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15 February 1973
JETHRO TULL 3: DO WE HAVE TO LIVE IN THE PAST?
Living in the Past
Chrysalis ZCH 1035
Who / what is (a) Jethro Tull? Like a pollster in an asylum, you'll probably get every conceivable answer, since Ian Anderson has yet to put the same cast of characters on two successive LPs. Although Living In The Past is no more than a hodgepodge of old English-only singles, EP sides, album tracks and a couple of live cuts, it answers the question fairly well, effectively telling the story of a band that's had as many faces and sounds as Medusa had snakes.
When Anderson, Mick Abrahams, Glenn Cornick and Clive Bunker formed Jethro Tull in 1968, they were an extremely crude outfit that occasionally came on like an amplified Salvation Army band. This Was, though an uneven first release, was lit by frequent flashes of brilliance from Abrahams' guitar and Bunker's drums. 'A Song For Jeffrey' and 'Love Story' represent that segment of Tull's past here, and leave little doubt why the band was once the darling of the American underground. But though their combination of earthy, Muddy Waters-ish street blues and psychedelic pyrotechnics was the order of the day in the immediate post-Cream period, it didn't sit well with purist Abrahams; when the issue of musical direction finally came to a head, he was soon on his way to forming Blodwyn Pig.
The addition of Martin Lancelot Barre plunged Tull deep into heavy rockdom, but hardly into the pit of directionless plodding inhabited by wah-wah wonders who shall remain nameless. Tull's songs became logically constructed, the playing was remarkably tight, and the lyrics were far more than words between jam sessions. They may have relied heavily on repeated riffs, but they were intricate, groin-rattling licks. The magnificent Stand Up was recorded with this Tull alignment, as were numbers like 'Driving Song' and 'Singing All Day'. The latter showcased the band's mellow side — not the contrived introspectiveness of an 'I'm Your Captain', but a touching expression of life's inner joys and sorrows.
But Anderson, ever the perfectionist, felt the band's alignment was too restrictive, preventing the flute and the guitar from exploring their outermost capabilities. So enter an old school chum, John Evan, for the benefit sessions, which worked out so well that Tull No. 3 soon became a reality with his permanent addition. His rollicking piano and calliope-like organ fit in perfectly, allowing the band far more experimentation and versatility than ever before. Tull switched from soft, swaying ballads like 'Just Trying To Be' and 'Wond'ring Again' to hard rockers like 'Teacher' with an ease that defines imagination.
Living In The Past's two live cuts further demonstrate Tull No. 3's complexity and power. Evan showcases his virtuosity on 'By Kind Permission Of', weaving in and out of various classical, blues and neo-jazz themes, paced ever so gently by Anderson's haunting flute. 'Dharma For One' may be slightly restructured ("... which means it's a wee bit louder"), but it rocks out even more raucously than the original. Frequently Anderson and Barre fly off on separate, simultaneous sorties, using the thumping, pounding backing of their fellows as an explosive launching pad. Was it any wonder why these guys were voted "most promising new talent" in a 1970 musician's poll?
But for all its potential, the band was in deep trouble, a schism rapidly forming within its ranks. Bunker and Cornick wanted to stick with solid riff-rock, while Evan and Anderson were dead set on a lighter, airier, less substantial sound. Cornick was the first to go, being replaced by another Anderson crony, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. The change affected Tull's sound drastically; Aqualung's release saw the band's spirit and drive replaced by plodding efficiency and ho-hum competence. For many the album was a bitter disappointment: though it was Tull's first gold LP, it was frequently filed away after only a few listenings.
Bunker's replacement by Barriemore Barlow completed Anderson's coup — he had handpicked his own group of sidemen, proficient but hardly a threat to his control over material. Their output (an EP and the epic Thick As A Brick) has been little more than amplified folkiedom and moralistic pop-rock — a pale shadow of their early work. Where once was a powerful English rock band appeared a pseudo-Socratic troubador with an eclectic band of thespian yes-men.
While it's an admittedly personal preference, I'd much rather have the dynamic 'Back To The Family' than a piece of heinous shlock like 'Up The 'Pool' or a work as emotionally vapid as Thick As A Brick. In his haste to avoid tuneless heaviness, Anderson seems to have forgotten that a little amplified talent was never a crime. Tull once had the talent; this new bunch I'm not so sure about. It sure hurts to lose an old friend, and if Tull doesn't get back on the right track soon. there's gonna be a lot more disappointed folks living in the past.
Thanks to David Pier for this article