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Q magazine

September 1999

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The spark's not completely out

Jethro Tull
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Ian Anderson still has his marbles. As Jethro Tull's flute-tooting, salmon-farming leader celebrates his 52nd birthday this year, the title of the group's new album might seem desperately contrived to create a little late-90s currency, yet they've always remained quaintly and resolutely out of fashion, as was made abundantly clear on their 1976 anthem 'Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll, Too Young To Die'.

When, a year later, punk raged about him, Ian Anderson had one finger in his ear singing 'Songs From The Wood' and sounding for all the world like a stick-clattering morris dancer supping a half of Old Todger. Patently, the man cares little what anyone thinks.

So while the title of this album might place it squarely in the present, and song titles like 'Nothing @ All' and 'El Nino' prove that Anderson is still very much in touch with the real world, there is plenty here to comfort fans of the heavy-rocking, eccentric prog-folk of Thick As A Brick and Aqualung (one of their two Number 1 American albums), which made Jethro Tull one of the biggest rock acts of the early 70s.

'Far Alaska' is especially proggie-friendly, featuring the kind of tricky time-changes that could only be successfully navigated by a seasoned noodler such as Anderson or guitarist Martin Barre (one year Anderson's senior, and Tull veteran since 1969). 'Bends Like A Willow', despite its Olde Worlde title, is the most modern-sounding of these 14 tracks, echoing U2 circa The Joshua Tree, which, admittedly, is 12 years old, but all things are relative.

When he can get that bloody flute out of his mouth long enough to string a few words together, Anderson displays a neat self-deprecating touch on 'The Dog-Ear Years': "Vintage and classic or just plain Jurassic — all words to describe me." Only on 'Hunt By Numbers', a song about his cats, does the old boy make a bit of an arse of himself.

He can afford to, as he makes his cheekily titled, antediluvian records from his 400-acre rustic West Country idyll. "Death may beckon," he warns, "but retirement most certainly does not."