J-Tull Dot Com

Jethro Tull

Fuel 2000 Records, 1999


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Call Ian Anderson a man without a cause. When his band Jethro Tull was in its heyday during the '70s, they were able to take the worlds of progressive and modern rock and turn them on their ears. Aqualung broke several molds, and still remains a masterpiece. Bands had done concept albums before; few had attempted albums made up of one, continuous song like Tull did on Thick As A Brick (and, less successfully, on A Passion Play). Jethro Tull helped to spearhead the folk revival with such albums as Songs From The Wood, and helped to prove the stupidity behind the way some of the Grammies were awarded by winning the first trophy under the heavy metal category. (I don't think Metallica has ever forgiven that one.)

But at the dawn of a new millenium, Anderson seems like he and his group of ever-changing minstrels (the only constant being guitarist Martin Barre, who's been with the band since album number two) don't know what roads they have left to conquer. So while their latest release J-Tull Dot Com is musically pleasing, it shows a band that does something dangerous: it finds a comfort level in ground they've already plowed.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first, obvious question that people will ask is: can Jethro Tull still create enjoyable music after over 30 years together? The answer is a very solid "yes"; many of the tracks on this disc are ones you'll find yourself going back to with a smile on your face. The second question is: do Jethro Tull prove they're still relevant musically? Unfortunately, this question defies an easy answer.

For one thing, Anderson and crew seem to fall back to the days of Crest Of A Knave and Rock Island for musical inspiration on J-Tull Dot Com. The long drawn-out romantic ballads are (thankfully) gone, but with them also seemed to go the sense of urgency in the music.Tracks like "Bends Like A Willow," "A Gift Of Roses," "Black Mamba" and "Far Alaska" all are okay to listen to, but they don't satisfy like a lot of Jethro Tull's past discography.

And I'll get this one out of the way now: What the hell was Anderson thinking with "Hot Mango Flush"? I have listened to this song several times, and it still makes absolutely no sense to me. Add into this the reprise "Mango Surprise," and I have to think that I'm missing some type of inside joke.

If you think that all I'm going to do is cry and moan about J-Tull Dot Com, think again. There are moments on this album that show me just why Anderson continues doing what he does best (well, that and raising salmon). "Spiral" is a great way to kick this album off (though I would have liked to have heard more of Barre's guitar work), and it features Anderson's voice sounding its best in years. (Again, I have yet to listen to Roots To Branches - and I left the damn tape at work, so I can't compare the two - so it might have been just as good then.)

"AWOL," "Hunt By Numbers" and "Wicked Windows" all are equally as good in comparison - and you have to admire the way Anderson pulled off merging technology with pop musicianship on "Dot Com". Such a marriage could have been disastrous - but Anderson knows how to use his craft well.

It's not that J-Tull Dot Com is a bad album, or is even a disappointment. It's just that, knowing their history, one tends to expect a lot more out of this band than a newer, less established group. So when they fail to meet even the slightest of our expectations, it seems like more of a major thing than it really is.

J-Tull Dot Com reminds me a lot of the Tull from around the era of A, though less synthesized. If you liked that period of Tull's career - or the Crest Of A Knave / Rock Island bands, then J-Tull Dot Com is going to be a treasure trove for you. Otherwise, it's a hit-and-miss effort that still comes out on the winning end.

Rating: B-

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Fuel 2000 Records, and is used for informational purposes only.