Jethro Tull | Broadsword And The Beast (The 40th Anniversary Monster Edition) – Box Set Review

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Next up in Jethro Tull’s rotation of classic album boxsets is the 1982 release, Broadsword And The Beast. Much like its predecessor, 1980’s A, the album is heavily keyboard-oriented (thanks to their newly hired keyboardist Peter-John Vettese), though its mythological Tolkien themes align with Tull’s traditional fusion of folk, rock and prog. Lone founding member, singer, and flautist Ian Anderson, longtime guitarist Martin Barre, and bassist David Pegg, who made his Tull debut on A, are joined by Vettese and drummer Gerry Conway to complete the lineup on Broadsword And The Beast.

Of course, the 40th Anniversary Monster Edition is loaded with extras, including new Steven Wilson stereo and 5.1 surround mixes, plus a coterie of demos, rough mixes, flat mixes, live recordings, and sessions from 1981. The five-CD, triple-DVD Monster Edition is rounded out by extensive liner notes that go deep on Vetesse and Conway’s recruitment, the process of bringing in an outside producer (Bob Ezrin and Keith Olson lost out to former Yardbirds bassist and Cat Stevens producer Paul Samwell-Smith), as well as additional pages dedicated to song-by-song commentary, the album’s reception, the tour that followed, cover artist Iain McCaig, and several other key members of Tull’s inner circle.

Sonically, the surround mixes more than live up to expectations. Conway’s drums are especially punchy and convivial, while the synth, organ, and piano work of Vettese warmly wraps its lines around Anderson’s equally enchanting melodies. You could say that Barre’s guitar takes a backseat to the keyboards, though when the guitarist strikes, it’s done with finesse and panache. Broadsword And The Beast is considered a transitional album in Tull’s canon, marking a shift towards a more accessible sound. Not quite as groundbreaking as the band’s earlier works, the songs are consistently well-crafted and arranged. Anderson’s flute work and vocals shine throughout. Some tracks have aged better than others, though the whole album is a testament to Jethro Tull’s enduring musical talent and ability to evolve with the times.

“Beastie,” which opens the record and was originally considered as the album’s title, instantly sets the tone for what’s to come. The melancholic yet catchy “Fallen On Hard Times” features a soothing, haunting acoustic guitar alongside calculating flute and keyboard work to leave a lasting impression. It remains the album’s only single to scrape the Top 20 charts. According to the liner notes, “Slow Marching Band” seems to be a favorite among the players, though “Broadsword” asserts its presence with far more resonance. “Pussy Willow” provides an ethereal interlude, while the bouncing synths and off-beat rhythm give “Watching Me, Watching You” a very 80s feel.

The 21 associated recordings from 1981 on the Monster Edition comprise a mix of near-misses, half-erected ideas, and a few hidden gems. “Roland’s Entry” is an instrumental featuring Anderson trying his hand on a Roland Jupiter-4 synthesizer. There’s quite a bit more of Martin Barre’s superlative guitar on these extras as well, specifically “The Curse (v.2),” “Calafel,” and the invigorating “I’m Your Gun,” which, according to Anderson, was written from the point of a view of a gun. Other associated standouts include “Down At The End Of Your Road,” the folksy, Tullian “Mayhem, Maybe,” “Jack Frost And The Hooded Crow,” plus the delightful instrumental “The Swirling Pit,” “Rhythm In Gold,” and a lovely, beatific “Jack-A Lynn.” Truth be told, hardcore Jethro Tull fans may be more enthralled with the associated recordings than the 10 tracks on the original Broadsword And The Beast.

The inclusion of Live In Germany 1982, in stereo and 4.1 surround (aka quad), has the band offering up as much new material as concert staples like “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath.” Though it would have been nice to have some footage to go along with the music, the live performances prove to be an alluring snapshot of the band adjusting to a new era. For various reasons, Broadsword And The Beast is the only Tull album to feature this particular lineup. Vettese racked up a few songwriting credits and co-wrote additional songs with Ian Anderson on the latter’s debut solo album, Walk Into Light. He remained with Tull for 1984’s Under Wraps and played on half of 1989’s Rock Island before venturing onto a successful recording career of his own as an accompanist and film soundtrack composer. Conway was replaced by a drum machine on Under Wraps, but returned to the Tull fold to share drum duties with Doane Perry on 1987’s Grammy-winning Crest Of A Knave. From there, he went on to apply his subtle, effusive touch for Fairport Convention and Richard Thompson.

All in all, Broadsword And The Beast is a captivating and unique addition to Jethro Tull’s catalog. Though not as widely celebrated as the band’s classic releases from the 70s, it still pushes Anderson and company’s creativity and willingness to experiment. Whether you missed it, passed on it, or barely listened to it when it first came out, the 40th Anniversary Monster Edition, with all its extras, is more than worthy of the plunge to fully appreciate its place in the history of Jethro Tull.

~ Shawn Perry

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