Friday, December 4, 2015

Jethro Tull 8: War Child

By now, Ian Anderson had given up stretching a concept across two sides and one “song”, not that he didn’t try. War Child would appear to be merely an album of songs, written by him and performed by Jethro Tull, but given all the time he put into the words, there’s got to be some kind of theme here, right?
Unfortunately, the music doesn’t invite the ear to find it. The title track is a mess of sound effects, to underscore what it meant to come of age after the second world war, and too many saxophones. In “Queen And Country”, saxophones, strings and even accordion fight for space in the arrangement; the brief but effective guitar solo hints at how much better the song could be with less ornamentation. English folk (and flute) come to the fore on “Ladies”, floating along until the incongruous ending. “Back-Door Angels” is full of stops and starts, and underscores the band’s reputation to the uninitiated as sinister. The closing section, with its reference to a court jester, is a thematic setup for “Sealion”, which mocks the human race and performers of any kind with equal disdain.
Side two presumably finds Ian enjoying the cup of tea he was offered at the top and bottom of side one, going into a strum that will conjure comparisons to “Thick As A Brick”. “Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day” is not merely a rewrite, but an actually memorable song that builds and builds. Unfortunately, just as memorable is “Bungle In The Jungle”, which despite a hook of a melody suffers from a contemporary Philly soul arrangement and, frankly, a dopey lyric. This complaint is likely the inspiration for “Only Solitaire”, a brief acoustic piece that skewers rock critics. “The Third Hoorah” is directly related to the title track, but places the action in a switched-on-Elizabethan setting. Finally, “Two Fingers” has some variety, with some terrific guitar parts, but again, we could really do without the sax and accordion.
Each Jethro Tull album demands more patience than the last, and these ears just don’t have it. War Child has its fans and defenders, but there are other places to go if you want the hits. (By now it should be no surprise that the album as released came after failed attempts at a larger project, which was to include a film; some of the outtakes, including “unreleased” carrots from earlier compilations, were included on one remastered CD, and the 40th anniversary brought a whole extra disc with more outtakes, and two DVDs with further archival stuff.)

Jethro Tull War Child (1974)—2
2002 remastered CD: same as 1974, plus 7 extra tracks
2014 Theatre Edition: same as 2002, plus 14 extra tracks (and 2 DVDs)

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