Chrysalis Records, 1974
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/08/2004
Jethro Tull was caught in a bit of a maelstrom by the time War Child came out in 1974. Having survived the critical drubbing their last album A Passion Play took and the rumor that Ian Anderson was so upset with the response to the disc that he disbanded Tull (only to reform the next day), Anderson faced a tough choice. Record a straight-out album or try another concept piece?
In truth, War Child was supposed to be a soundtrack to a movie -- in essence, becoming the third concept piece in a row for Jethro Tull -- but the bottom eventually fell out of that plan. In its place came this album, complete with scraps from the infamous "Chateau D'Isaster" sessions. If only this album had enough firepower to propel it.
Make no mistake, Anderson and crew do come up with some classic material on this album (which was re-mastered and released in an expanded edition in 2002; I'm working with the original album, cheapskate that I am). To this day, "Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of A New Day)" remains one of my favorite songs. From its simple opening of Anderson's vocals and acoustic guitar, the instrumentation slowly is layered in, almost as if the band were joining in an informal jam session. It's quirky but upbeat, and is still one of Jethro Tull's best recorded moments -- interestingly enough, it's also one of three songs from the "Chateau D'Isaster" sessions.
And while "Bungle In The Jungle" has become a bit overplayed thanks to the tunnel vision of classic rock stations across America, it still is a somewhat enjoyable track, especially when heard in its own natural environment. (Insert your Wild Kingdom joke here.) In fact, it sometimes feels like the whole second half of War Child is infallible, what with the classic tracks"The Third Hoorah" (which has the feel of an Irish jig to it) and "Two Fingers" livening things up.
It is the first half of War Child, though, that is the most difficult to get through, and seems to be the most bogged down in any plot. The title track is decent enough, I will admit, but things nosedive quickly from there. "Queen And Country" almost sounds like Anderson and crew are trying too hard to write a rock-oriented song, while tracks such as "Ladies" and "Back Door Angels" don't quite seem like they know what genre they should be in or what they're supposed to be about. And let's not get into the absolute silliness of "Sealion."
Maybe - just maybe - some of these tracks would have made more sense had War Child been made into the movie it was supposed to be. But while there are some definite moments on this disc which show that Jethro Tull was still a force to be dealt with, War Child remains a disc which is very hit or miss, despite sounding remarkably fresh 30 years after it was released.