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13 September 1975
WORKING MAN'S GUIDE TO TULL
Minstrel In The Gallery
(Chrysalis CHR 1082)
A new Jethro Tull album is not the most exciting release in the world these days: not the type of record to force its way onto your turntable and remain embedded on your consciousness forever. With Passion Play and its schizoid time changes, Ian Anderson led his merry bunch of men through disjointed pastures, less melodic than those instantly recognisable tunes that earned the group their solid gold status.
WarChild was a step in the right direction; looking back to yesterday but leaning substantially on their 'new direction'. In concert, passion plays were interspersed with quick trips down memory lane, Anderson performing old masterpieces with a disturbing mechanical vengeance.
Older fans weaned on Stand Up and Benefit, coming of age with Aqualung, have easily grown disappointed and disillusioned over the last few Tull years. That's why Minstrel In The Gallery is such a pleasant surprise. Quite honestly, I was dreading listening to it, expecting to see yesterday's heroes (codpiece and all) parading through the speakers, a mere shadow of former glories. But Ian Anderson, and curiously enough the band, seem on top of the situation once again.
It's their best album since Thick As A Brick yet closer in harmonic melodies and gentle emotions to songs like 'Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square', 'Reasons For Waiting' or 'To Cry You A Song'. The album smoothly combines the best Tull elements, wrapping them around Anderson's voice with sensitivity and understanding of the material.
Returning to softer melodies offset by coarse sounding rock, it's the perfect working man's guide to Jethro Tull. Drummer Barriemore Barlow has stopped thrashing about at random, sticking to a more hollow sounding use of percussion reminiscent of Clive Bunker's best work with the band. Martin Barre is still not a great guitarist — one suspects he never will quite make it — but as on Aqualung, the lead guitar work is unimaginative but more than adequate. Bassist Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond lays low while John Evan rises to the cause with some lovely and haunting acoustic piano playing that nicely compliments the softer side of Anderson.
The biggest change, of course, is with Anderson himself, sounding surprisingly fresh and inspired. The title track is standard fare played well with good, bitter, satirical lyrics. 'Cold Wind To Valhalla' is perfect fireside stuff, decorated by hand-clap percussions and nice in-built tensions with flute and acoustic guitar. 'Black Satin Dancer' kicks off with an introductory flute tease before the piano wraps itself around the music, ending in a merry sort of jig. 'Requiem' is another acoustic piece that finds Anderson returning to his old throwaway phrasing.
Most of side two is taken up by the album's finest moment: four songs carefully sewn together under the name 'Baker Street Muse'. Anderson has always had both a lyrical and musical flair for concepts but this one wears better than previous forty minute epics, edited down to a rousing sixteen minutes of lovely playing. A string section supplements the band, serving as connector between harder rock and soft late night listening.
With much of Anderson's material, the urban life of London lends itself to the atmosphere, the writer proclaiming himself just another 'Baker Street Muse' with Indian restaurants that curry his brain. The piece is stuffed full of his wonderfully cynical 'fuck you' attitude that made Aqualung so attractive. He's even back to the gutter on 'Crash Barrier Waltzer', while 'Mother England Reverie' is another media put-down as well as a statement on that all-consuming 98% tax.
Ian Anderson is quite a clever lad, aware of his ability to remain above the rock rubble. "We're getting a bit short on heroes lately," he sings earlier in 'Cold Wind To Valhalla'. With Minstrel In The Gallery, Ian Anderson regains his hero stance quite nicely.