Chrysalis Records, 1991
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/30/2004
So just how long has Jethro Tull been searching for their place in the music industry? In a sense, one could argue that Ian Anderson and company have been on that never-ending road a la Travels With Charley since their debut release in 1968. Tull has constantly re-worked its sound to meet their own criteria, not simply to be pigeonholed into a specific musical genre.
Yet Anderson and crew had found themselves stylistically rudderless since around 1982's Broadsword And The Beast, and a musical environment as stable as nuclear waste wasn't helping their case much. So, on 1991's Catfish Rising, it's not surprising to hear Jethro Tull fall back onto two styles they knew rather well -- edgy rock and introspective acoustic numbers. While it was a marked improvement over their last studio effort Rock Island, it still suggested that Jethro Tull was getting tired.
To be sure, there are some numbers on this disc which should please longtime Tull fans (of which I consider myself to be one), but there's no way that Anderson and his ever-revolving band of minstrels (save for guitarist Martin Barre) were going to revisit Aqualung for the umpteenth time. Tracks like "This Is Not Love," "Thinking Round Corners" and "Doctor To My Disease" all suggested that Jethro Tull could finally be back on the right road. In terms of rockers, these tracks are some of Tull's best work in a long time (not to slight numbers like "Steel Monkey" off Crest Of A Knave). When it's time to turn the volume down a notch, the more acoustic-based tracks like "Roll Yer Own," "Rocks On The Road" and "Still Loving You Tonight" all shine. In fact, for the first half of this album, only "Occasional Demons" falls under the category of weak effort.
Yet Catfish Rising is not able to maintain that level of success; the second half of the disc collapses under its own weight. Musical ideas are repeated so often in songs such as on "Like A Tall Thin Girl" and "Sleeping With The Dog" that the listener has to wonder whether these tracks were thrown on to pad the disc. Where the first half of this album generates the most excitement for Tull in a long time, the second half quickly sounds tired and trite, almost as if Anderson was content to throw together random thoughts he had and tied them up by repeating the song's title several dozen times. As for "Sleeping With The Dog" - one has to wonder just what Anderson was thinking, creating one of the worst tracks Tull has ever cut.
The breaking moment for this disc, though, comes on the track "White Innocence," a song which maybe could have been something pretty had it been about four minutes shorter (and if Anderson didn't keep repeating "white innocence" like a mantra -- dude, enough is enough). This particular track runs out of fresh ideas rather quickly, and ends up sounding like the band kept playing it for lack of anything better to do. Tull once was known for being able to write long songs without having them sound stale right out of the gate. Maybe someone needs to send Anderson a copy of Thick As A Brick to remind him of what he was once capable of.
Make no mistake, there are moments on Catfish Rising that will have you grinning from ear to ear, and it is a step in the right direction for the band. If only that step weren't so tentative.