Coined in a period of the 1970s when too many rockers were having trouble dealing with turning 30, Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll: Too Young To Die! itself is a clever phrase that would become all too apt as more musicians left the planet. But while one might expect the album to describe the rise and fall of a rock star, the story instead opens on a guy who’s already a has-been, finds his way to another plateau of fame and/or fortune, meets disaster, then emerges into an unknown but not hopeless future. All this is only determined via reading the album’s liner notes, which exist in the form of a comic book-style spread in the gatefold. The protagonist bears a mild resemblance to Ian Anderson, who has long insisted that Ray Lomas is not based at all on him.
We’ll leave others to sort out the concept, its execution and delivery; there was even an attempt at a TV special where actors played out scenes while the band played (now available in a deluxe reissue package). What’s important to us is how it sounds coming through speakers. On that basis, the album’s just fine. It opens with a melody soon to be recognizable halfway through the other side as the title track, and like most everything the band became best known for, exudes baroque pomp. Soon enough the strummed acoustic gives way to heavy electric and staccato flute, with gratefully little of the trendy synthesizers of the day. Ian’s voice is most often treated to that “bathroom echo” sound, which suits him as well as it did John Lennon.
The title track is the best-known song here, but that doesn’t make it the best song period. Hindsight has us thinking that the little classical lines played on strings, mandolins and guitars sound too much like one of Elton John’s parodies of the style, particularly when the chorus kicks into a ‘50s-style raveup for the big climax. (We’ll go further on a limb and compared “The Chequered Flag”, the grand finale, to Elton as well; it’s practically adult contemporary.) The stark and folky “Salamander” and “Bad-Eyed And Loveless” are welcome changes of pace, and “Taxi Grab” has some honking harmonica that recalls the band’s first albums. On songs like those, and even the more complex “Pied Piper”, there’s less of an obvious attempt to be profound, and just to play decent.
Jethro Tull Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll: Too Young To Die! (1976)—3
2002 remastered CD: same as 1976, plus 2 extra tracks
2015 TV Special Edition: same as 2002, plus 24 extra tracks (and 2 DVDs)