Friday, February 28, 2014
It Was 40 Years Ago Today: Jethro Tull - WarChild
1974...this is a year I don't have any recollections of, after all I was only three years old at the time. However, looking back in music history I would have loved to be in my late teens or early twenties then since so many of my favourite bands were emerging at this point or had just made a name for themselves. But alas, that was not to be. So for obvious reasons Jethro Tull's master piece from this year, 'WarChild', as well as the band itself, eluded me for some time. Roll on eight years however, I finally discovered them thanks to my brother Thomas as always in my formative years. He brought home their magificient album, 'Broadsword And The Beast' and the rest is as they say history. I quickly began to check out the band's previous output and was almost overwhelmed by what I found but I didn't work in a chronological order, so by the time 'WarChild' ended up on my record player 'Aqualung', 'Thick As A Brick', 'A Passion Play', 'Stormwatch' and 'Heavy Horses' had already been dissected by yours truly. Looking back at what I was really into musically as a kid that was probably as wise move because at this point I knew that Jethro Tull always do what they want and it's never going to be by the books. And if you have never listened to this band before 'WarChild' is a tricky and difficult beast to fathom, at least the first third of it. And had this been the first album by Tull I listened to I would probably never listen to them again
Starting off Side A with the title track it's kind of shocking to hear the sound of air raid sirens while a couple is having tea...only to be annihilated as dropping bombs are exploding. And this is before the band has even started. Once they join in the cacophony their distinct sound is backed up by a sax, piano and a full string orchestra. Despite all the disharmony which I guess represents war there is harmony within which represents people under attack trying to find a way out to survive. A great albeit schizophrenic song that still catches me off guard.
'Queen And Country' changes direction completely. A reggae bassline and an accordion leads the way as the band launches into gypsy-like music with Martin Barre's excellent guitar and Ian Anderson's magificient voice floating on top. Following along with the name of the album, this is about soliders signing their lives away thinking they are protecting their country when, in fact, they are only filling up the queen's treasure chest. 'Ladies' is about the women of the night, working the street coner. It starts off with a line being snorted after which an acoustic guitar, a flute and a sax takes centre stage backed by the string orchestra again. Soft and slow it ends in true 50's rock'n'roll fashion. Next up is the first song on the album that reminds me of the Jethro Tull I had discovered some years before. 'Back-Door Angels'. Heavy intricate rock as well as progressive and slow/soft in equal parts. Martin plays a couple of excellent solos as the band also spaces out and jams. Trippy indeed and I love it! Last one out on Side A is 'Sealion' which is musically a fantastic ballsy out-and-out rocker. Lyrically to me this a perfect social commentary, a trademark of the band if you ask me. I might have misinterpreted it but it's about someone trying be aperson they're not. You try to dress and act the part but you always give yourself away somehow unless the system grinds you down first.
One of my all time favourite Tull songs starts Side B, 'Skating Away On Thin Ice Of The New Day'. To me it epitomizes everything the band is, from the songwriting to the performance as well as how the lyrics really talks to me. Break the chains of the society you were born into, risk your safe life for something new. Nothing ventured, nothing gained so take the step and evolve. 'Bungle In The Jungle' is another social commentary from the band if there ever was one. Taking place in a jungle it definitely portaits any government, how incompetent and useless they are and how they always screw up leaving its citizens to pay the price for it as well as picking up the pieces from constant failures. Full of razor sharp sarcasm the beautiful and acoustic 'Only Solitaire' makes a huge kick at media and the way they smear people in the limelight, who tries to keep their personal lives private. Written and recorded in 1974 it's poignant as ever. Up tempo and military sounding in style The Third Hoorah' to me is about going out with all guns blazing, i.e. live life to the fullest and die with a bang with no regrets instead of fading away. Features some nice flute-work from Ian as well as keeping keyboardist John Evan in the front. Last one out is 'Two Fingers', another good kind of rocker where the saxophone and the accordion are back. A fitting way to close the album since the song tells about a persons final moments before passing away.
What struck me the most then and as it still does, is the almost non-existent flute. It is Ian's trademark if you will and it barely makes an appearance, instead Mr. Anderson plays the saxophone a whole lot more. But the way the album plays out that makes sense because to me the baying sound of the saxophone adds to the calamaity of war as well as the distress of breaking out of your life as you know it. While the rest of the music is on course this woodwind instrument causes havoc so it is understandable that Ian plays it more than the flute.
Like I stated in the first paragraph 'WarChild' is a strange creature and it is clearly not the first Jethro Tull album to start out with. On the other hand, if you already have knowledge of the band and their music this is an excellent album. And as it moves along it turns into a classic Tull release, just give it time. Come to think of it, even the "stranger" first couple of songs are classics, or typical, Jethro songs. What I mean is, they have never been shy to try new avenues and change up their music. You never really know what they are going to do but you still know it's going to them. And that gives me comfort because I know they're not going to half-ass no matter how off the cuff they might sound.
It's time for this old fart to round things up and I hope I've made sense in all my ramblings. 'WarChild' is a great album made by a great band who are still going strong and who has never budged in the conviction of doing their own thing. That's called integrity and deserves recognition.