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DISC & MUSIC ECHO
20 March 1971
GOOD HEAVENS, NOW IAN ANDERSON WANTS US TO THINK!
Jethro Tull's new album Aqualung must be their best yet. It reaches new standards in every department. And, because of the theme of the songs on side two, it might cause a bit of controversy. Ian Anderson's thoughts on God and religion are liable to upset some people; he'll probably be accused of being an atheist. But it's not quite like that.
All the songs on side two somehow deal with the concept of God, from a personal standpoint. 'My God', the first track, isn't a song against God, or against the idea of God, but it is against Gods and the hypocritical church of the Establishment; it's a criticism of the God they choose to worship.
It's very dissatisfying to me that children are brought up to follow the same God as their parents. God is the abstract idea Man chooses to worship; he doesn't have to worship. I say he only has to be acknowledged. Children are brought up to be Jewish, Catholic or Protestant just by an accident of birth. I think that's a presumptuous and immoral thing to do.
Religion makes a dividing line between human beings and that's wrong. I think it's very wrong that we are brainwashed at school with a set of religious ideas. It should be up to you to think and make your own decision.
Ian emphasises that he's not saying he doesn't believe in all of it.
I'm not making a violent protest because I'm not that sort of person, but someone's got to take a stand, people have got to get more aware, especially children.
A FUN SONG
The school system is very out of date. When I was in the sixth form I suddenly realised I was on the way to nowhere, except a degree and a job, everything mapped out. Religion at school was something well-meant a hundred years ago but was unrelated to what was going on around me.
Whether you agree or disagree with Ian's ideas you can still enjoy Aqualung on purely a musical basis. Side one starts with the title track. Ian's wife Jennie wrote most of the lyrics.
It's about a rather pathetic character, someone socially degraded. There's something marvellous about that situation. I would like to see the concept of God put into that sort of situation.
'CROSS EYED MARY' is a song about another form of low-life, but more humorous. It's about a schoolgirl prostitute but not in such coarse terms. She goes with dirty old men because she's doing them a favour, giving people what they want because it makes them happy. It's a fun kind of song.
'CHEAP DAY RETURN' is about a day I went to visit my father in hospital in Blackpool. I caught a train at nine, spent four hours travelling, four hours with my father, and four hours to get back again. It was a long song mainly concerned with the railway journey, but the section on the record is about visiting my father. It's a true song.
'MOTHER GOOSE' is completely untrue, it's nonsense. It's the same sort of abstract ideas as 'Cross-Eyed Mary', imagery of 100 schoolgirls all crying; it's full of surrealism. It's amusing.
'WANDERING ALOUD' is a bit of personal nonsense, it's a love song. It's difficult to write love songs if you write songs a lot; love is a separate, personal thing. But this is the most satisfying thing I've made a record of. It's well played and sung quite well. It's a pretty song.
'UP TO ME' is basically an acoustic track, piano and acoustic guitar, with bass, another acoustic and drums and electric guitar over-dubbed.
It's another nonsense one, a song about selfishness.
Side 2 is the religious, or sacrilegious side, depending on your point of view. It starts off with 'MY GOD'.
This is a blues for God, in the way of a lament. So many religions operate as a social service instead of a spiritual one.
'HYMN 43' is a blues for Jesus, about the gory, glory seekers who use his name as an excuse for a lot of unsavoury things. You know, 'Hey Dad, it's not my fault — the missionaries lied.'
'SLIPSTREAM' is a song about dying. It doesn't mean it's the end of the world, but it hints at a life hereafter. There's a line in it, "And you paddle right out of the mess." It's brief and to the point, lyrically and musically.
'LOCOMOTIVE BREATH' is another song about dying, but it's not so serious as 'Slipstream'. It's an analogy of the unending train journey of life, you can't stop, you've got to stagger on. But it's not that serious. All of the songs have an element of humour, and sometimes pure silliness.
'WIND-UP' is a bit deeper, open to interpretation. It's fairly obvious what it's about.
To me it's a well-balanced album, musically. Technically it's better, there is better sound quality and better performances. There's an anti-climactic feeling to a lot of the songs, which I think is good. It should leave you wanting more, instead of ending on rave-up guitar solos and piano arpeggios. I hope it's an album people will want to hear again and again.
* * *
JETHRO MAKE QUITE A CHANGE
Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull succeed in making you want to hear their new album, Aqualung, more than once, because a lot of tracks leave you in mid-air, they end when you are expecting more, and that makes quite a change in these days of heavy, blasting sounds.
The title track is full of surprises with some violent riffs, soft sections, frequent tempo changes, and Anderson's voice sounding like he's on the phone in one part. 'Cross-Eyed Mary' is also unpredictable, it starts fairly gently but builds up powerfully. And the chord patterns ignore all rules, wandering all over the place.
'Cheap Day Return' is one of the tracks that leaves you holding your breath. It's very short, under two minutes, just Ian and Jeffrey on guitars, and you really want it to last longer. 'Wand'ring Aloud' has the same effect, folking guitars strumming in 6/8 with string accompaniment which is hardly noticeable at first. It lets you drop after only 45 seconds.
Jeffrey's laughter is featured at the beginning and end of 'Up To Me' which has a good solo from Martin Barre. 'Mother Goose' is another basically folk thing but with a bit of sinister heaviness.
'My God' is rather sinister as well, especially with a chorus of 'monks' chanting in the middle. The monks are eight Ian Andersons, courtesy of the wonders of multi-tracking. 'Hymn 43' is the only track with a really obvious ending.
'Locomotive Breath' is one of the more powerful numbers with Steve Cropper playing lead. The album ends with 'Wind-Up', the song about the 'brain-washing' school-system, and it's surprisingly a bit Elton John-ish. It's enough to say that this is Jethro's finest album.
Note: Steve Cropper did not play the extra electric guitar on 'Locomotive Breath': Ian Anderson did.