Review Summary: “The weather’s on the change...”Stormwatch
’s album cover always seemed to me to be rather prophetic of Jethro Tull’s near future. A seafarer clad in a mournful black, raindrops dripping from his ragged beard, defiantly and undauntedly gazes through binoculars into the coming tempest, prepared for the approaching storm. This mariner is not unlike Ian Anderson, whose band was on the very brink of collapse by the time that the album was released. Bassist John Glascock was ailed by a cardiovascular disorder that would soon prove to be deadly and cause drummer Barriemore Barlow to fall into a deep depression (one that would ultimately end with his departure from the band). Furthermore, progressive rock would soon fall out of favor and, to stay relevant, Anderson would be forced to adapt to new music trends, throwing in superfluous synthesizers and vocoders into his music. And yet, despite the impending anguish, the band is just about as focused as ever on Stormwatch
, which saw the band leaving the seventies with quite a bang.
Not only did Stormwatch
mark the end of Jethro Tull’s seventies output, but it also concluded their so-called “folk trilogy”. Unlike the first two installments, Songs From The Wood
and Heavy Horses
, which contained light-hearted, pleasant tunes, Stormwatch
is quite dark-in fact, it’s arguably the band’s most somber album. Doleful songs of nostalgia, longing and lamentation find themselves in the place of jolly, pleasant ditties about mice reading books and running on treadmills, causing the album to sound much more serious than it’s precursors.
The change in tone makes Stormwatch
a remarkably (perhaps even deceptively) unique album in Jethro Tull’s catalogue, especially when one considers that the band’s sound remains largely unchanged. The lively flutes, invigorating, yet unobtrusive, strings arrangements, peaceful acoustic guitars, and folky melodies are all still here, and the band still fuses elements traditional English music with progressive rock, but it all seems incredibly different
from what came before.
That said, as refreshing as the change in tone is, the album is grievously marred by inconsistency, much in the same way as Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll: Too Young To Die!
was. Towards the beginning and end of the album, once can find some of the band’s greatest compositions: the appropriately elegiac and mournful Elegy
(the band’s best instrumental save Bouree
) and the longing, lonely Home
, which features some of orchestrator David Palmer’s best work, instantly come to mind, as does Dun Rungill
, one of the band’s best acoustic numbers.
However, the middle half of the album, consisting of Dark Ages
, Warm Sporran
, and Something’s On The Move
, is home to some of Anderson’s most insipid and lifeless songwriting. None of these tunes contain a single memorable melody or riff, aside from the former, which, admittedly, has in it’s nine minute-long runtime a few interesting ideas (they’re stuck among six or seven minutes of meandering drivel, though, so don’t get your hopes up).
Still, despite the fluctuating quality of the songs, Stormwatch
remains quite an interesting album for fans of the band. Not only does it present a darker, more serious side of Anderson’s persona, but it also contains a rather larger amount of compelling, if not incredibly innovative, music. One, however, can’t help feeling that of Jethro Tull’s folk trilogy, Stormwatch
is obviously the weakest link.
North Sea Oil
Postscript: The remaster is, as usual, the way to go with this album. Of the three bonus songs, two (Kelpie
and King Henry’s Madrigal
) deserved to be on the original version of the album, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why Anderson and co. chose to include bores like Dark Ages
when they had such jolly tunes ready for release.
Remastered Edition Recommended Songs
King Henry’s Madrigal