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15 April 1978

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Jethro Tull: Heavy Horses (Chrysalis CHR 1175)

A long-time fan of Jethro Tull, I have recently become concerned by Ian Anderson's gradual decline. I'm painfully forced to compare Tull to an ageing dog: lots of bark but no bite.

I remember praising Minstrel In The Gallery to the high heavens and remarking that after a rather bleak and unproductive period Tull were back on song again.

Then came Too Old To Rock And Roll, which was just a minor setback, and last year Songs From The Wood, a definite indication that Anderson wasn't interested in the uncompromising but still subtle rock that made the band renowned. And now comes Heavy Horses, and by its title alone you'd expect well, you know, a bit of rock 'n' roll.

By rights, I should allow an artist of Anderson's calibre the option to move along whatever path he wishes. Aqualung is no more after all. It's finished, past and buried, so I suppose you've got to admire him for going on to fresh pastures, which is exactly what he has done. He has become obsessed with the countryside. Heavy Horses takes up where Songs From The Wood left off: a celebration of Mother Nature.

An artist's music is a reflection of his surroundings, Philip Chevron tells me, and that is certainly the case here. Anderson has engulfed himself in the peace and quiet of his country home, his animals and his acres of land, and the result, not surprisingly, is music that is frequently timid and gentrified. Rock 'n' roll this ain't.

That is a generalisation, and there are rare moments of inspiration on Heavy Horses, 'Acres Wild', 'No Lullaby', 'Journeyman' and the second segment of the title track which see Tull in a much better light, though most of them are touched by a gentle, folky mood that Anderson appears determined to maintain.

This works sometimes, and Tull respond with a couple of beautifully orchestrated pieces, particularly on 'Acres Wild', 'Heavy Horses' and an otherwise wretched track, 'Rover', where the acoustics blend nicely.

For those whose interest in Tull is confined to their raunchier aspects, there is but one track, 'No Lullaby', where Martin Barre is given his obligatory two minutes to get his guitar frustrations down on tape. It's an excellent track, powerfully aided by some funky drumming from Barrie Barlow.

But what seems to make it successful is that the entire band have contributed and Anderson's influence does not hold sway. A pity the band didn't exercise the same resourcefulness on the rest of the album.

But what makes Heavy Horses even more insignificant — I never thought I'd hear myself calling Jethro Tull insignificant — is the lyrical matter. A look over the track listing: '... And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps' (about cats); 'Rover' (a dog, although it could also be any manner of subjects) and 'Heavy Horses' (a hymn to horses and how one day they'll make a glorious return — the album is actually dedicated to a wide species of other "indigenous working ponies and horses of Great Britain").

Anderson manages to break the deadlock only twice: on 'Journeyman', a sarcastic, witty observation of the commuter's daily travels, and 'No Lullaby', a rather frightening children's tale.

The music is often quite endearing, but Tull's drabness is starting to frustrate me. Heavy Horses, with its log-fire, boy scout overtures, only compounds the felony.

Of course, all of this will probably earn me a couple of nasty asides from Anderson on Tull's forthcoming British tour.



Thanks to John Bennett for this article