Sunday, 8 November 2015

Jethro Tull (XI): the end of an era

It’s amazing how things can change so suddenly. In the late seventies, Jethro Tull were at their absolute best. Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses had been two amazing folky rock albums and, suddenly, the band almost died.

It was 1979 and the band was recording Stormwatch, their last seventies album. Bassist John Glascock rejoined after taking some time off because of congenital heart problems but, after three songs had been recorded, he just couldn’t continue. He was advised to stay at home and rest, but he apparently was too much of a party animal. Ian Anderson played the bass in the rest of the album and he did a damn good job, although that’s not really surprising.

The album is extremely dark, and it is when I am in a dark mood when I listen to it. Ian Anderson wrote the following about the album: “the songs were to be a mixture of moody and dark pieces reflecting the troubled state of the economy. The oil price escalation, energy crises and other depressing world events influenced my writing and thinking”.

However, dark doesn’t mean bad. In fact, I think the album is excellent. Most of the songs are incredibly powerful and the instrumentation is great as always (Barlow and Anderson make a very good rhythm & bass duo). It is true that, unlike other Tull albums, you need to be in a very specific mood to properly enjoy Stormwatch, but that’s not a problem.

There’s not a single happy song in this album. The closest to that is Warm Sporran, an instrumental which is, in my opinion, the weakest song. The other instrumental is Elegy, a beautiful and extremely sad song composed by David Palmer.

Fast paced songs are not common in this album either, but Jethro Tull has never been the fastest of bands, I guess. North Sea Oil gives you a pump of adrenaline to start the album and Something’s On The Move refills the adrenaline supply halfaway through, but other than that, the songs are slow. Well, there’s the Tull-esque tempo change in the phenomenally gargantuan Dark Ages, but the song just goes from slow to normal-paced. By the way, special mention to the badass job Barlow and Anderson do on the drums and bass respectively. The tense calmness of the beginning of the song is amazing as well.

Other than that, I’d like to highlight the melancholy in Orion, the nostalgia in Home, the magic in Dun Ringill and the elegance and darkness in Old Ghosts. I think not that many Tull fans are crazy about this album, but, in my opinion, the band pulled an amazing bunch of songs this time.

David Pegg, who would be Tull’s bassist for sixteen years, joined for the tour. When the band was in the States, they got dreadful news- John Glascock had died. That, and disillusionment with touring, made Barrie Barlow’s relationship with Anderson extremely tense. In fact, Barlow left the band.

It would finally be down to Anderson and Barre, because Palmer and Evans would leave as well, although the circumstances are a bit different and I think it’s better to explain that bit when I write about A, the following Jethro Tull album. In any case, Stormwatch was, in terms of lineup and music, the end of an era for the band. They would still produce some good music in the eighties (again, I’d say more than most Tull fans think, but it’s just my opinion), however things would never be the same.

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