Tull continues to cement their style halfway between “heavy music” and folk on Benefit. There was no elaborate gatefold this time, though the simpler cover does play off the “stand up” concept from before. (They did gain a full-time piano player in John Evan, who ably fills in behind the heavy riffing.)
With a flurry of backwards flutes, “With You There To Help Me” sets the tone, and it’s surprising that this didn’t get more play on the FM stations where we grew up. But it’s “Nothing To Say” that is a true harbinger of the next album, specifically its title track. “Inside” skips along, transplanted from side two on the American LP. (The British version eschewed “Teacher” for a track we’ll cover soon enough.) “Son” begins fairly insistent and heavy, then fades somewhat abruptly, giving way to a folkier interlude before it gets heavy again. “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me” is the second instance on this blog where the third member of the Apollo 11 crew gets a namecheck—this time alongside the third Jeffrey in as many Tull albums. It seems to provide a quieter respite at the end of the side, until the chorus crashes in.
Side two serves up more of the same in “To Cry You A Song”, layered electric guitars in harmony, soon reminiscent of Blind Faith, but with a stop-start verse that is trademark Tull. The flute comes back in full force on “A Time For Everything?” without getting too nutty. As mentioned, the Americans got the single “Teacher” in the middle of side two, and it’s easily the catchiest thing yet heard on a Tull album. (We also wonder if Elvis Costello realizes where he got the hook of “Girls Talk” from.) “Play In Time” is a carrot for headbangers, with lots of tape effects (sped up and backwards, to Frank Zappa’s horror) to add to the feeling of unease. As with side one, we end with a more acoustic reverie. “Sossity; You’re A Woman” has an almost medieval feel, which the lyrics soon betray.
Throughout Benefit the riffing is pretty basic, making many of the songs sound alike, hence our rushed summary. It’s no grand statement—they weren’t at that stage yet—but even its sameness avoids embarrassment.
Jethro Tull Benefit (1970)—3