Jethro Tull | Aqualung – Classic Commentary


In a previous write-up on Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, I boldly proclaimed that the album, released in 1971, had ingrained itself into the rock stratum forever. On its 40 anniversary, an expanded version of Aqualung was released with bonus tracks galore, new stereo mixes, new surround mixes, old quad mixes, and a 48-page coffee table book. Ten years later, on its 50th anniversary, it still packs enough sonic power to keep Tullheads fired up to their eardrums.

The tunes — “Aqualung,” “Cross-Eyed Mary,” “Hymn 43” and “Locomotive Breath” — need little explanation. But in surround and quad, these songs get the kind of reboot audiophiles dream about. Ian Anderson told me in 2002 that he wasn’t a fan of surround and didn’t fancy the task of remixing any of his albums for the format. He did, however, admit it was inevitable. In 2011, the inevitable happened. Quite frankly, if you have the right system — ideally a Blu-ray Disc player, a 5.1 home theater receiver and five speakers with a halfway decent sub-woofer — be prepared to hear Aqualung in an entirely new light.

Anderson’s light and snappy touch on the acoustic guitar on “Cheap Day Return,” “Mother Goose,” “Wond’ring Aloud,” “My God” and “Slipstream,” pulsates from all sides while the rest of the band — from John Evan’s understated piano to Martin Barre’s signature leads — casts a wider, more spatial canvas for the songs. To ensure everyone can hear the record in all its variations and shades, the 40th anniversary Collector’s Edition includes both a DVD and Blu-ray Disc. The DVD features a 24-bit, 96 kHz, 5.1 mix in DTS Surround, while the Blu-ray has the same mix in DTS-HD Master Audio. To mix things up, so to speak, there are also 24-bit, 96 kHz, quad mixes in DTS Surround and DTS-HD Master Audio on the DVD and Blu-ray, respectively. Oh yeah, there’s also the stereo mixes and lots of different…uh…mixes…of the bonus tracks.

Speaking of the bonus tracks, they comprise an entire CD included with the Special and Collector’s Editions. Just when you thought they’d scrapped the barrel clean with previous collections, here’s a vast spread of throwaways, outtakes, remastered tracks previously released or unreleased. “Lick Your Fingers Clean” would later blossom into “Two Fingers” on 1974’s War Child album. Early versions of “My God” and “Wind Up” are definitely portrayed in more experimental stages, with some fascinating twists, turns, kinks, rough edges, later chiseled and sharpened into the classic Aqualung versions. “Up The ‘Pool,” “Dr. Bogenbroom,” “From Later” and “Nursie,” all previously part of 1972’s Living In The Past compilation, are also included, in all their remastered glory.

Leafing through the book that comes in the Collector’s Edition, one can’t help to feel a sense of appreciation for such a fine album. Controversial upon its release, Aqualung has outlived its critics and pundits. “I never designed it to be a concept album at all,” Ian Anderson told me in 2011. “It was perceived as such because that was the mood of the times. Writers and critics were gleefully looking for something along those lines.” But now, after 40 years, it’s taken one giant leap towards immortality. Whether it can be fine-tuned even further for future generations remains to be seen, but having options like surround to enhance without destroying the integrity offers a new and novel perspective — a discovery of hidden layers to unravel the very essence of Aqualung. One spin, and you’ll want to kick the park bench over and wipe your nose clean.

~ Shawn Perry

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