Jethro Tull Reviews

Read my reviews of Jethro Tull’s major albums. I have not investigated their work past the ’70s but I feel like I have reviewed enough of their biggest work to justify this page:

1968: This Was Jethro Tull (7?/10)

Apparently I never wrote a review of Jethro Tull’s debut album, their one and only blues rock record. But I have two different ratings; on RYM I gave it a 6/10 and on my reviews of albums from 1968 I gave it an 8. I also gave Blodwyn pig’s debut album an 8/10 which seems funny. (Blodwyn Pig is the band that Tull leader Mick Abrahams founded after he left Tull.)

It’s blues rock, co-led by Ian Anderson and Mick Abrahams, with some clear hints of fraying with hindsight. (Also, flute.) It sounds basically nothing like future Tull albums except Anderson’s singing which, of course, sounds like nobody other than Ian Anderson.

1969: Stand Up (8?/10)

The first truly Tull-esque album, featuring their unique fusion of folk, folk rock and harder rock that is basically loud enough to approximate early UK metal (and, um flute). I have not reviewed this one, either, for some reason. I’ve heard it more times than their debut, probably something like twice as many times.

Read my reviews of music from 1969.

1970: Benefit (8?/10)

Another one with no review and with discrepancies between my RYM rating (8) and my blog rating (7). I think I’ve swung back and forth on this being worse or equal to Stand Up. Stand Up has the originality edge for sure but I think I’ve listened to Benefit more than any Tull album outside of the two subsequent records so I have some fondness for it, at times.

Read my reviews of 1970 albums.

1971: Aqualung (9/10)

Tull’s most famous and most popular record, I think we can safely say, the first time they were truly a “progressive rock” band. Of all the Big 6 prog bands, they were usually the least forward thinking but here there’s definitely more hall marks of the genre: the (loose) concept, the Renaissance music influences…

Before this record, there were literally three things that might have convinced you Tull were not just a very, very loud folk rock band (or a very, very folky hard rock band): the flute (of course, the flute!), and their occasional covers of jazz and Baroque pieces. That’s it. The rest of the music could hardly be called “progressive” and it’s always confused me why they were considered progressive rock after Abrahams departure, at least until this record.

This record is where it comes together and it’s hard to really recommend earlier Tull to people if you’re trying to get them into prog (and Tull were the most accessible of the Big 6, outside of maybe – maybe – the Floyd).

This one’s a near masterpiece: mostly Anderson’s best (and most ambitious) songs to date with their most ambitious (and progressive) arrangements.

For me the main thing keeping it from being a masterpiece is Anderson’s lack of lyrics – an odd thing to say, given his verbosity – or the desire to stretch out songs with not enough lyrics: Anderson repeats lines way too many times for my liking and if the concept was so damn important, I don’t know why he didn’t flesh it out more. (I know he could have, witness the next record.)

But mostly an essential prog rock album, if you can consider it prog.

Read my reviews of albums released in 1971.

1972: Thick as a Brick (10/10)

I am not entirely sure how successful Thick as a Brick is as a parody or satire of other concept albums. Sure, the author of the lyrics is a decent joke, but the thing about parody is you have to let the audience in on the joke. And Anderson sings these lyrics so sincerely that it’s hard to know that he’s mocking. It’s also hard to know who he’s mocking, given that he does not appear to target a particular band or author (to my knowledge) with this “poem.”

But none of that matters: this is Jethro Tull’s best album, their most consistent musically and probably the best “LP as song” in the history of rock music. There’s no other record of theirs where Anderson’s penchant for melody meshes so well with the band’s muscle and his pseudo-profound lyrics can be enjoyed here because we know he’s not serious (so we don’t have to worry about what he means).

There is only one flaw with the record and it’s not their fault: technology wouldn’t let them record in one go. I would have played straight through and just cut the thing in half at the end of side one. The fade between the two tracks is not only the most boring part of the album but also clearly unnatural as the suite takes its own break slightly after the fade out and in. (Weird he couldn’t match those two things together.)

Still, a masterpiece and one of the essential prog rock albums even if it’s a joke.

My #3 album of 1972. Read my reviews of music from 1972.

1973: A Passion Play (7?/10)

Another album I’ve listened to a bunch, with no review to show for it and a discrepancy between my RYM rating (8) and my site rating (7). I’ve gone with the site rating here because I do think it’s closer to the truth.

Thick as a Brick 2 and worse than its predecessor on every level: quality of the melodies, Anderson wrote worse lyrics, the arrangement is not as compelling (and it’s got that dumb faux children’s story in the middle). 7 even might be charitable but it’s been years since I’ve listened to it.

Read my reviews of 1973 albums, 1973 is the annus mirabilis of prog rock.

1974: War Child (6/10)

Tull’s worst album to date? One I first listened to years after listening to everything else before it and so I had a) moved on from my Tull fetish and b) long had expectations about it and its successor.

Read my reviews of albums released in 1974.

1975: Minstrel in the Gallery (???)

Ostensibly the last great Tull album before their slight makeover, I have somehow never managed to get around to listen to this. Instead I chose War Child.

Read my reviews of music from 1975.

1976: Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! (???)

I feel like this always had a bit of a bad rap among my sources for essential prog rock records so I never found my way there.

Read my reviews of 1976 albums.

1977: Songs from the Wood (6/10)

When I first discovered prog, Ian Anderson was probably my favourite prog songwriter, I just ate up everything he wrote. I don’t know what happened but age (and listening to a lot more songwriters) has made me start to dislike a lot of his lyrics, like the lyrics here, obsessed with English country life and sex in said countryside. When Ray Davies writes about English country life it’s appealing. When Anderson does, it just feels like an old British guy (who wasn’t even very old) longing for the days when men were Men.

This record is their first return to a more folkie sound. It is, according to many, the last great Tull album. (Some would suggest Heavy Horses.) It’s a revitalization or something. But the older I get, the less I like it. Why are their synthesizers? Why aren’t the songs better? Why do they abandon the strong melodies and riffs for weaker ones so often? (Within the song I mean.)

Also, Anderson is an ass: he gets full financial credit for writing the songs but just admits that two of his bandmates wrote material but won’t get publishing rights? What a dick.

Read my reviews of albums released in 1977.

1978: Heavy Horses (7/10)

For years I told myself I believed the received opinion that Songs From the Wood was the return to form and this record isn’t quite up to that standard. I think I definitely actually felt that way when I first heard this record but years later, I do not feel that way.

Like virtually every set of Ian Anderson songs from the mid ’70s onward, this record suffers from Anderson’s fetishistic fondness for rural English life, which lacks Ray Davies’ insight and occasional winks. But there’s more muscle, more often than not, on this record than on the previous one, which makes it much easier to take. I still don’t love it if I listen to the lyrics too closely but I am able to ignore the lyrics more often than not, much more than I can on the previous record.

At least today, I think it’s the better record. But I’d still take early Tull over this any day.

Read my reviews of music from 1978.

1979: Stormwatch (???)

If streaming had existed when I was really into Tull, it’s possible I would have tried to listen to all their albums, like I had with so many other classic rock bands I became a fan of in my late teens or early 20s. But Tull have way too many albums, few of which are actually acclaimed by anyone other than their diehard fans. So I never got there. (I did accidentally find my way to listening to one Anderson solo record, which I originally loved and then lost patience for.) So no review for this one or any subsequent Tull record.

Read my reviews of 1979 albums.

1980: A (???)

Read my reviews of albums from 1980.

1982: The Broadsword and the Beast (???)

Read my reviews of music from 1982.

1984: Under Wraps (???)

Read my reviews of 1984 albums.

1987: Crest of a Knave (???)

I really should listen to this one as it’s the infamous “first metal Grammy” winner. Read my reviews of albums released in 1987.

1989: Rock Island (???)

Read my reviews of music from 1989.

1991: Catfish Rising (???)

Read my reviews of 1991 albums.

1995: Roots to Branches (???)

Read my reviews of albums released in 1995.

1999: J-Tull Dot Com (???)

Guffaw. Read my reviews of music from 1999.

2003: The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (???)

This was supposed to be the last Tull album but they toured until 2011 (I think) and then Anderson claimed it was over in 2014. Read my reviews of 2003 albums.

And then he kept going.

2017: The String Quartets (???)

“String quartet” versions of Tull with Anderson singing. Read my very few reviews of albums from 2017.

2022: The Zealot Gene (???)

Read my few reviews of music from 2022.

2023: RökFlöte (???)