In a world where Thick As A Brick, Benefit, Warchild, and the monolithic Aqualung exist, A was never going to come across as anyone’s most favored Jethro Tull album. As often told, it wasn’t even supposed to be a Jethro Tull album, but instead Ian Anderson’s first solo album, hence the “A” on the documentation. Instead, the expected interventions occurred and here we are, forty-plus years later listening to another well-constructed, thoughtful anniversary edition.
And just because it will not be someone’s number one Tull record doesn’t make it a bad record. On the contrary, time has been remarkably kind to A. Coming off of a triptych of prog-folk entries, A has a lighter touch with a few more keyboards than fans expected. Those come to the mix in part from Eddie Jobson, perhaps best known for his work with Roxy Music and U.K. Aside from keys, he also brought his violin which mix extraordinarily with Anderson’s flute.
A was right in line with where music was at with the dawn of the 1980s. Prog had to adapt or die. Some went more pop and new wave, like King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis, and even if this was an Anderson solo record initially, it was not unaware of the shifting sands of rock radio. The days of a stoned DJ playing one full side of Thick As A Brick or Yes’ Close To The Edge were over. Synthetic sounds were ascendant in the post-punk landscape, and in only a year’s time, MTV was going to make your face a whole lot more important than your voice.
A‘s tracks are shorter, catchier than some previous Tull efforts, but it still sounds definitively Tull. Whether that’s just because Anderson is going to sound like Anderson no matter the pretense or whether he nudged the material that way when the insistence this would be Tull came down, I suppose it depends on which apocrypha suits your tastes. No matter, the album fits in better than most would presume, especially with worthy additions like “Fylingdale Flyer” and “And Further On.”
The bookset format that has been used for the majority of the Tull anniversary campaign is, in my opinion, the best way to do this kind of thing right now. The CDs/DVDs, while being the point of the product, are neatly tucked aside as the hefty inner book steals the show. The notes are exhaustive. If you don’t know more about Anderson and Tull by the end of each entry, you were never interested enough at the start.
If you have been putting off reengaging with A because of its placement in canon or never gave it a try before, I think it is worth your attention. It is a solid record that may sound “of its time,” but sounds like its best rendition of it.