[Review] Jethro Tull: Aqualung (1971)

Jethro Tull releases one of rock’s great masterpieces around the anti-hero, Aqualung.

Kronomyth 4.0: You poor old sod, you see it’s only me.

Aqualung explodes like Jesus Christ Superstar sitting on a keg of dynamite, here starring Ian Anderson as our self-appointed conscience. Not everyone wanted to be preached to by a rock star, however, and the album found Jethro Tull losing some of their original fans even as they attracted new ones. The light and dark tones of Benefit are put into sharper relief this time by alternating disarming acoustic songs with a theosophical din of diabolical intent. The addition of Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond on bass (yes, the very same “Jeffrey” chronicled on their earlier albums) doesn’t change the sound of Tull much, nor does the full-time addition of John Evan, who gets buried in the band’s sonic onslaught most of the time.

The blurring of Ian Anderson the performer and Aqualung the character may be alarming to some, but wasn’t it just a natural outcropping of the rock opera movement? Music fans proved they were interested in the persona as much as the player, and Anderson gave them something to think about: a composite sketch of a demigod drawn from Jesus, Loki and Merlin among others. Of course, no album could stand up to that sort of scrutiny, so take my enthusiasm with a grain of salt. It’s just that songs like “Aqualung,” “Cross-Eyed Mary, “Hymn #43” and “Locomotive Breath” are such epic clashes of morality and reality that Aqualung assumes the scale of a Greek tragedy. The acoustic breaks are sometimes no more than lovely little bits of fluff (“Cheap Day Return,” “Wond’ring Aloud”) and sometimes a mortal analysis of the world around us (“Mother Goose,” “Wind-Up”).

Yet I won’t proffer an explanation of Aqualung. The album clearly takes umbrage with institutionalized religion and reintroduces the Aqualung character on “Cross-Eyed Mary,” but it’s hard to say what it all means. (Unlike musicals, which are designed to juggle different players, rock bands just don’t have a closet full of characters at their disposal.) Aqualung is a great leap from songwriter to storyteller, though some felt Tull slipped too far into the fabled woods for the inscrutable concept albums that followed. Me, I’d say this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship between music and one man’s illimitable fancy.

Original elpee version

A1. Aqualung (Ian Anderson/Jennie Anderson) (6:31)
A2. Cross-Eyed Mary (4:06)
A3. Cheap Day Return (1:21)
A4. Mother Goose (3:51)
A5. Wond’ring Aloud (1:53)
A6. Up to Me (3:14)
My God
B1. My God (7:08)
B2. Hymn 43 (3:15)
B3. Slipstream (1:12)
B4. Locomotive Breath (4:23)
B5. Wind-Up (6:01)

CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Lick Your Fingers Clean
13. Wind-Up (quad version)
14. Excerpts from the Ian Anderson Interview
15. Songs for Jeffrey (BBC session)
16. Fat Man
17. Bouree

All songs written by Ian Anderson unless noted.

The Players

Ian Anderson (flute, acoustic guitar and voice), Martin Barre (electric guitar and descant recorder), Clive Bunker (a thousand drums and percussion), John Evan (piano, organ and mellotron), Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (bass guitar, alto recorder and odd voices) with David Palmer (orchestral arrangements, conductor). Produced by Ian Anderson and Terry Ellis; engineered by John Burns.

The Pictures

Paintings by Burton Silverman. Layout by CCS.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on March 19, 1971 in the UK (Island, ILPS/ZCI 9145), the US and Canada (Reprise, MS/M8 2035), Japan (Reprise, P-8073R) and Sweden (Sonet, SLP-3007) with gatefold cover. Reached #4 on the UK charts and #7 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on elpee, cassette, 8-track and reel-to-reel tape in 1973 in the US (Chrysalis, CHR/M5C/M8C/CHT 1044) [green label].
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Germany (Chrysalis, 85 383 IT) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the UK and the US (Chrysalis, CHR 1044) [blue-white label].
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1977 in Germany (Chrysalis, 6307 5150 [blue-white label].
  5. Re-issued on elpee in 1980 in Brazil (Chrysalis, 1108004) with gatefold cover.
  6. Re-released on remastered elpee in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL 1-061).
  7. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in the US (Chrysalis, F1/F4/F2-21044).
  8. Re-issued on elpee and compact disc in 1984 in the US (Chrysalis, FV/VK 41044).
  9. Re-released on 25th anniversary remastered, expanded compact disc in 1996 in the US (Chrysalis, 52213-2) with 6 bonus tracks.
  10. Re-released on 20-bit remastered, expanded compact disc on January 26, 1999 in the US (Chrysalis, 95401) with 4 bonus tracks.
  11. Re-released on 20-bit remastered, expanded compact disc in 2000 in Europe (Chrysalis, 495401) with 4 bonus tracks.
  12. Re-issued on expanded compact disc on October 31, 2001 in Japan (EMI, TOCP-63882) with 6 bonus tracks.
  13. Re-released on remixed, expanded super high material compact disc on June 24, 2015 in Japan (Chrysalis) featuring 2011 Steven Wilson remix with 6 bonus tracks.
  14. Re-released on remixed clear vinyl HMV limited edition elpee in 2021 in the US (Chrysalis, 190296742262) featuring 2011 Steven Wilson remix.

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