Aqualung, released in 1971, probably is Jethro Tull's best-known work to date. Some people call it a true masterpiece and the best album ever recorded by the band. The songs on this album are definitely classic Tull-tracks that are still performed during concerts. Some people say that Aqualung is a concept album as certain themes return in the lyrics. These lyrics written by singer, flutist and acoustic guitarist Ian Anderson mainly deal with religion and society. The title track for instance, features a tramp who's wandering about the streets with bad intents looking at little girls. This song was the result of the hobby of Anderson's wife, who was at the time an amateur photographer. She showed him a series of photos of homeless men. Another track with strong lyrics is Cross-eyed Mary telling a story of a young prostitute who operates nearby a school. The classic piece My God was already written before the Benefit-album (1970) and performed live before Aqualung was released. The song contains a full-frontal assault on ecclesiastic excesses, which is again of present interest! In contrast, the gentle and acoustical Wond'ring Aloud is a simple love song. Nowadays, the title track and Locomotive Breath are still favourites on the US classic rock stations. The album was several times released on CD as well, with and without bonus tracks.
However, Aqualung was never performed as a whole and released on CD until 2004 when Ian Anderson was asked for a special radio show to play the entire album in front of a small audience. The radio station XM Radio owned a show named 'Then Again Live'. For this show bands were invited to play one of their classic albums in its entirety. At first, Mr. Anderson thought that they weren't serious when they asked him to do the entire Aqualung with Jethro Tull, but soon he began to like the idea and accepted it. The results of these recordings were later on released in the UK in September 2005, but they also gave the CD's away to people who attended almost all USA-concerts in October and November 2005. The royalties from the European release went to various charities for the homeless. However, the album was officially released in the USA in 2006. This made it possible for people who got the album at live shows, to sell their copy at the record stores before it was officially released...
Now five years after the first release it has been released again which gives me the opportunity to review this recording. What struck me most was Ian Anderson' singing. His voice was in a rather good shape; it seemed he had hardly any problems to sing the parts originally recorded in 1971. Also his playing on the flute and the acoustic guitar are pretty amazing, but that has always been strong during live performances. The rest of the band is in good shape as well as we can hear on the excellent recordings from this radio show. The above-mentioned songs still sound strong with this line-up consisting of keyboard player Andrew Giddings, drummer Doane Perry, bassist Jonathan Noyce and Ian's side kick for many years Martin Barre on electric guitar. The more acoustic pieces like Wond'ring Aloud and Up To Me are also pleasant to listen to. During the final six tracks we hear several parts that were recorded while Mr. Anderson spoke to the audience in-between the songs. The last eight minutes are labeled as 'patter, banter and bunkum'. Those parts are really funny to listen to because they give you some real inside information about the album. You'll learn that Aqualung was never meant to be a concept album, but just a collection of songs. As a result of this and other remarks Jethro Tull recorded a true-blue concept album on purpose: Thick As A Brick.
This CD is highly recommended to people who enjoy the music of Jethro Tull, especially those who enjoyed the period of Aqualung and the albums released shortly afterwards. The good versions of these old songs don't sound old-fashioned today because of the use of modern keyboard sounds. It still sounds very enjoyable after forty years!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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