Shooting at various angles, one of the most glorious rock records takes it to the new millenium.
Life's a long song, was a maxim that Ian Anderson stretched over two vinyl sides back in 1972 on a JETHRO TULL opus the multi-layered, riddles-ridden lyrics of which were fictiously credited to a 12-year-old genius Gerald Bostock. Four decades on, everybody expecting a remastered version of that classic to follow up a renovated "Aqualung", this project set in motion another idea: to bend the axis and, instead of rumination on a person's existence, imagine what could have happened to Gerald after all those years. That makes "TAAB 2", as its author prefers to call his new album, not so much of a sequel to "Thick As A Brick" but its modern offshoot.
As is the way with this artist, there's a great attention to detail that speaks volumes. And it's not only the abbreviation of the record's title and the change of "The St. Cleve Chronicle" on the cover from a palpable printed copy to contemporary, more ephemeral web one, available online and (what a care for those who didn't lose their spectacles!) as .pdf files on bonus DVD. Most important here are omnipresent references to the veteran's time-tested oeuvre, be it the label "JETHRO TULL's Ian Anderson" - never before his solo works leaned on the band's name - or both direct and indirect quotes from the past. He doesn't dwell there, though, which, perhaps, explains the elephantine question of why that group stalled and left the scene, yet uses familiar themes as bridges between two eras and a means to fuse ancient sonics with the latterday's sounds just like diverse directions of Bostock's lifeline, "what-ifs, maybes and might-have-beens", converge in the end.
In the finale lies a straight, if humorous, link to the original album, but more often Anderson resorts to hints, a logical move in this milieu as opposed to exploration of obvious human drifts in "Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll, Too Young To Die" or "From A Dead Beat To An Old Greaser". The erstwhile epic sway makes room for shorter songs now that are bundled, in compliance with current attention deficit, to reflect different variants of the protagonist's possible paths - a banker, a gay hobo, a soldier, a chorister and an ordinary man. Such an approach allows "Old School Song" swirl around one of the pertinent old riffs, while "A Change Of Horses", built on the "Heavy Horses" structure with new melodies as bricks, replaces its rural Englishness with Eurocentric urbanicity. Still, those who don't like accordion and disdain new trends which transpired on "J-Tull Dot Com", TULL's last studio album laid down back in 1999, will find plenty of homely Hammond here (and Scott Hammond's drums, sometimes too loud in the mix), and it's for them there are so many aforementioned hints, instrumental and lyrical, flowing in from the off, although even connoisseurs might balk at spoken word interludes in "A Passion Play" vein - read by the author in beat fashion on the DVD.
The minstrel's voice isn't the same nowadays to carry out the attack, yet the tunes, and poetry, are on par with his '70s output, Anderson's new coterie delivering "Banker Bets, Banker Wins" with all the on-the-money might its subject demands before its motif is passed to "Wootton Bassett Town", whereas "Adrift And Dumbfounded" marries acoustic delicacy to electric bitterness in the best prog rock tradition and adds a tad of jazzy jive to spice up the broth. Stylistic variety serves the holistic result well: if "Shunt and Shuffle" rides the hard-boiled locomotive breath, sarcastic folk rears its head in pellucid, for all its murky content, "Give Till It Hurts". Arrangements poured into a single piece, the alternatives GBs (Gerald Bostocks and Great Britains, geddit?) roles are swapped for good in "Kismet in Suburbia", and the sense of consent with hardships necessity for catharsis sets in. Yet, once the overture returns to wave goodbye, another spiritual quest is hinted at... So while it doesn't measure up to the monument of 1972, in the day and age when serving up a new classic seems an impossible feat, Ian Anderson managed to exercise just that. Long may his flute conjure magic.