Jethro Tull - War Child (1974) Sept 1, 2012 22:21:37 GMT -5
Post by Mark Lavallee on Sept 1, 2012 22:21:37 GMT -5
Here we are with Tull's 1974 release, War Child. How would they compete in a world that now had KISS? Let's find out!
For hard rock fans this may well be the perfect starting point with Tull.
Released on October 14th in the US it peaked at a lowly #2 on the Billboard Top Albums chart, and in the UK it came out 12 days later and only managed to reach #14 on the British charts. Oh how the mighty had fallen! Yes, the cover is horrible. I'll admit it.
Aqualung features the same band lineup as Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play, and again features a lot of orchestration from David Palmer. He'd been there since the debut but still wasn't quite ready to be a full fledged member of the band.
After releasing two single song albums it was a very wise move moving back to shorter songs, if only to add variety to the setlists! As mentioned in my review of A Passion Play, three of the songs here were recorded for the aborted follow-up to Thick As A Brick ("Skating Away," "Only Solitaire," and, "Bungle In The Jungle") while another was a rewrite from an Aqualung outtake ("Three Fingers").
War Child is something of a concept album, exploring people through analogies with the animal kingdom. A full three years before Pink Floyd's animals, no less! War Child was originally planned to be a double album film soundtrack. The concept of which was very much in keeping with A Passion Play as a, "Metaphysical black comedy," about a teenage girl in the afterlife meeting God (played by Ian Anderson, no ego there, LOL), St. Peter and Lucifer (all shrewd businessmen competing for her soul), John Cleese was signed on, also noted actor (Leonard Rossiter [2001, Barry Lyndon, Oliver, etc.]) and everything but the film was abandoned due to lack of financing.
For some reason this album isn't very well loved by many Tull fans, which I never understood. Is it because the songs are much shorter? Certainly that doesn't mean they're not very musically complex or insanely creative. Is it the use of so many different instruments? Accordion, violin, bagpipes, more saxophone? The fact that some of the tunes are more commercial? It may just be some members of the Prog elite being who they are - elitist snobs. Coming after two albums consisting of one 45 minute song each, and before Minstrel In The Gallery with it's side long Baker St. Muse, it's just not "prog" enough for them. First thing a prog fan does it check out song lengths. Nerds. ;D
Side A opens with many sound effects, a big explosion, then a lonely sax drifts in and the opening title track is underway. Great
interplay from the band here, a mid paced rocker about refugees from war, banana boaters if you will. "War Child," ends with a great sax solo from Anderson. (Is there any musical instrument he can't play?) Next up is, "Queen And Country," which is another anti-war rocker. Lyrically very sarcastic, "We bring back gold and ivory; rings of diamonds; strings of pearls make presents to the government so they can have their social whirl," the accordion makes it's presence felt here. It is a nice mid-paced rocker.
Next up is, "Ladies," an ode to the oldest profession (for women, anyway). It is an acoustic tune and the first appearance of Flute on the album, but the sax is still present here as well. There is a nice short rocky coda to the song that's totally out of place and serves no purpose, but it's cool none the less, LOL. Up to this point the album has been pleasant but not, "Oh my god this is the greatest thing ever," quality. The real star of this album is David Palmer with his orchestrations and the swirling violins. It's truly beautiful stuff. And that's when things change and we get the album's first masterpiece, "Back Door Angels."
This song could be listed next to the dictionary definition of 'dynamics.' Lyrically it's right up my alley, taking the piss out of people of faith who will believe in anything so long as it's in some stupid book. "Why do the faithful have such a will to believe in something? And call it the name they choose, having chosen nothing." The drum part from Barriemore Barlow is incredibly inventive, and Martin Barre gets his chance to wail as well. Adding to all that the sax and flute give great texture - as does the organ. This is Tull at their absolute best. Anderson gives a shout out to his new stage persona for the tour here "Think I'll sit down and invent some fool, some Grand Court Jester." Indeed.
How to follow up such a wonderful song? With a kick ass rocker, of course. The album side closes with the great, "SeaLion," which is very heavy and extremely complex. The lyrics hark back to Anderson's idea of human/animal analogies. "And you balance your world on the tip of your nose like a SeaLion with a ball, at the carnival." Yippee, the accordion is back, and all manner of electronics and strings, it's such a complicated (cynics might say, "Convoluted") jumble that shouldn't work, but it doesn't just work, it all comes together brillianty. And the song inspired one of Tull's most famous setpieces, the giant balloons...
So the first side starts out fairly middling and ends brillianty, how would they keep it up for the second half?
No need to worry, side B starts off, well, with a tea party, LOL, but then quickly we get one of Tull's most beloved songs, "Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day." This is a perfect example of how you don't need electric instruments to kick ass. Barriemore Barlow can be heard playing some great glockenspeil, marimba, and percussion here. Brilliant accordion playing from John Evan is on display as well. An absolutely
incredible song. The arrangement is extremely tight here, and fans of Gentle Giant would love this one.
Next up is the song everyone who listens to Classic Rock radio should know, "Bungle In The Jungle." Another one lyrically dealing with the animal/human analogies. It has a fun arrangement with the flute, light orchestration, and features great satirical lyrics and an incredibly catchy chorus. This was the single from the album and it made it to a respectable #12 here in the U.S.
Next up we get the short (only 98 seconds long), "Only Solitaire." It's an incredible little instrumental piece reminiscent of the shorter tunes on Aqualung, but lyrically venemous, negatively reviewing himself. "Brain-storming habit-forming battle-warning weary winsome actor spewing spineless chilling lines." Distancing himself from modern 'rock stars,' "Well who the hell can he be when he's never had V.D., and he doesn't even sit on toilet seats?" Then summing it all up very acidly, "Court-jesting, never-resting he must be very cunning to assume an air of dignity and bless us all with his oratory prowess, his lame-brained antics and his jumping in the air. And every night his act's the same and so it must be all a game of chess he's playing [spoken] "But you're wrong, Steve: you see, it's only solitaire." Brilliant.
"The Third Hurrah," acts as a sequel to the title track. Listen to John Evan's harpsichord and David Palmer's orchestration here. It is quite a nice blend of medieval and hard rock. The promotional clip released for the song is utterly bizarre, made up of professionally shot footage from the Passion Play tour. (Where is the rest of that footage!?!?!?!?)
The album concludes with, "Two Fingers," a reworking of the Aqualung outake, "Lick Your Fingers Clean." Nice way to close the album in rocking style, but truth be told I prefer the original arrangement.
The remaster of the album adds seven wonderful tracks. First up is the instrumental, "Warchild Waltz," intended for the film. Very
reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. Beautiful track. We then are treated to another instrumental piece, "Quartet," a much stranger tune,
very mischeivous sounding. They worked it into the tour but it remained locked in the vaults for ages.
Then we get a bunch of songs which didn't make it onto the album. First up is, "Paradise Steakhouse," which is better than a lot of the tunes that ended up on the album, with some very dirty lyrics. "I'll bring a whip to sow my seed upon your land", oh dear. Great rocker. Next up is the bizarre, "SeaLion II." It's what would happen if Monty Python got hold of the album version. Bizarre.
The following two tracks were also outtakes from the album but they were released on prior compilations. First one up is the
brilliant, "Rainbow Blues," which was featured on the 1976 best of album M.U. An incredible rocker with a super catchy chorus, how this was left off the album is beyond me. It even made it into the setlist for the tour! (But not on the album itself?)
Then we get, "Glory Row," a great tune bitterly condemning musicians, actors, politicians et. al who put themselves above the common man. This was originally released on the 1977 best of album, Repeat. The bonus tracks finish off with another outtake, the brilliant, "Saturation." I love this song. Great lyric and it kicks major ass. Genius!
Ultimately, War Child is an underrated album with several true gems.
Final rating - 4.25 out of 5 stars