Jethro Tull, “War Child II” (2014): One Track Mind

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What with Jethro Tull’s having been declared dead by their erstwhile leader Ian Anderson, the idea of new music — any new music — from the group has to be greeted with unbridled jubilation. That the song, titled “War Child II,” actually arrives courtesy of an anniversary reissue of Tull’s 1974 album War Child, is but a minor detail.

It’s new Jethro Tull, in the sense that we’ve never heard it before. And it’s thrilling, in the sense that this sensation of discovery — such an every-day occurence in the 1970s and 1980s, when Anderson and Company issued 15 albums in 20 years — appears to be a thing of the past.

War Child, a single-disc winnowing of a failed movie soundtrack, will certainly never be mentioned in the same breath as contemporary successes like 1971’s Aqualung and 1972’s Thick as a Brick. But the project unfolded with a lighter touch than its immediate predecessor, the very dark Passion Play — something we can ascribe, at least in part, to the presence of David Palmer’s string arrangements. It also includes one of the group’s very best singles in the No. 12 Billboard hit “Bungle in the Jungle.”

That song, as with “War Child II,” is fired by the badly missed collaborative work of classic-era members John Evan, Jeffrey Hammond, Barriemore Barlow and Martin Barre — all of whom, ending with Barre, eventually departed as Jethro Tull morphed into a vehicle for Ian Anderson’s muse. “War Child II,” however, betrays none of that sad future as it unfolds with an almost mathematical narrative intricacy. Anderson and Barre tangle brilliantly on vocals and guitar, respectively, even as Evan’s keyboard and Anderson’s sax work in smart counterpoint. Palmer’s sweeping strings sweeten a tough cadence from Barlow, before (perhaps inevitably) our protagonist’s furious efforts at dancing away the strife all around are obscured by wave after wave of explosions.

Elsewhere, War Child promises an updated sound. This three-disc 40th anniversary edition features a sparkling Steven Wilson mix, as well as 10 additional orchestral pieces and script details from the project’s lost accompanying film. Anderson has composed updated notes for the reissue as part of a sprawling 80-page book. Jethro Tull’s War Child: The 40th Anniversary Theatre Edition is due as a 2CD/2DVD edition on November 24, 2014, and as a limited edition 180-gram vinyl edition on January 13, 2015.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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