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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 243 - 06/20/16

Jethro Tull
Aqualung - 40th Anniversary Adapted Edition
Chrystalis Records

'Sitting on a park bench
Eyeing little girls with bad intent'

Ah, let's take a trip fourtysomething years back. Aqualung must have been one of my very first encounters with folk-rock, progressive rock, in fact folk-blues-progressive hard-rock. A good friend of mine at school bought it and it was one of the first albums I taped at home onto cassette after I bought my first glorious mono cassette player from the same classmate. He used to write down some of the lyrics from the album before he handed in his English exams and tests during lower secondary school. I don't think it improved his grades or standing among the teachers to deliver lyrics like the title track (about a dirty and snotty old tramp), "Cross-Eyed Mary" (a schoolgirl prostitute), "My God" (Christianity turned upside down by Man and the church) or "Hymn 43" (a hymn to God about the sins of Man). Anyhow, our English teacher passed away many years ago, but Aqualung still stands firm.

Later I bought a copy of the LP myself, then much later a remastered CD with several bonus tracks from the late 1990s, but didn't go for the 40th anniversary box with four discs, vinyl LP and a hardcover book released in 2011. The new adapted version comes in a smaller handy book-format with the four discs and about the same written material as in the box, but without the LP. It's the same format as several of the other classic Jethro Tull albums have been released in during the last couple of years. CD one of the book/box includes a new stereo mix by Steven Wilson (yes the guitarist from Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Blackfield, Bass Communion etc. and remix master of classic albums by King Crimson, Yes, Caravan, XTC and beyond) with the original 11 album songs. Disc two includes associated recordings from 1970 and 1971, including alternative takes of some songs from the album and the five track EP Life Is A Long Song that was released in September 1971, six moonths after the LP. The two DVD-discs contains surround, quadrophonic and original stereo mixes. There's hardly any video material on the DVDs, only a promotion film of the song "Life Is A Long Song". Which means there probably are no more TV-recordings from this era that have survived. The 80 page book is a gem, at least for those of us who have hailed the album as one of the very best for five decades by now. It includes interviews with Tull's main man Ian Anderson, memoirs from the other band members of the Aqualung era and producer Steven Wilson's story of his efforts. The book also contains album lyrics and the notes from the original album cover (that starts in this way: 'In the beginning Man created God; and in the image of Man created he him.'), rare photos, even one where long-legged Norwegian actress/model Julie Ege presents a gold disc to Ian Anderson. I found it interesting to read about the troubles during the recordings at the brand new Island Records' studios in a former church where Tull were used as guinea pigs in the much too big studio whereas Led Zeppelin tried out the smaller one (recording Led Zeppelin IV). The Tull members where not at all sure if they had recorded a good album after it had been mixed.

Anderson stresses that Aqualung is a very acoustic album, as opposed to the previous three more electric blues-based ones. And yes, of course he is right, though I've haven't really looked at it that way. The iconic guitar riffs of the title track, "Crossed-Eyed Mary", "My God" and "Hymn 43" along with the exquisite classic string arrangement of the short "Slipstream", the intro with classic piano turning jazzy of "Locomotive Breath" and the flute solos/salads of the latter and "My God" are the elements that stand out most clearly. But the recording process started with Ian Anderson alone in the big studio playing acoustic guitar and simple rhythms, too, if necessary. Listening again to the album in that perspective, I've started to appreciate the songs even more, not only the acoustic folk-tinged gems like the social-realistic "Cheap Day Return" and the surrealistic "Mother Goose" to name but two, but also the acoustic elements of the more electric ones. The alternative takes of disc two are interesting. At the same time they state that the band made the right decisions about which versions to use on the original LP. And the mainly acoustic songs of the EP are very well worth checking out as well. My surround system is not up and working at the moment, but I've read that some proud owners of the 40th Anniversary box and the new Adapted Edition think Steven Wilson's surround mix of some of the songs are worth the price of admission alone. My only small objection concerns the cover art. The paintings of the original fold-out LP cover and some of the lyrics were inspired by photos taken by Ian Anderson's wife of poor people at the Thames Embankment in London. Tramps, like the one from the title track and the front cover, and other drop-outs. It could've been interesting if some of those photos had been included in the book.

Anyways, Aqualung is a necessity for anyone interested in the history and mysteries of rock'n'roll! The Adapted Edition can be found at a reasonable price at the moment. But don't hesitate too long. These Tull book-versions tend to sell out rather quickly. And of course there is a variety of mostly cheaper other physical and psychical album formats to choose among, too. After having lived with the book-box for a moonth and a half, it's the fascinating acoustic guitar chord progression, the fundament of "My God" that keeps spinning in my head. Strange, really, that an album with lyrics as critical to religion was the big break-through for the band in the God-fearing Americas. Judge for yourselves:

People - what have you done
locked Him in His golden cage.
Made Him bend to your religion
Him resurrected from the grave.
He is the god of nothing
if that's all that you can see.
You are the god of everything
He's inside you and me.
So lean upon Him gently
and don't call on Him to save you
from your social graces
and the sins you used to waive.
The bloody Church of England
in chains of history
requests your earthly presence at
the vicarage for tea.
And the graven image you-know-who
with His plastic crucifix
he's got him fixed
confuses me as to who and where and why
as to how he gets his kicks.
Confessing to the endless sin
the endless whining sounds.
You'll be praying till next Thursday to
all the gods that you can count.'

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You may also want to check out our Jethro Tull article/review: Stand Up: The Elevated Edition.

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