Saturday, January 29, 2011

337 Aqualung. Yet another rant against the Church of England featuring a flautist.

Album: Aqualung
Artist: Jethro Tull
Year: 1971
Genre: Prog Rock

Tracks

  1. Aqualung
  2. Cross-Eyed Mary
  3. Cheap Day Return
  4. Mother Goose
  5. Wond'ring Aloud
  6. Up to Me
  7. My God
  8. Hymn 43
  9. Slipstream
  10. Locomotive Breath
  11. Wind Up



It's funny but even though I can't really tell you what defines a "prog rock" album I can tell you that Aqualung is one. The popular definition of prog involves something about trying to make rock music more "cerebral". It's an attempt to move popular music away from conventional structures, instrumentation, rhythms and subject matter into areas that it doesn't traditionally occupy. To give you a practical example: if asked to record a song with "Travel" as the subject matter, a Rock band would use guitars, bass and drums to record a 5 minute song in 4/4 time about a road trip they went on which involved sex, drugs and alcohol. A prog-rock band would record an 18 minute opus about a space traveler who meets exotic characters through the course of 7 different time signatures and musical modes using sound effects, strings and possibly a harp. There would be a four minute keyboard solo. One member of the band would write linear notes continuing the narrative and fans would dress up as the main character when they attended shows. The rock band would be met backstage by groupies who wanted to indulge their wildest sexual fantasies. The Prog-rock band would be met by young men who wanted them to read essays they'd written which compared them to Bach.

Jethro Tull's main contribution to the world of prog-rock comes thanks to this album and to the flute of lead singer Ian Anderson who is the first name everyone thinks of when anyone talks about Rock Flute. Anderson's fluting loiters around some of the tracks on Aqualung and for the most part is just a bit of background noise that could easily be replaced by a piano (or being a prog rock album- by a fluglehorn, theremin or home-made zither). The exception is Locomotive Breath which is easily the standout song on the entire record. The flute solo in the middle of Locomotive breath is a breathy burst of rock played on one of the least rock instruments in the world. It's short, sharp and fantastic and when it recieved radio airplay it marked the first time anyone in the world ever air-fluted. Anyone who has tried to rock on a flute since is immediately compared to Anderson's work at that moment. But Locomotive Breath is more than just a quirky solo. The main riff is strong enough that lots of bands have covered it since. And fantastic it is too.

Sadly the rest of the album isn't able to live up to the heights set by its most famous track. Most of the songs are either inconsequential ditties which go nowhere or massive overblown numbers like My God which pass through prog and into high comedy. Anderson takes another flute solo in My God and manages to turn into into a self indulgent warble-fest. On it's own it would sound like a man road-testing flutes, the fact that they've decided to add a male choir to it for an extra dose of prog-wank only makes it much funnier. It also doesn't help that the song is a vicious attack against The Church of England. Tull seem to think the church is evil and deserves scorn and vitriol. Damn those elderly women and their church fetes! How dare they sell their home made cakes and slices along with used textbooks and potplants! In fact that Anglican communion and all who worship there make Tull angry enough to give them a second serve in Hymn 43.

Aqualung is one of those releases that earns it's place on this chart thanks to one sensational song. Locomotive breath is a great track. It's a pity the rest of the album can't come anywhere near it.


Highlight: Locomotive Breath
Lowlight: My God

Influenced by: Baroque music
Influenced: Anyone who plays rock flute.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Dull, Overated, Short, boring, lyrically stupid, full of filler, and definitely NOT a Rock Classic."

-That's how the review starts and it continues in that style for a long time. I can only assume the fact that the reviewer gave Aqualung five stars was a mistake.

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