Jethro Tull

Chrysalis Records, 1980


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If you're a diehard Jethro Tull fan, this won't be news to you: their 1980 album A was not originally supposed to be another Tull release. Frontman Ian Anderson had decided to work on a solo album, but somehow the sessions materialized into something that felt more like a Jethro Tull project. (And the album's name? One story I remember is that the letter "A" was written on the box holding the master tape, and the accidental title stuck.)

The only album to feature drummer Mark Craney and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson as band members (as well as long-time guitarist Martin Barre and bassist Dave Pegg, who took over for the late John Glascock), A is a halfway decent album. Let me rephrase that: Half of A is a good album. The rest is rather spotty - nothing too surprising for the output of Jethro Tull at this juncture in their career.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

A more electric sounding album than more recent Tull albums of the time (moving away from the folk-rock of Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses), A kicks off strongly with two winning tracks, "Crossfire" and "Fylingdale Flyer". (The latter track's video was prominently featured in the home video Slipstream, which any self-respecting Tull fan should search out.) Both tracks feature more challenging rhythm patterns that forced the band to raise the bar on their playing. Especially noteworthy are the layered harmony vocals that Anderson uses, proving without a doubt that he is one of the premier vocalists of his time. Jobson's keyboard work is outstanding, making me wonder why he didn't last longer with the band.

A more gentle side of Jethro Tull is presented at the close of A; "And Further On" is a surprising change of pace from the remainder of the music featured on this album, but is a pleasant twist coming at the right time. And lest you think that Tull turned away completely from the folksy sounds that had made up the bulk of their late-'70s career, "The Pine Marten's Jig" erases any of those thoughts.

The real powerhouse on A is "Black Sunday," a track that actually is overshadowed by the live version featured on Slipstream. Still, this version packs quite a punch, and remains one of the underappreciated tracks in Jethro Tull's career.

If only the entire album were this strong. "Working John, Working Joe" wouldn't have been a bad track, but there is far too much repetition in the structure of the verses, rendering this track rather bland in the end. The remainder of the material, such as "Batteries Not Included," "Uniform" and "4.W.D. (Low Ratio)" are nowhere nearly as well-written as the other previously mentioned tracks. In a sense, it's almost like Anderson and crew poured their all into just five songs, then cast out the other five as half-hearted attempts. Too bad; if these were even half the songs that tracks like "Black Sunday" were, this would have been a better album.

A is still an album that is worth searching out, seeing that the decent tracks from this one have been criminally ignored for far too long. But approach the remainder of the album with extreme caution.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 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.