This 3-CD/3-DVD set consists of Jethro Tull’s departure from
their Progressive roots into an electronic rocking voyage with their 13th
studio album, A.
on the Chrysalis label on August 29th
in the UK and on September 1st
in the States in 1980, the album was originally going to be an Ian Anderson
solo album, but the label decided to be credited to the band instead. While
there were two original members – Ian Anderson and Martin Barre – from previous
line-up changes, the album did well.
Recorded during the summer of 1980 at Maison Rouge Mobile
and Maison Rouge Studios featuring bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Mark Craney
along with guest musician from Roxy Music, violinist and keyboardist Eddie
Jobson, A is getting the recognition
it deserving entitled A (A La Mode): The
40th Anniversary Edition. And with Steven Wilson returning to
the mixing table once more for the Tull reissues, it’s time to see what has the
maestro has done to Tull’s underrated gem.
Gone are the storytelling structures from Thick as a Brick, Aqualung, A Passion Play, and
the Folk-Rock trilogy, into soaring adventures from the Fylingdale Flyer. You can hear Barre’s guitar and Eddie’s synths
into the forefront as the doubling-vocal tracks from Ian as he sings “Through clear skies tracking lightly from
far down the line/No fanfare, just a blip on the screen/No quick conclusions
now everything will be fine.”
It does have a little bit of Rush in there as if they were
honoring a bit of the 2112-era, but
checking the channels on the plane’s coordination to make sure it makes a soft
landing with some galloping grooves. Batteries
Not Included becomes this intensive synth-rocking explosion into the danger
zone thanks to Eddie, Martin, Mark, and Ian’s improvisation on the intro.
With its nod to this incredible strange toy from the Land of
the Rising Sun, the question where are the batteries for it to work? Not only
Tull can rock, but show some humor in search of the one thing to make it turn
the lights on and make the wheels run. Eddie takes us in a darker turn with his
electric violin into the working-class Uniforms
as he helps Ian on his melodic vocal styles by going upwards and downwards.
But once he returns to the folk-rock roots with some synths
leading the way on Working John, Working
Joe, Ian doesn’t shy away from Tull’s golden-era for a brief 3 minutes as
he goes back the Premiata Forneria Marconi-sque vibrations of a medieval folk
turned heavy rock dance for The Pine
Closing number, And
Further On starts off with a nod to the unsung British jazz group Gilgamesh
from their Another Fine Tune You’ve Got
Us Into period for a minute before Jobson takes us into the deep, dark
forest as Ian sings about the pollution level has gotten worse; “We saw the heavens break/And all the world
go down to sleep/And rocks on mossy banks/Drip acid rain from craggy steeps.”
And the state on Earth has now entered the O-Zone level, but
then the dynamics from Barre’s guitar comes crashing in for Craney bringing hopefully
a small glimpse of the sunlight to perch through the dark clouds. The situation
ends on a cliffhanger on what is going to happen next. And who knows where the
next hope for peace will be and will they be there for us?
The bonus tracks on the first disc on contains Barre’s
guitar introduction for the extended version of Crossfire. It feels almost like this overture-sque scenario before
it goes straight into the original take. For me, I always felt Martin’s guitar
on the opener, should have been on the album because it gives us a take on what
the danger is to come and how we must prevent it.
with Ian’s flute by taking us into a darker atmosphere with Jobson’s echoing
piano filling up the halls before the bass, dooming guitar, and drums sends the
listener into at first these abandoned halls before the unexpected eruptive
time changes come charging in with some heavy conga grooves. Since I’ve
mentioned about Rush earlier, this is probably their take of an earlier vibe of
YYZ from the Moving Pictures period by taking it up a notch a-la Tull style!
The second and third disc is their live performance which
had been previously “bootlegged” at the Los Angeles Sports Arena during the A tour on November 12, 1980. I can
remember watching the footage of their stunning performance of Aqualung which was on VH1 classic when I
got back into the re-introduction world of Jethro Tull in the fall of 2005.
Now with the Slipstream
available on the A box set on DVD
in Steven’s mix and the Sports Arena’s recording, it makes you feel like you
have a front row ticket to watch the band’s performance at their best. From the
moment they take the stage with the blistering take of Black Sunday as Ian becomes the storyteller, you can feel they are
a part of the journey before Jobson goes into some heavy classical concerto to
be flying into a far-away land.
I can hear Dave Pegg laying down the funk on his Bass on Crossfire as he and Martin follow Ian’s
pleading on the scene of the crime and portraying his innocence while laying
down heavier militant rock vibes to Protect
and Survive. This gives Eddie a lot of ammunition he needs during the
performance between his violin and Ian’s flute solo. You can feel his
appreciation during the times he plays the synths by following Martin’s
He is really going light-speed on his violin as he plays
nonstop to take center stage for the audience to keep going. I could feel the
intensity of Curved Air’s Darryl Way and Mahavishnu’s Jerry Goodman. The band
members are following him in hot pursuit to see where Eddie is going into next
before Barre lays down some hammering improvisations to give Jobson more
ammunition he needs for his keyboard solo.
Now if you think he’s doing a symphonic composition, think
again. Eddie’s keyboard solo becomes dark and gothic. He adds enough charges to
bring the reverbing effects inside the arena as they cheer him on to add some
classical vibrations of Liszt’s last symphony. They also perform two tracks
from the War Child album; the dancing
sing-along for joy on Skating Away on the
Thin Ice of a New Day and the powering punch of Bungle in the Jungle.
But when it comes to the late Mark Craney during the drum
solo break on Uniform, he’s almost
like a conductor taking the drum exercises to a larger scale. He plays at times
between Buddy Rich, Bill Bruford, and Neil Peart. He’s really going into a
killer solo on the kit. Jazzy, Rocking, and in your face, Mark deserves a lot
of recognition on this number.
The verdict? While it’s not one of my favorite Tull albums,
The A La Mode box set is worth the
wait. And made me appreciate the album a bit more thanks to Steven’s incredible
mixing to show that he may have one more Tull reissue up his sleeve. So who
knows what will happen next. But it’s time to fly again once more to delve back
into the A album, and finally getting
the recognition it deserves.