Review Summary: Welcome to Rock Island, where nothing ever happens.
When Crest Of A Knave
received a surprisingly large amount of praise from critics (who even bestowed upon it a Grammy), Ian Anderson wisely decided that releasing another album in the same vein would not be an entirely worthless enterprise. It’s true that musically, Rock Island
is very much like it’s predecessor: Jethro Tull once again finds themselves playing progressive rock, with especial emphasis very much on the word “rock”. There’s a fundamental difference between the two, although: Crest Of A Knave
was good. Rock Island
, on the other hand, is anything but. The whole album is a throughly pedestrian affair, and never really becomes anything more than the aimless ramblings of Anderson, whose voice is as weak as ever, accompanied by Barre’s energetic, but oddly shallow, guitar playing.
Anderson haphazardly croons about whalers, stolen mandolins, and women of questionable repute, and yet he never manages to entertain, let alone excite, the listener, despite how much Strange Avenues
’s nostalgic references to Aqualung
try to pull on the listener’s heartstrings. The whole album is an exercise in stagnation, with the worst offenders being The Whaler’s Dues
, which spends it’s eight minutes doing absolutely nothing aside from muttering a few uninspired pleas for forgiveness. It’s true that songs like Big Riff And Mando
do see the band occasionally finding inspiration for short (very, very short) spells of ten or twenty seconds, but these offensively brief moments only serve to show how subpar the rest of the compositions are.
Throughout the album’s runtime, Jethro Tull does the musical equivalent of standing absolutely still. None of the melodies are given a chance to develop or progress (hell, most the time there really isn’t much of a melody at all) and thus the album ends up becoming a monotonous bore that, much like Under Wraps
before it, ends up becoming an hour-long blur of toneless muttering, spiritless flutes, and superficial, forgettable riffs.
Truth be told, amidst all this meandering nonsense, there is one somewhat decent song: Another Christmas Song
. This warm, gregarious tune (the direct opposite of it’s prequel, the cynical A Christmas Song
) contains what is probably the album’s only interesting melody. Furthermore, the lyrics, for once not confined to bitter nostalgic rants about the environment or city life, are genuinely heartwarming and touching. Sure, the song never been able to even make it onto any of the band’s five best albums, but it certainly offers a nice break from the monotony of Rock Island
(although the song really is too little, too late).
And so, here we have Jethro Tull’s worst album. Almost entirely devoid of any interesting ideas (or, perhaps, any ideas in general), Rock Island
relies only on the listener’s nostalgia is the least rewarding listen that Ian Anderson attached his name to. Time and time again, Rock Island
proves to be below expectations, and, considering Jethro Tull’s track record at the time and the groan-inducing titles of songs such as Undressed To Kill
, those should be pretty low.
Another Christmas Song
Postscript: The 2006 remaster has three bonus songs: A Christmas Song
, Cheap Day Return/Mother Goose
, and Locomotive Breath
. These are all live versions of the band’s classic material, and while nice, I suppose, nothing here is in any way essential. At this time, remember, the Tull lineup was not particularly strong, and neither was Anderson’s voice. If one were willing to listen to the definitive version of Locomotive Breath
, I infinitely recommend picking up Bursting Out
, by far the band’s strongest live album.