Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Musician: Jethro Tull
Musician: Jethro Tull
Yes I know. The various 40th anniversary collections of Jethro Tull’s 1971 Aqualung came out in November 2011, the “Special Edition,” the “Deluxe Edition,” and the boxed set “Collector’s Edition.” While I admit being late to the party, I feel it’s worthwhile to call out to all the other procrastinators to say, at the very least, don’t miss the “Special Edition” whether or not you have earlier re-issues you’re happy with.
Aqualung was, and remains, a landmark album well deserving all this appreciation. Disc one of this two CD set is a tribute to the wizardry of engineer Steve Wilson who put brightness to previously muddy mixes, presence to previously buried instrumentation, and clarity in the separation of the vocals and performances. In terms of “presence,” I noticed in the earlier re-masters of The Beatles catalogue that the most distinctive improvement in the sound was the enhanced presence of Ringo’s drums and cymbals. The same is true for Clive Bunker here. But there are other delights to hear anew as well.
While often described as a concept album, a label group leader Ian Anderson has always refuted, side one of the original album was noted for its vivid character sketches and commentary on British society as in “Aqualung” and the story of the school-girl prostitute, “Cross Eyed Mary.” Celtic flavorings begin in “Cheap Day Return “and “Mother Goose” where the percussion is especially distinct and bright in the right channel. Likewise, percussion instruments are spaced around the soundscape of the controlled cacophony of “Up To Me.”
It’s the material on
what was the second side of the 1971 album that supposedly made it a
“concept” release, but not all the songs fit into the religious
criticism in Anderson’s lyrics. “My God” does fit that bill
with the acoustic guitars of Martin Barre shining with the new
clarity of his strumming rhythm chords. “Hymn 43” and the
emotional show-stopper, “Wind Up” fit the theme, but “Locomotive
Breath” featuring Barre’s tasty electric guitar touches?
Previous two-disc packages have included some of the material re-worked by Wilson, but not all of it and not all with the sparkling production he provided to disc two here. Songs directly related to Aqualung include peeks into the creative process like a surprising, revelatory, extended early version of “My God.” Then again, some tracks are rough versions of yet unpolished gens as with “Wind Up.” One version of “Wond’ring Aloud” is a musical hint of the coming Thick as a Brick, the album Anderson decided would be his ultimate send-up of the “concept album” concept.
However, most of the jewels on disc two are songs recorded during the same period but were destined to appear on English EPs, on the two-album set Living in the Past, or unreleased for years. Far more than outtakes are new mixes of “Lick Your Fingers Clean” and “Just Trying To Be.” There are early versions and remixes of the familiar “Life Is A Long Song” and “Up The ‘Pool.” A nice instrumental jam, “From Later,” rounds out the disc followed by a U.S. radio spot where Anderson briefly discusses how his views on God and religion influenced Aqualung. Altogether, the songs on the second disc demonstrate just what a fertile period the band was enjoying even as its personnel was, once again, going through changes.
Serious fans of Tull will, of course, go for the more expensive sets with the Blu-Ray visuals and vinyl discs. But I suspect most general listeners will be more than satisfied, if not moved, by the “Special Edition.” It belongs in every rock lover’s library. I can’t believe it took me this long . . .
Follow Here To Purchase Aqualung: 40th Anniversary