25th Anniversary Box Set
Chrysalis Records, 1993
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/30/2004
Here's a rhetorical question: Does a band really need to put out two boxed sets within five years of each other?
That's the question one would have to ask of Ian Anderson, the living, breathing force behind Jethro Tull. It was one thing for Anderson to help compile 20 Years Of Jethro Tull, a set which did a good job of chronicling the band's history up to their comeback (if one could really use that term, since the group never went away). But to release a set like 25th Anniversary Box Set -- a set which cost me $80 back in the day, and which is now out-of-print -- just five years later, and feature precious little new material, was a questionable move.
When I first listened to it shortly after buying it, I believed I had gotten royally ripped off. Dusting it off for the first time in a decade as part of this retrospective on Tull, I was able to appreciate some of the nuances I hadn't seen the first time around -- and, indeed, the performances are pleasant enough. Yet one has to wonder whether there was something better that Anderson could have provided the fans with -- say, the boxed set of bootleg recordings promised in the booklet which has never materialized.
First things first: there is absolutely no reason that Anderson needed to include a disc of Jethro Tull's "classic" songs remixed, for a few reasons. First, he absolutely butchered "Songs From The Wood" -- Ian, I love ya, but you don't fix what ain't broken, bub. Second, no matter what, long-time fans were going to find something missing from this collection. Third -- and most importantly -- there are so many best-of collections out there (even back in 1993) that it was sheer redundancy to re-package them again.
The two discs' worth of live material -- one from Carnegie Hall in 1970, the other featuring performances from around the world -- prove to be the shining stars in this set. To hear the maturation of the band -- and especially to hear the rest of the show that was first featured on Living In The Past -- is something worthwhile for fans of all ages. Granted, the newer material (or the more recent recordings) don't seem to pack as great of a punch, but when you hear Anderson take on "A Song For Jeffrey" (the third version on this set) from 1993, you can't help but hear Anderson time warp back to 1968 in his vocal style.
This leaves one disc -- "The Beacon's Bottom Tapes" -- which features the band recording "live in the studio" remakes of old classics. This isn't as successful of an experiment as Anderson may have hoped, but there is a kitsch factor to this disc which even the long-time fans have to appreciate. After all, if one goes to see Jethro Tull in concert today, this is what you can expect the band to sound like.
Yet the question still remains: did the world really need another multi-disc box set from Jethro Tull? Honestly, the answer is "no." Had this been pared down to a two-disc set, maybe just focusing on live recordings of Tull through the years, it would have been a more powerful collection. As it stands, there are moments of grandeur on 25th Anniversary Box Set, but this is one that is truly for the completists only.