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Recent album review #1
Using his touring band to record Slowhand, terms like 'accomplished', 'worthy', 'assured', and 'shit, it's that piece of crap "Wonderful Tonight"' get bandied about.

OK, I'm being unfair - "Wonderful Tonight" is a sincere song, but so soppy and cringe-inducing. Clapton wrote it for his wife and all, and I'm sure she was very pleased. It's actually a lovely tune if I try to ignore the words and the vocals.

J.J. Cale wrote the opening "Cocaine" though, so Clapton manages to get the album off to a strong start. Then "Lay Down Sally" gets things rocking in a gently middle-aged kind of way, followed by the decent mid-tempo country-tinged rocker "Next Time You See Her".

So the album's first four songs are very easy to listen to and enjoy. They may not be cutting edge or exciting, but sometimes I like a bit of easy relaxation, a bit of drifting blissfully to some high-quality, yet completely unchallenging music.

Just as well then, as the next song is so sleepy it's hardly there. Eyes closed, I expect a blues guitar solo played at excruciatingly slow tempo to come up soon. Well, there isn't actually, for "We're All The Way" is just another country song. Very sleepy though, very quiet, if still quite nice in places.

"The Core" is a neat piece of uptempo guitar work and groovy rhythm that's easy to enjoy, featuring female vocals switching lead with Clapton's own vocals - quality stuff and a highlight of the album. Add a version of folkster John Martyn's "May You Never", and we're getting there.

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by Reviewer: Adrian Denning

Posted: Monday 24th Oct 2016 12:57 PM

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Recent album review #2
The early-70's were a time when many bands were aiming to distance themselves from the pop charts, thus they refused to release singles and became 'albums only' bands, as they wanted to be seen as 'serious' artists and not be associated with pop stars, whose music was primarily bought by teenage girls.

It was a time when 'Rock' first emerged as a distinct and weighty genre in its own right, and so the music similarly aspired to be 'artistically weighty' as well (or 'heavy', as it was referred to back then). Thus emerged bands like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath.

Likewise, Ian Anderson sought to distance Jethro Tull from the pop charts, and - to ensure the band was perceived as resolutely 'Rock' - with Aqualung aligned the band's music accordingly, with its weighty themes concerning religion on Side Two, and on Side One social outcasts and misfits such as the homeless vagabond Aqualung, and cross-eyed Mary.

Whilst Aqualung was many people's introduction to the band, and became Jethro Tull's most successful album in terms of sales, also establishing the band as a major act in North America, the album was not so well-received by the band's original UK fanbase.

That's because there's a very marked shift in the band's sound here, away from the complex hybrid of slightly jazzy / slightly bluesie melodic rock of the previous album Benefit, towards the more riff-oriented hard rock sound that was in vogue at the time, a la Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (the latter were fraternising with Jethro Tull, and were likewise recording their fourth album, in the studio next door).

The contrast between Benefit and Aqualung is in fact so great that the two albums could almost be the work of two entirely different bands, and that was of course in a sense true anyway, given all the line-up changes. But although the common denominator of Ian Anderson as principle songwriter, along with his distinctive vocals and flute, ensured some feint sense of continuity in sound, the stylistic shift was so great that - even though critics endorsed the album - it alienated many of the band's original fans.

Critics of course don't pay the bills - fans do - so Anderson's response to such negative reactions was reflected in the follow-up album Thick As A Brick, which stepped back from the hard rock riffing of Aqualung towards the 'conventional' Tull sound, more in line with the expectations of the band's core fanbase.

Anderson's back-pedalling musical gesture on Thick As A Brick was barbed though, with him taking a swipe at the complaints of fans about Aqualung in the very opening lines of the album, his first lyric since Aqualung amounting to a riposte to their negative criticism of that album ... Really don't mind if you sit this one out - my word's but a whisper, your deafness a SHOUT. I may make you feel but I can't make you think. Your sperm's in the gutter, your love's in the sink (and using the crossword technique implied in the album's sleeve-art, switch the last line round to get the true gist of it ... Your love's in the gutter, your sperm's in the sink ... plainly implying that some fans lacked compassion / true love for the likes of homeless people like Aqualung, and were just wankers). Pretty vicious stuff ...

As for myself, I side with the core fanbase, and not those for whom Aqualung was an introduction to the music of Jethro Tull. In my view, the only composition here of any merit is the 4½ star "Mother Goose", as that at least exhibits the characteristics of what was the traditional Jethro Tull sound.

The irritation of longterm fans was further aggravated by the wilfully misleading promotion of Aqualung via the very low-priced double-LP sampler album El Pea, released at the same time and primarily bought by college / university students on a tight budget, as a means to check out new material from their prefered acts, Jethro Tull included ...

The band's contribution to that sampler album was "Mother Goose" - that being the sole track that was typical of the-then familiar Jethro Tull sound, but in fact least representative of the album as a whole. So the band's student fanbase were understandably peeved to discover that - having gone ahead and paid top price for Aqualung on the strength of hearing "Mother Goose" - discovered that the rest of the album in fact bore little resemblance to the Jethro Tull sound they'd previously embraced, instead attempting to emulate 'working class' rockers like Sabbath and Zeppelin, leaving such middle-class fans feeling misled by El Pea and thus ripped-off (Thick As A Brick would very much prove to be a systematic attack on such middle-class values).

Certainly though, when compared to the highly cohesive Benefit, and even the earlier albums This Was or Stand Up - Aqualung is a disjointed, lyrically half-baked, clunky, ugly-sounding record.

That's because the music not only lurches about from track to track, but even within tracks as well. In the former case, the album switches from loud and oppressively doomsy electrics to quite brief whimsical acoustic passages, as represented by "Cheap Day Return", "Wond'ring Aloud", and "Slipstream".

The most well-known song - "Locomotive Breath" - is the only number that morphs successfully, from an attractive bluesie piano intro into a chugging rocker - the rest of the material veers all over the place, in mostly unpleasant ways. The jarring third-rate Black Sabbath-styled riff of the opening title track for example morphs into an acoustic number with megaphone-style vocals, then back again; then there's the weird and thoroughly miserable-sounding monk's chorus that pops up in the middle of "My God" for no apparent reason. And so it trudges on.

The album wears its half-baked artistic pretensions quite literally on its sleeve too, via a series of specially-commissioned paintings by renowned portrait artist Burton Silverman (whose credentials as a social activist were suitably impeccable, having been arrested by the FBI in 1957, due to an association with Soviet intelligence agent / spy William Fisher) ... where Aqualung is portrayed as an evil paedophiliac on the front (for Side One), a Christ-like figure (literally in the gutter, for Side Two) on the rear, and inbetween those two sharp contrasts (on the gatefold version), a ribald medieval drunkard indulging in the pleasures of life.

Lyrically too, the album's artistic aspirations see it attempting to engage in correspondingly 'serious' social commentary on Side One, then philosophical musings about religion on Side Two, the latter supplemented by poorly-composed sleeve-notes on the rear, written in the style of Biblical verses, but possessing about the same level of eloquence and insight as might be expected from a half-assed schoolboy (the lyrics for the title-track "Aqualung" were written by Anderson's then-wife Jennie Anderson, whose photographic studies of homeless men on London's Embankment was the original inspiration behind the album's underlying concept).

I suppose the artwork and lyrics are sufficiently 'weighty' to nominally succeed as intended, at presenting Jethro Tull / Ian Anderson as credible 'artists' (though they were aspects that would be taken to truly ludicrous lengths on the follow-up album Thick As A Brick), but in musical terms, although Aqualung may be Jethro Tull's most successful album saleswise, in my view it's of negligible artistic merit, and - at the end of the day - for me it's the music that counts most, not the sleeve-art, liner-notes, or lyrics.

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by Reviewer: bluemoon

Posted: Monday 24th Oct 2016 3:42 PM

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