8 May 1976
AN OLD CONCEPT WILL MAYBE LET YOU DOWN
'Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll: Too Young To Die'
(Chrysalis CHR 1111)
On a quick perusal of the field I reckon Ian Anderson is the most articulate rocker I've ever encountered. In fact hearing him talk is probably a pleasure more unalloyed than listening to his music which is unusual in that it all sounds very much the same and yet is also very inconsistent.
By his own admission he writes two basic numbers: the fast one surging along with the whole band hitting it with their own individual sound and the slow one placing his witty and conversational voice upfront against acoustic guitar, flute and suchlike pretty and charming sounds (my favourites being the maybe unlikely choices from War Child, 'Ladies Of Leisure' [sic] and 'Back Door Angels').
So I'm not griping about his new one fitting the formula. That is Ian Anderson and either you get some kicks out of it or you don't. But this time he never quite makes it to one of his goodies. Musically it really does seem to be the old routine, standard arrangements knocked off as if they were of no particular concern to him (i.e. they sound perfectly palatable but lack sparkle).
Honourable exception is 'From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser' where he sings slowly, reflective, melancholy, his own voice harmonising a high and low line over subdued guitars and violins.
The melodies likewise don't seem to have been the focus of his attention — they are subservient to the words even more than usual. The only ones that stick in your head an hour later 'From A Dead Beat', 'Bad-Eyed And Loveless' and 'The Chequered Flag (Dead Or Alive)'.
Which means them words have got to be ultra-rivetting for the album to make it. Well, this is some kinda concept album folks telling the story of an old rocker called Ray Lomas who flips, smashes himself up and ends up so out-of-fashion he's a la mode and pulling all the birds who are young enough to be his daughters (and very probably are). Sentence by sentence Anderson comes up with the striking phrases at the same remarkable rate as ever. How's this for tightness in Taxi Grab: "Nowhere to put your feet as the big store shoppers and the pavements meet/ Red lights — pin stripes — short step shuffle into the night."
That's where he really has expressed his care this time round. There's hardly a loose or ungainly word throughout. So coupled with OK music that should have made the album one of his best shouldn't it? Yeah, but then you come to the important question of what's it all about, Ian?
My feeling is that the story, told in cartoon form on the gatefold, has been a self-imposed restriction. Basically it is far too inconsequential for the thoughts he has tried to wrap around it and it doesn't hang together until Ray the hero burns away on his death trip. His appearance on a TV quiz show and meeting with a society beauty ('Salamander') who ditches him are both trite and unlikely events and there's a feeling of strain as the songs strive to invest them with social significance.
Then, well put together as Taxi Grab' is, the thinking behind it is the cliched moan about the grime, hurry and noise of city living. Anderson usually talks to us on a much deeper level than that — and on Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll he only hits those depths of awareness, a kind of sympathetic irony, with 'From A Dead Beat' and 'The Chequered Flag'.
Ray the hero's rejection of his old mate the dead beat was the only moment which had any dramatic impact on Mike Mansfield's TV video of the album (to be shown later in the summer). And the despairing, defiant chorus of the album's last track at last steps out of the effort to make rockers significant in some way that could never ring true and look at er, well, the human condition.
The opening verse is about a motor racing hero: "The young man's home; dry as a bone. His helmet off, he waves: the crowd waves back./ One lap victory roll. Gladiator soul/ The taker of the day in winning has to say/ Isn't it grand to be playing to the stand dead or alive." In the later verses the same chorus is taken up by an old man and a still-born child — it's grim, rough and loving. The rest of the album is interesting but somehow you feel he'd lost track of where he was at.
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.