Well to be honest, out of the “Big Prog Six” (Yes, Genesis, Tull, ELP, Crimson, Floyd), Jethro Tull is a band that took a while for me. Only now after all these years am I exploring more fully and finally purchasing the back catalog from the band owning only Aqualung and Thick As a Brick for years. Don’t know what took me so long as JT has so many great albums in their long career. I am having a great time with my new discoveries, however.
I have had Aqualung in my collection since the 70s, because well… because it is a classic progressive rock masterpiece! So many popular songs are on this album. “Locomotive Breath” and “Aqualung” are well known to be certain, but anyone listening to Classic Rock FM radio since the 70s will immediately recognize “Cross-Eyed Mary,” “My God” and “Hymn 43” as well. Hard to believe that all this music comes from the singular mind of one man, Ian Anderson.
What makes a Progressive Rock Masterpiece? For Jethro Tull it’s a very English Folk approach that’s akin to songs played around the campfire or in a medieval court with rock and roll electric touches ingrained. On this album Ian and friends did not take the ‘prog’ to the extreme as many of Jethro Tull’s contemporaries were at the time. On Aqualung, Tull keeps it pretty simple but very dynamic. The moods flow from happy to angry to sad, usually within the same song like “My God.” This song has incredible solo breaks for both Martin Barre’s guitar and Ian’s flute. Their ability to counter and blend with one another is further exposed on cuts like “Up to Me.”
Is this a concept album? The boys say no, but they title both sides of the original vinyl as a kind of suite so you decide. It does seem that some lyrical motifs are repeated throughout both sides and I could swear a musical idea is reworked from the opening title song on the closer “Wind Up.” That kind of swung the vote for me.
This was Jethro Tull’s first megahit album and the one that really broke them all over the world. Deservedly so, as this was one of the best records of 1971; a year that also included Yes’ Fragile, ELP’s Tarkus, and Genesis’ Nursery Cryme. If that isn’t a stellar recommendation, I’m not sure what is.
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on August 18th, 2011