Forever a Tull moment: life is a long song.
since releasing their debut in 1968, when Harold Wilson was advocating the I’m Backing Britain campaign and Daniel Craig, Kylie Minogue and the Big Mac first appeared on Earth, Jethro Tull have enjoyed remarkable durability. They’ve fallen in and out (let’s be honest, mostly out) of fashion, and been through over 30 band members across those five decades.
Yet Ian Anderson has kept the name afloat, whether they’ve been perceived as America-pitched stadium rockers or morris-dancing folkies.
From codpieces to country gents,
Tull have explored more genres than is usually acknowledged, from blues to prog to electronica, from world music to Christmas songs to hard rock. Their hard rock may not have been hard enough for Metallica fans, as the controversy over their 1988 Grammy win showed (in fact, that winning album, Crest Of A Knave, sounds more like Dire Straits than Def Leppard), but that’s Tull for you – you think they’re one thing, then they’re another. It’s a shame sceptics don’t dive into their catalogue more often. Much like their musical structures, it’s a wealth of twisty surprises – a joyful track like Songs From The Wood has more ideas than most manage on a whole album.
This 50-track selection, curated by Anderson himself, gives a fine overview of a band who’ve sold 60 million albums, and you don’t do that if you’re just a googly-eyed bloke on one leg with a flute. Genres are genres, but songs cross bridges – these tunes have engines, and Anderson’s a detailed lyricist. One imagines his stories of lusty liaisons with mysterious women are a reason why Nick Cave is such a fan.
As with any compilation, you can’t please everybody – this reviewer’s favourite album, Thick As A Brick, feels under-represented – but the greats you’d expect from Aqualung, Heavy Horses, Too Old To Rock’n’Roll and A Passion Play are included on this lively, colourful three-CD set. (There are one-CD and LP edits available too.) Fifty not out, but definitely out there.