Review Summary: Complex, eclectic, and beautiful, Aqualung is the quintessential Jethro Tull album.
In the climactic moments of Edgar Allan Poe’s A Descent Into The Maelstrom
, a young fisherman and his bother sit atop the titular vortex. They stare into the abyss, prepared to take a life-changing plunge into the depths, unsure of their fate. After the release of Stand Up
, an eclectic melting pot of various styles, and Benefit
, which saw the band dabbling in folk music, Jethro Tull was in very much a similar predicament. The British blues band found themselves about to make what may be the defining decision of their career: they were about to throw themselves into the chasm known as progressive rock.
Jethro Tull still didn’t entirely
get into progressive territory (although the unpredictable stylistic changes of the title track, among other such moments, occasionally seem to indicate otherwise), but the band is now not only more comfortable with experimenting than on previous albums, but is also not afraid to make more daring gambles. While Stand Up
certainly did see the band flirting with different styles, Ian Anderson and his jovial jongleurs never before were bold enough to do something like writing a gospel song or playing a prolonged flute solo with no accompaniment aside from a Gregorian chant.
The constant experimentation results in Aqualung
being the most diverse album of Jethro Tull’s career. Bold, hard-rocking tunes such as Locomotive Breath
finds themselves among songs such as the folky, playful Mother Goose
and the tender, affectionate Wond’ring Aloud
(arguably Tull’s most beautiful composition). With no warning, guitarist Martin Barre’s vibrant electric onslaught can give way to calm, acoustic chords or zestful, effervescent flute leads. And yet, despite the incredible variety of moods and genres mingled on Aqualung
, the album never feels disjointed or incoherent.
What’s surprising about Aqualung
is that the large, sprawling compositions, such as the title track and Wind Up
, are in no way the most captivating. Indeed, the focal points are actually the brief, mellow pieces crammed in between the more complex songs. As awe-inspiring as My God
may be, even it can’t hold it’s ground against the minuscule Cheap Day Return
’s irresistible, nostalgic melody or Slipstream
’s wistful, evocative tune, accompanied by Anderson’s most elegiac and touching lyrics.
is Jethro Tull’s finest moment. The first portion of the album consists of descriptions of six various personages: a benevolent, kindhearted nurse, a youthful woman of questionable repute, a grimy, perverted old man, and many other characters appear for us to observe. While the lyrics on the first half of the album are certainly interesting and fit the music well, the band’s lyrical genius really shines on the succeeding part, which is about Anderson’s views on religion. Notwithstanding his belief in the existence of a supreme being, the spirited singer expresses a strong disapprobation of organized religion. Despite the subject mater of the songs, it rarely seems like Anderson imposes his beliefs upon the listeners and, fortunately, the lyrics are lighthearted and humorous enough to not bore those that couldn’t care any less about faith.
, Jethro Tull finally created an entirely satisfying album. Catchy, diverse, and daring, it’s unsurprising that the album was the band’s most successful album. And yet, despite this accessibility, Aqualung
manages to be complex and intelligent. The following year, Anderson and his bold balladeers would take the plunge into progressive rock, creating their masterwork, Thick As A Brick
. As it stands, Aqualung
not only shows a band on the brink of revolutionizing the genre, but is an incredibly enjoyable and essential album.
Cheap Day Return