rock music of the period: it stretches the envelope, breaks the rules and is anything but formulaic.
This 2013 `Collector's Edition' is remixed by sound wizard Steven Wilson, who has performed minor miracles with the classic King Crimson `40th Anniversary' series. It's presented in a fine 4-gatefold sleeve with the original vinyl album artwork, with three chunky plastic inserts for the disks (2x CDs & a sound-only DVD) and a fourth slot for a lavish 48-page booklet dominated by a long essay on the history of the recording of `Benefit' by Martin Webb. You also get an exhaustive track-by-track analysis, full details of the 1970 promotional tour, period photos of the band and shorter essays by manager Terry Ellis and Steven Wilson himself.
The first CD is the original album with its 10x tracks, plus 5 bonus tracks:
* Singing all Day * Sweet Dream * 17 * Both the UK and US single releases of `Teacher'
The second CD consists of 16x tracks of `associated recordings' including the promotional single `Benefit' issued to US radio stations in April 1970, and several different recordings of `The Witch's Promise' and `Teacher' together with alternative takes of the originally-released album tracks.
The sound-only DVD offers Steven Wilson's 2013 mixes in DTS and Dolby AC3 5.1 surround & stereo 96/24 LPCM, plus a flat transfer of the original LP master in 96/24 LPCM. The sound quality on the CDs is as clear and wonderful as we have come to expect from Wilson's recent work, but sonically the DVD is the star of the show, especially the DTS. Wilson has resisted the temptation to make everything loud, and the music retains all its glorious dynamics whilst (as he says) "preserving that 1969-70 sound".
All in all, this is an exemplary package of a delightful classic. If you're a younger music fan and don't know Jethro Tull's extensive back-catalog that well, this is a great place to start. If you're a Tull fan, then buying this ought to be a no-brainer.
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