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As my vinyl records and cassettes have been consigned to the loft, along with the rather cumbersome midi player I used to play them on, I'm currently replacing many of them with CDs. The latest addition to my CD collection is Too Old for Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die from a band I first saw way back at the very end of the 60s at the legendary Marquee Club in Wardour Street (sadly no longer there), and one of the best progressive folk/rock bands ever: Jethro Tull.
Anyone of my generation will, I'm sure, remember the rather weird image of Ian Anderson, standing one-legged, flute in hand with his wicked snaggle-toothed grin, wild auburn hair and equally wild eyes. But beyond that somewhat strange image that, not only Anderson but all of Jethro Tull projected, even for the late Sixties/early Seventies, there was an exceptional musical talent which had its roots firmly planted in traditional folk, classical music, blues and rock. These elements all blended into a unique sound which belong to Jethro Tull alone.
Too Old for Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die was first released in 1976 and was offered up as something of a concept album supposedly based on the strip cartoon which accompanied the record, telling the story of an aging has-been rock star who wakes from a coma following a motorbike accident and is rediscovered by the next generation. There have been various theories put forward about this album, one being that as the comic strip rocker bears a striking resemblance to Ian Anderson, it's vaguely autobiographical. It's certainly true that Jethro Tull were being superceded by newer bands as the musically innovative sixties gave way to glam rock but in 1976 Anderson was still a relatively young man and definitely couldn't be regarded as completely over the hill. This theory is scuppered by Ian Anderson in his notes that accompany the CD where he categorically denies it. The CD is, of course, digitally remastered with the original ten tracks becoming twelve with the addition of two bonus tracks, mercifully this time not Bourée, which seems to appear as a bonus track on practically every reissued Tull album!
This isn't the strongest Tull album and to my mind the 'concept' doesn't quite come off but there are some pretty good tracks on the album nevertheless largely due to Ian Anderson's wickedly observational songs. He really was (is) a master songwriter who manages here to cut through all the obfuscations surrounding the rock industry and get right to the heart of the matter.
The CD gets off to a typical Tull start with Quiz Kid, marked by its constantly changing tempo making it one of the least lyrical tracks on the album. It begins with acoustic guitar accompanying Ian Anderson's distinctive voice in traditional folk style before the more discordant sounds of Martin Barre's electric guitar join in transforming the sound into progressive folk rock. This is followed by Crazed Institution which, again, bears all the usual Jethro Tull hallmark sounds of acoustic and electric guitar, flute, coupled with lyrics which demonstrate a cutting and objective view of the rock business to which they belonged.
Track 3, Salamander presents a complete change of mood. The first half of the track is instrumental with a gentle acoustic guitar very much in the traditional folk style but with strong Spanish overtones and this Spanish flavour is reinforced when Ian Anderson's voice joins in with subdued almost flamenco tones before changing style once again into a much more traditional English folk idiom with Anderson's trademark flute accompaniment. This is one of the sweetest and most melodic sounding tracks on the entire album.
Taxi Grab returns once more to the progressive folk rock more associated with Jethro Tull. It's a good track but not what I'd consider standout. The next track moves into a much more introspective mood. From a Deadbeat to an Old Greaser is, I think, a tribute to the roots of modern rock 'n' roll, with Jethro Tull tipping their hat to the beat movement and early rockers of the Fifties. The tempo is slow until the middle of the track which features a great guitar riff that is pure rock though far too short (Martin Barre is a much underrated guitar player) before returning to gentle introspection once more.
Bad Eyed and Loveless is a real break with Tull tradition. There isn't any musical intro but goes straight into the song which is sung only with acoustic guitar accompaniment. It's an amalgam of traditional English folk plus strong elements of American folk with the guitar taking on an almost banjo-like sound. I'm never sure quite how I feel about this song when I listen to it but as soon as it over, I want to hear it again. This is followed by Big Dipper, another strangely appealing song which begins in a very un-Tull-like way with an intro which has a syncopated rhythm and a very odd cowbell sounding instrument.
The title track is one of the strongest on the album and returns to the sound that is uniquely Jethro Tull with the traditional folk introduction giving way to a much more rocky sound although, unusually, there is quite a bit of orchestration added into the usual flute, guitar and percussion. Once again, the tempo changes mid-song with a sound which is along the lines of a Neil Sedaka track. Pied Piper follows which adds an echo to certain vocal phrases from Ian Anderson giving this track a much more pop sound than usual which is enhanced by the syncopated backing before morphing once more into more traditional Tull sounds. The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive) which ends the original album is a ballad with full orchestration and again has a real pop sound to it and is retains the same tempo throughout making it far more melodic than any of the other tracks.
Of the bonus tracks, the least said the better really. Neither of them enhance the original ten tracks and I feel have just been added to make up the running time.
For people new to Jethro Tull's music, I wouldn't recommend this album as a starting point as it definitely isn't their best. It certainly doesn't bear comparison to the exceptional Stand Up or Aqualung or even the wonderful Songs from the Wood in which they returned to their more traditional roots. I feel that in many respects this is the weakest album from the Jethro Tull canon and it almost seems as though they've lost their musical direction at this point in their career. This album is good but not great and of the twelve songs on the CD, I've only copied four over to my MP3 player which, I guess, is a measure of where it stands in my estimation.
1. Quiz Kid
2. Crazed Institution
4. Taxi Grab
5. From a Deadbeat to an Old Greaser
6. Bad Eyed and Loveless
7. Big Dipper
8. Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll
9. Pied Piper
10. The Chequered Flag
11. A Small Cigar (bonus track)
12. Strip Cartoon (bonus track)
All these tracks can probably be found on YouTube, though maybe not the bonus tracks.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Quiz Kid
2 Crazed Institution
4 Taxi Grab
5 From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser
6 Bad Eyed And Loveless
7 Big Dipper
8 Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll Too Young To Die
9 Pied Piper
10 Chequered Flag (Dead Or Alive)
11 Small Cigar
12 Strip Cartoon