As one of the most original and inventive bands in the history of rock and roll, Jethro Tull have sustained a career based on clever time signatures, atypical lyrics and blustering showmanship courtesy of the band's visionary and leader, Ian Anderson. While some of the band's concepts have been a bit hard to swallow, Aqualung, Tull's fourth release from 1971, is an intrepid statement about God and religion that somehow sunk in and hit pay dirt. Loaded and lifted by the articulate guitar work from Tull's other resident member, Martin Barre, Aqualung, through a series of twists and turns, has ingrained itself into the rock stratum forever.
Clearly, the album's title cut is one of the most recognizable hooks of the last 30 years. Despite the politically incorrectness of the lyrics — half of which were written by Anderson's first wife, Jennie, who actually receives a sole writing credit for the track and took photos that inspired the album — the song remains a staple of classic rock radio and continues to close-out most of Tull's concerts. When you throw in other hot commodities like "Cross-Eyed Mary," "Hymn 43" and "Locomotive Breath," it's easy to understand how the album became a top ten hit and turned Tull into a bona fide arena monster of the 70s.
Tull, of course, would wade into even deeper conceptual waters with Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play. Aqualung, however, found the band in proper balance with their folksy/progressive leanings, irresistible hard edge and a digestible theme. Aside from his dazzling flute playing, the album also showcases Anderson's light and snappy touch on the acoustic guitar during such tracks as "Cheap Day Return," "Mother Goose," "Wond'ring Aloud," "My God" and "Slipstream." Of course, Aqualung marks the debut of John Evan, the band's first keyboardist, who manages to kick-start "Locomotive Breath" with all the panache of a concert pianist. And while original drummer Clive Bunker would leave the band shortly after the release of this landmark album, Jethro Tull has consistently churned out music to this very day. When it's all said and done, Aqualung, which has been re-released in a number of different formats and configurations, is the one record Tull will always be remembered for.
~ Shawn Perry