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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
13 September 1975
C'MON BLIGHTY, LIGHT MY FIRE!
Will this get us bad-mouthed at the next Jethro gig?
'Minstrel in the Gallery' (Chrysalis)
Though Ian Anderson is going to take some shifting from his view that 'Passion Play' is the Tull piece de resistance thus far, signs are that he's come to accept one criticism of it as valid ... that of it representing a cultural cul-de-sac.
It's mainly hypothetical this (I claim no membership of the Jethro inner circle — but I have had a quick shufti at the biog in the review copy) but it looks to me like Ian Anderson decided to rethink his options after his commitment to the grandiose pastures/postures that led 'Aqualung' into 'Thick As A Brick' and hence to 'Passion Play'.
We'll ignore 'Benefit' (Tull no. 3) — Anderson seems happy enough to do likewise according [to] the Chrysalis info sheet — and hypothesise a situation where Tull return to 'Stand Up' (Tull 2 — still with me?) and pursue a different route out of possible alternatives to arrive at 'War Child', their last album.
Anderson himself goes some way to supporting this view in the following quote:
"'War Child' is like a sophisticated 'Stand Up', inasmuch as it's made up of personable kinds of songs. It was a very refreshing album to make but I don't feel it goes down as being a terribly important album."
Me neither, though 'Minstrel' obviously has far grander pretentions.
As Anderson takes pains to assure us, it has far more of a "direction", is "more positive", is "as different from 'War Child' as 'Stand Up' was from 'Aqualung'."
True — but the ancestry is clear. And it seems reasonable to assume that Jethro have withdrawn if not to square 1 at least as far as square 2 to re-explore the index of possibilities.
Which means that, at the very least, the sensitive among us can approach the current-day Jethro without fear of being brutally assaulted at every twist and turn by the barbaric riffs and catchpenny melodrama that characterised middle-period Tull. Ian Anderson has always been better applying his not inconsiderable lyrical prowess towards reportage rather than pulpit-thumping.
Side one opens with an MC announcing the performance of a minstrel troupe (don't be too put off, spoken word is at a minimum) — over which Anderson, supposedly listening from the 'audience', comments to a companion: "They're not going to like this." Thence into the title track, a synthesis of Tull riffs and licks which work in this context, though I can see why CSM [Charles Shaar Murray] thought it was a cop-out when reviewing same as a single. It serves to establish Tull/Anderson as the minstrels/minstrel of the piece, the artificiality of which is explored in a largely acoustic format — shades of Incredible String Band and Anderson's recent (?) predilection for hanging out with folkies — through a clutch of love songs to the intended piece de resistance, the three-section 'Baker Street Muse'.
Actually it starts a bit earlier than that in 'One White Duck = Smart Ass Title' where Anderson seems to be disclaiming his role as high-heeled spokesperson for the trenchcoat brigade.
'Baker Street Muse' is basically reportage, an Andersonian peephole on Old Blighty in decline.
There was a little boy stood on a burning log,
rubbing his hands with glee. He said, "Oh Mother England,
did you light my smile; or did you light this fire under me?
One day I'll be a minstrel in the gallery.
And paint you a picture of the queen.
And if sometimes I sing to a cynical degree —
it's just the nonsense that it seems."
Or is this Ian Anderson in decline, in frustration? And if so, at what?
Perhaps the end has more significance than anything that's gone before. Out of the silence that follows this lengthy piece, Anderson's footsteps are heard echoing across the empty room. There's the sound of him trying the locked studio door, and a desperate cry: "I can't get out."
Like T. Rundgren, cosmic buffoon of this parish, Ian Anderson is one of the few artists who's attempted to confront the confusion of rock star role-playing from an elpee's worth of tunes. He's always had an obsession with the musician as song-jobber.
The question is: who's listening?