Broadsword And The Beast
Chrysalis Records, 1982
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/26/2004
After three albums with their roots firmly planted in folk, Ian Anderson had branched out to a more electronic sound on A, the disc which was supposed to be his solo debut but ended up being the next Jethro Tull record. I swear, I must be the only person on the face of the earth who liked this record.
Anderson had to have thought that a synthesizer-driven sound was the next route to go. Broadsword And The Beast, the 1982 release from Jethro Tull, mostly eschewed the folk sound the group had recently been known for and featured, thanks to Peter-John Vettesse, a sound more reliant on synthesizers than guitar. This, it turned out, was a bad move, and Jethro Tull had created their worst disc since the abominable A Passion Play.
Granted, the fault isn't totally with the reliance on synthesizers -- that would become a problem on Under Wraps, but that was one album away. Yes, this overall sound for Tull made it seem like the band was wildly flaying around for a sound (never mind the fact that synthesizer-driven rock was all the rage for the first half of the '80s). Instead, the problem was with songwriting. Most of the tracks on this disc sound like ideas which were only partially through their development phases, only to be committed to tape before they could be finished.
This, it turns out, is the tragic flaw of Broadsword And The Beast. Sure, the chanting of the song title on "Beastie" makes it sound ridiculous, but songs like this one, "Flying Colours," "Fallen On Hard Times" and "Slow Marching Band" all sound like they're just not complete. (A better version of "Fallen On Hard Times" can be found on the box set 20 Years Of Jethro Tull.) Had Anderson spent some more time fleshing out these tracks, the quality of Broadsword And The Beast would have increased significantly.
Alas, we're left with what we have. And while Jethro Tull tries to recapture some of their past glory on tracks like "Pussy Willow," "Broadsword" and "Seal Driver," that magic is nowhere to be found.
It wasn't that Jethro Tull wasn't ready for the world of electronic rock; they had shown they were capable of merging the worlds of keyboards and electric guitars on A rather well. It's just that, after a two-year gap between albums (the longest Tull had gone to that point between discs), they just sounded very tired. Indeed, even for underdeveloped tracks, the bulk of Broadsword And The Beast sounds like the band is going through the motions. It would have been better to have worked out all of the kinks with this incarnation of the band and polished up the songs, then released an album that would have been many levels above what we have now. (I will admit, though, not all the fans would still have been pleased -- the thrills of the fickle finger of fate. But at least you couldn't have blamed Anderson for trying.)
Broadsword And The Beast is an album whose edge is incredibly dulled, and whose music shows no fire in the belly. In short, it just doesn't cut it.