War Child

Jethro Tull

Chrysalis Records, 1974

http://jethrotull.com

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/20/2004

After two albums that were essentially album-length songs, Ian Anderson and crew return with songs of a more manageable length. War Child picks up where Aqulung left off, with Anderson returning to a familiar lyrical tack reminiscent of songs from Aqualung, with highly metaphorical commentaries on war, government, religion, and the plight of everyman. This album has always been a personal favorite of mine, and despite poor reviews (reviewers are idiots anyway, right?), it was well received in the U.K, but more coolly in the U.S. The songs are very strong and two of the songs, "Bungle In The Jungle" and "Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day," are Tull standards that are a regular part of their live arsenal, and always appear on the many Tull compilations that seem to be released about one per month. Some criticism alludes to a less powerful album, when compared to Aqualung. If this is the case, War Child makes up tenfold in powerful arrangements what it may or may not be missing lyrically. Personally, War Child stands up to any Tull album in my book.

Musically, the band at this stage in their career is one that has found a comfortable union with its musical identity, and uses that to good effect, creating masterful compositions to accompany Anderson's highly cryptic and dense lyrics. Their unique melding of progressive rock, jazz, and Euro-centric folk music had by now fallen fast and firm on the ears of it's growing fans, essentially creating a genre of its own. Truly, there is no other band that comes remotely close to their style and over 30+ years, they have maintained always at minimum a nuance of that core sound, no mater how far afield their inspiration takes them. Much of this album was intended for a film score for a film that was never made, but the songs retain a bit of the instrumentation one would expect from songs written for film. They deftly use strings and other orchestral accompaniments in a powerful yet restrained manner, giving the arrangements a full, lush sound without overpowering the core sound of the band.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The title track is not-very subtle euphemism for the young men, some almost children, which we send off to war. With the sounds of bombs exploding in the background, Anderson sings merrily about the adventures that await young men of arms. The juxtaposition of the upbeat melody and the lyrics is both ironic and twisted. War is a common theme throughout the album. On the anthemic "Queen And Country" it continues, with a tale of soldiers far from home, reveling in the bountiful pleasures that are the fortunes of war, while wrestling with homesickness and the death that surrounds all men of arms. Tull uses what sounds like a full-blown orchestra to create the appropriate degree of pomp and majesty to support the lyrics.

The only hit single, "Bungle In The Jungle," has become a classic radio staple. Behind the tongue in cheek puns, Anderson uses his gift for words to create a multi-leveled commentary on big business, God and modern city life. (I told you his lyrics were dense). Often dismissed as superficial, the jungle metaphor aptly describes Anderson's conceptualization of Darwinian theory applied to modern society. On a deeper level, he again examines the nature of God and His machinations, "He who made kittens put snakes in the grass."

On the lighter side, "Ladies" is a beautifully arranged acoustic song with Anderson doing some of his best vocal work. The strongest piece of this set is another quieter number, the classic "Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day," which is a staple of their live show. Anderson's rather bitter look at life -- "Well, do you ever get the feeling that the story's too damn real and in the present tense? / Or that everybody's on the stage, and it seems like you're the only person sitting in the audience?" -- is masked behind a lovely arrangement featuring acoustic guitar and accordion.

The album closes with two of my favorite Tull songs, the rollicking "Third Hurrah," in which Tull applies every musical instrument known to man to create a huge sound, and the smirking "Two Fingers," which revisits two of Anderson's favorite themes, God and death.

"I'll see you at the Weighing-In, when your life's sum-total's made. And you set your wealth in goodly deeds against the sins you've laid"

The "weighing-in" being the holy judgment that may or may not await us all when we die. The suggestion being that we'd better have made our contribution at church before we depart this life, or we'll end up in the cheap seats ("He'll say, 'You really should make this deal' as he offers round the hat").

Personally I put this right up there with Aqualung. This is an album every Tull fan should own.

Rating: A-

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