Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jethro Tull 9: Minstrel In The Gallery

Clearly, the sound that defines Jethro Tull is the rapidly strummed acoustic, powerful bursts of electric, that flute and that voice, with heavy strings and keyboards. It worked on Aqualung and Thick As A Brick, and nobody else was doing it to such commercial success, so the albums that followed those will always be compared, and dare we say, fall short.
Minstrel In The Gallery sports a wonderful cover, and even sets up the title track to suggest we’re in some castle some centuries back. For the first verses, all we hear are Ian Anderson’s voice(s), guitar and flute, all at once, leaving us to wonder where the rest of the band is. But they do arrive, following a flourish, providing all the pow the kids demand. “Cold Wind To Valhalla” begins the same way, building and impressing, with some scary strings and well-syncopated intervals. “Black Satin Dancer” is doubtlessly set in this century, its descending riff of doom escalating the unease until its prettier coda. The sensitive “Requiem” is nicely closes the side, sad strumming and sympathetic strings.
Side two is dominated by a 16-minute suite, but is bookended by two tracks that might as well be part of it. Despite its redundant math, “One White Duck/010=Nothing At All” is another song of lovelorn depression before we get to “Baker St. Muse” proper, which follows the narrator through his day in labeled sections. That’s nothing new to this band, nor is putting Elizabethan folk touches to a lyrical setting that is certainly present-day. When the singer gets out of the way for Martin Barre to lay down a solo, or another section introduces itself, ears prick up. After he’s seemingly locked in the studio, “Grace” is a 37-second coda given lush ornamentation that might have gone better unlisted or left off.
It’s a dangerous business, navigating a dense catalog by a band with such a fervent fan base. If you’re not normally inclined to prog, there simply isn’t enough time in the day to play catch-up forty years after the fact, so while Tull (or more specifically, Ian) obviously put in a lot of time creating and crafting their albums, Minstrel In The Gallery is like much of their catalog in that it won’t get the same amount of play as their earlier albums. “Accessible” doesn’t have to mean “pandering”, and more bands should try it sometime. (The first expanded CD added five tracks previously available on a now-deleted box set; the deluxe 40th anniversary version included three of those, plus other outtakes, a July 1975 concert, and DVDs of the audiophile material.)

Jethro Tull Minstrel In The Gallery (1975)—3
2002 remastered CD: same as 1975, plus 5 extra tracks
2015 La Grande Edition: same as 1975, plus 18 extra tracks (and 2 DVDs)

2 comments:

  1. You write: “Accessible” doesn’t have to mean “pandering”, and more bands should try it sometime.

    I've read the following sentence a dozen times, and I don't know what it means. Are you saying that Tull is pandering in their desire to be 'accessible," or are you saying that, to their credit, they don't pander, which is why it's difficult to get into later albums?

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    1. Closer to the latter; they give the audience what they want without repeating themselves. I'll know more about the later albums once I've ingested them better.

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