Review Summary: Chapter 13: In which Anderson learns how to use a synthesizer and forgets how to write a passable melody.
After the release of 1978’s Stormwatch
, Ian Anderson and Martin Barre found themselves in quite a predicament: whether due to death, death-induced depression, or simple personal squabbles, four members of Jethro Tull were forced to leave the band. Furthermore, the relatively stagnant, though still interesting, Stormwatch
proved that the band (which, at this point, was really just a duet) would have to advance in a new direction in order to remain interesting. Frustrated by the problems that faced the band, Ian Anderson decided to release a solo album on which he would embrace new musical technology and experiment with synthesizers. Chrysalis, his record label, however didn’t like this idea very much and insisted that the new record would be released under the Jethro Tull moniker, and thus, A
, a thoroughly mediocre journey into the realms of synth-rock, was born.
Synths aside, most of A
is really just a Jethro Tull album at heart: the jazzy pianos in 4.W.D (Low Ratio)
and the Celtic fiddles in The Pine Marten’s Jig
, to name a few examples, would have fit in with ease on past releases. The problem is, A
is just not a very good Tull album. Theoretically, songs such as The Pine Marten’s Jig
and Working John, Working Joe
should have worked well: both tunes are delightfully energetic, contain folky instrumentation, and show the band trying their hardest to please. However, in the place of catchy and interesting melodies, all we are given is what sounds like a poor Heavy Horses
outtake (one that pales in comparison to the likes of Bouree
and King Henry’s Madrigal
) in the former and dreary Big Brother-related delusions in the latter.
While most of the other songs suffer from the same problems as the above-mentioned examples (Batteries Not Included
and 4.W.D (Low Ratio)
are the worst offenders), it’s true that A
contains one or two worthwhile tunes that, while not saving the album entirely, make it a much less painful listen. Black Sunday
, for example, has an unusual sense of urgency to it, and is all the better for it. Additionally, the energetic Fylingdale Flyer
and melancholy And Further On
are enjoyable listens, as is, to a lesser extent Protect And Survive
. However, aside from Black Sunday
, I can’t see myself ever bothering to return to anything found on this album.
Ultimately, with a couple exceptions, the music found on A
fails to excite, especially when viewed alongside the rest of the band’s catalogue, and the pitifully bad lyrics (Self-appointed guardians of the race/with egg upon their face; Now I'm a working John/and I'm a working Joe/and I'm doing what I know for God and the Economy/Big brother watches over me
) certainly don’t make the album very much more enjoyable. Jethro Tull would improve the formula that they created on this album with the release of it’s successor, Broadsword And The Beast
. As it stands, although, there’s very little interesting to be found here.
And Further On
Postscript: Supposedly, some versions of the physical release come with an additional DVD which contains a series of music videos for the band's back catalog. Unfortunately, I was unable to view all of these, but those that I did see featured gimmicks such as Ian Anderson dressing like a vampire and proving that he cannot lip sync for his life-in other words, these are best viewed while blindfolded.