Released in 1970, Benefit is an album that is sometimes lost and overshadowed when placed among other Jethro Tull albums. Fans at the time were most likely a little disappointed by quality of Benefit in comparison to their previous album Stand Up. And soon after It was released, the pure genius of their most popular album to date, Aqualung took anyone except the biggest of Tull fans' minds off of Benefit. At the time and partly because of the great success of Stand Up, the album sold quite well. However, these days you cannot find the original version in stores. You will instead find a version with the songs Singing All Day, Witch's Promise, Just Trying to Be and Teacher. To be honest, I bought this album more for the bonus tracks than for the songs that are actually on the album. Nonetheless, any fan of Jethro Tull will find Benefit to be an enjoyable and worthwhile listen.
The band members at the time were:
Ian Anderson: flute, vocals
Martin Barre: electric guitar
Glenn Cornick: bass guitar
Clive Bunker: drums
John Evan: piano and organ
Benefit marked the start of John Evan's career with Jethro Tull. He relieved Ian Anderson from his duties on the piano and organ and freed him up to focus on his singing and flute playing. He also could share the burden of playing melodic rhythms with Martin Barre who was free to write more elaborate and creative leads on guitar instead of "banging out chords" all the time according to Ian Anderson. In latter day albums this arrangement proved to be an amazing combination but perhaps the members of Jethro Tull were still trying to develop good group chemistry. Amongst many of the hard blues rockers of the day, Jethro Tull's sound on this album was very distinct and some would say revolutionary.
The album is a spectrum of sounds and moods. Hard rocking at times, melodic, powerful, creepy, haunting, and dark. Many of the lyrics are deep and depressing. Basically, sounds like Jethro Tull!
It begins with You There To Help Me, a dark, haunting ditty that drones along in a pleasing manner. Martin Barre's electric guitar leads are fiery and bluesy; Ian Anderson's vocals are top-notch in the context of the song. The singing goes from what sounds like monks chanting to straight up rock singing. This song definitely has some of the best flute playing from Ian Anderson whose flute playing is smooth and melodic and almost sounds like it's laughing (I don't know whether this is an over-dub or a weird effect but I like it). Definitely one of the stronger songs on the album.
The next song, Nothing To Say is also very impressive. Opening with Martin Barre's electric guitar and breaking into an acoustically driven section which focuses on the vocals and the lyrics, the song definitely grabs your attention/ This song is great to groove and chill to. The next 2 songs, Alive and Well and Living In and Son are upbeat and rocking but not without acoustic breaks and plenty of flute! Son sounds like a shot at Ian Anderson's father. He depicts the father who is singing as an old, insensitive relic who uses phrases such as "when I was your age amusement we made for ourselves". Whether this is a shot at Ian Andersons father or not, it sure is cynical. Don't ever change, Mr. Anderson! That's the whole reason I read your lyrics. Both are good songs but not quite up to standard of songs like Aqualung.
For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and me is supposedly about being left behind. Michael Collins was an astronaut who didn't get to be on the Apollo XI (which must really have sucked but then again, Ian freaking Anderson put him in a song! That's better than all of the moon trips ever +1) and Jeffrey was a friend of Ian who didn't get to be in 'Tull. It begins calmly with acoustic guitars and a compelling melody. The chorus is faster and not very good sounding compared with the rest of the song. I think that they could have come up with something better for that part. The next song, To Cry You a Song is solid with some neat guitar riffs.
A Time For Everything and Inside are good songs but they kind of get lost in the album and aren't very noticeable. Play in time has an excellent beat and is probably the hardest rocking song on the album. The drumming is crushing for a song that was written in 1970. Clive Bunker kicks ass (although more in later albums); no doubt about it. The last song has a nice acoustic melody and is a good song to end an album with.
In retrospect, Benefit is a very good album. However with albums like Stand Up, Aqualung and Thick As a Brick, it gets overshadowed. I would recommend this album to a seasoned fan of Jethro Tull.