Stormwatch

Jethro Tull

Chrysalis Records, 1979

http://jethrotull.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/23/2004

If there ever was a negative definition of a "transition album," it would have to be applied to Stormwatch, the 1979 release from Jethro Tull.

This transition was not the fault of band leader Ian Anderson. During the tour for Heavy Horses, bassist John Glascock became too sick to perform, and eventually had to undergo open heart surgery. It was hoped that Glascock would recover to be a viable part of the band again when it came time to record the next album but, alas, Glascock's health became worse. He appears on only three of the songs on Stormwatch, and passed away in 1979 at the age of 28. (To the best of my knowledge, at the time of this writing, Glascock was the only member of Tull to die.)

So, with Anderson taking over most of the bass work (along with vocals, flute and acoustic guitar), Stormwatch was recorded -- and much of the music sounds like it was written with a very heavy heart. In a sense, this helps to produce some of the most beautiful music that Jethro Tull has ever recorded. While the album is still a little tentative, it does have some fantastic moments.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

I have to, at this stage, give severe props to the song "Dun Ringill." Had it not been for the Slipstream home video, I might have forgotten about this track at a young age. But after watching the video for this song, it has never left my conscience. If I were to name my favorite Jethro Tull song, it would have to be this simple, acoustic guitar-driven song.

Yet after digging Stormwatch out of the depths of the Pierce Memorial Archives, I have to admit there are other songs which come very close to "Dun Ringill" in terms of sheer beauty. One is "Home," a song that seems to take on an entirely different meaning with the knowledge of Glascock's death. (It's only fair to note that Glascock died after the release of the album.) Likewise, the album's closer "Elegy" suggests a mournful mood, despite the power and loveliness of the arrangements.

In a slightly different vein, the instrumental "Warm Sporran" has a more upbeat mood to it, and also stands out among the tracks on this disc.

Yet Stormwatch does have its tentative moments. "Dark Ages" tries hard to be the focal piece of the disc, but it doesn't quite feel like it's strong enough to carry that momentum. Likewise, "Orion" is a respectable enough effort, but it seems to suggest that Jethro Tull didn't quite know which way to take their music, especially in a time when the whole definition of popular music was in flux.

This is by no means suggesting that Stormwatch is a weak album. Tracks like "North Sea Oil," "Flying Dutchman" and "Something's On The Move" all show that Anderson and company still knew how to keep the listener's attention and how to write quality songs.

This disc turned out to be a farewell for more than just Glascock; also making their final appearances with Tull were David (now Dee) Palmer, John Evan and Barriemore Barlow, thanks to the corporate decision to make Anderson's planned solo album in 1980 the next Jethro Tull disc. Fortunately for these players, they make their swansongs on a high note.

It really isn't fair to Anderson and crew that Stormwatch is one of their most ignored albums in the modern day. It seems like if a disc doesn't have a song which is overplayed on the radio, it doesn't get any notice. Granted, Stormwatch has some tentative moments on it, but for the most part it is a disc that deserves a lot more attention than it ever has gotten. With the re-issue of this disc finally in the stores, now is the perfect time for this album to experience its own renaissance.

Rating: B-

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© 2004 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Chrysalis Records, and is used for informational purposes only.