Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Jethro Tull's Aqualung - 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition Reviewed

Jethro Tull - Aqualung
40th Anniversary Special Edition
Used with Permission: Leighton Media
A few years ago I had the privilege of reviewing Jethro Tull at St David's Hall, Cardiff.

For the first time I sampled many of their fabulous songs beyond the radio airplay material I had become accustomed to (Living In The Past and The Witches Promise have always been favourites).

So I jumped at the chance earlier this month to hear the stereo special collectors edition of Aqualung, their historic album which features such classics as My God and Locomotive Breath , celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
Jethro Tull's emergence on the British music scene in 1969 was undeniably a breath of fresh air. Their debut UK hit Living in the Past mixed front man Ian Anderson's flute playing with back to basics folk rock and heavy guitar riffs signalling the decline of a decade that went from been swinging and hopeful to weary of war and assassinations. 
Jethro Tull's fresh music style took them into the 1970s with the release of their seminal fourth album Aqualung (1971) of which they achieved success on both sides of the Atlantic. That success is celebrated to coincide with Aqualung's 40th anniversary with EMI giving the album a revamp worthy of its historic status, comprising collectors and special editions including new stereo mixes on vinyl, CD. Blu Ray and DVD. 
From hitting the play button, Steven Wilson's new mixes of classic tracks including Locomotive Breath, Hymn 43 and My God have new life breathed into them. Blues, rock, folk and psychedelic musical arrangements now burst with a rawer sounding energy than ever before, previously undetectable on the vinyl stereo segregated releases of yesteryear. 
As die-hard Jethro Tull fans will likely lap up the new stereo mixes of these cherished classics, newer listeners will be astounded to find that much of Aqualung's social comment is still as relevant in 2011 as it was in 1971. 
Recurring themes throughout the album such as global effects on the rich and poor, homelessness prostitution and religion continue to challenge the listening ear. Having just as much relevance now as they did 40 years ago, Aqualung's songs demonstrate that the album leaned more towards social comment than concept album. 
Jethro Tull at the time were unceremoniously tagged as another progressive rock band. The evidence on Aqualung is that Jethro Tull's sound was far more than heavy drum beats and guitar riffs, delivering acoustic brilliance on Cheap Day Return and Slipstream. 
There are tracks of epic proportions too, with both Aqualung and Hymn 43 still making enjoyable listening while Burton Silverman's cover art of Aqualung; the album's iconic tramp character (allegedly inspired by Ian Anderson) has gained a vintage art brilliance of its own. 
A bonus CD of additional Aqualung session recordings also features several rare tracks that didn't make the album's final cut including Lick Your Fingers Clean, an early version of My God, alternate takes of the acoustic track Wond'ring Aloud and a US Radio Spot. 
Topped off with a well researched booklet containing interviews with Ian Anderson and engineer John Burns and rare photographs Aqualung: The 40th Anniversary Edition is an essential addition for anyone looking to replace their well-played vinyl copies or discovering Jethro Tull for the first time.

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