Jethro Tull: A (1980)

This has always been a curious album in the Tull library. It marked a major band lineup change and a recognition of a changing musical landscape. The constants in the band was of course, founder Ian Anderson, and guitarist Martin Barre who joined with the second album.

I found Tull albums in the second half of the 1970s to be somewhat directionless and lacking of their best work. I believe they struggled to find musical traction in a changing rock industry that was splitting into the sweet and danceable Bee Gees pop, the pristine Southern California sound, and the stripped-down and aggressive East Coast rock. Tull did not fit into any of those categories. It was hard to bungle in the this new jungle.

Stormwatch (1979), which proceeded A, was a very fine album and one of my favorites. After its release, Anderson called a time-out and planned a solo effort, which grew into A. Only Barre was invited to participate as Anderson recruited some different musicians for the project. Those exiting were keyboard player John Evans, drummer Barriemore Barlow, keyboard player Dee Palmer and bass player John Glascock, who exited the band during the recording of Stormwatch because of health issues. Mark Craney would join as drummer, but his tenure would be short. Dave Pegg would fill the bass role for the next 16 years. The most interesting edition was Eddie Jobson on violin and keyboards. He was listed as a “guest” and would only serve a two year membership. Jobson was known for his work in the progressive rock band U.K., Roxy Music and Frank Zappa. Jobson added a great dimension to the band. Most of these band changes tend to be acrimonious, as would happen to Barre after more than 30 years.

A was recently re-released in a suped-up five disc set. A La Mode: The 40th Anniversary edition, featuring bonus tracks, remixed album by Steven Wilson, two CDs of a 1980 concert at the LA Sports Arena, and two DVDs with the remixed album and concert in DTS and Dolby AC3 5.1 surround and stereo 96/24 LPCM sound. Don’t ask me what the enhanced technical qualities of the sound are, I do not have a 5.1 surround receiver. Steven Wilson is the guru of remixing older music with newer technology.

In the liner notes, Anderson indicated that as early as the 1978 tour, where much of Bursting Out was recorded, that he felt the band had accomplished what they set out to do, and it was time to park the band for awhile. He also said, and Barre agreed, that there was turmoil in the band and studio sessions in recent years had been difficult. Stormwatch was recorded under that cloud.

Jobson and U.K. had toured with Tull, so he knew the band. With U.K. disbanded, Jobson toured with Tull before being asked by Anderson to assist with his “solo” album. Jobson was working on his solo album at the time, The Green Album, but put it aside with join Anderson. In the late 1970s, keyboard technology was advancing to sound nothing like the early decades Moog and other more basic instruments. Jobson was a wizard at creating sounds and playing styles that would symbolize the next decade.

Anderson and Jobson meshed well together musically, but Anderson did not want to abandon the electric guitar and invited Barre to play on the “solo” album. When the tapes were presented to Chrysalis Records, they convinced Anderson to release it as a Jethro Tull album, a decision he learned to regret.

The sci-fi type cover art does seem to point the project in a new direction as the 1980s began. Promotions and touring had the band in jumpsuits like from some futuristic laboratory. Quite a turn from the medieval look and musical vibe from the 1970s.

Side one

No.         Title       Length

1. “Crossfire” 3:55

2. “Fylingdale Flyer” 4:35

3.            “Working John, Working Joe”  5:04

4.            “Black Sunday”  6:35

Side two

No.         Title       Length

1. “Protect and Survive” 3:36

2.            “Batteries Not Included”   3:52

3. “Uniform” 3:34

4.            “4.W.D. (Low Ratio)”   3:42

5.            “The Pine Marten’s Jig” (instrumental)   3:28

6. “And Further On” 4:21

Reading about the origin and intent of the songs there is a strong theme of military, possible war, Big Brother, guardians, Iran hostages, grim future sorts of currents. Not exactly folk songs. Usually, I comment on each song, but I am not going to do that. I would not say this is the strongest set of Tull songs, rather a work in progress. There is something interesting about the new direction and sounds; it would be hard to find another band in 1980 that sounded like this.

In the end, this was not a very successful album, although it introduced fans to a new, more contemporary sound. Jobson’s electric violin was a nice counterpoint to Anderson’s flute and Barre’s electric guitar. Jobson would only last for this album and tour, then go solo and release The Green Album, which I consider to be a masterpiece. Anderson would recruit a replacement keyboard player that gave the band a Euro-tech sound. This was not your father’s Jethro Tull any longer.

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