Jethro Tull - The Zealot Gene,
I first saw Jethro Tull on the ‘Under Wraps’ tour, spent thousands of pounds on collecting rare releases, and my first ever piece of published writing was in the ‘A New Day’ fanzine some time in another life. The last time I saw them play was back in 2004, but even though I then left the country not long after and there has been no opportunity to see them play in NZ, I vowed never to go and see them again as it no longer felt like Tull and Ian had lost his voice. Tull kept going until 2012, and then went on hiatus, reforming in 2017. The current line-up features John O'Hara (keyboards, backing vocals) and David Goodier (bass, double bass) who both joined the band in 2007, plus new boys Scott Hammond (drums, percussion, joined 2017) and Joe Parrish (lead guitar, who joined in 2020).
Tull have always had an issue with retaining members, but at one point Ian said that he could not imagine there being a Tull without Martin and Peggy, but here we are. Martin is away touring with his own band playing Jethro Tull music while Peggy is of course folking around as always. That being said, Ian has written all the material and controlled the band ever since he and Mick Abrahams had a falling out more than half a century ago. Is it a surprise then to see a new Tull album? Well, the band have been touring and apart from Ian no-one has actually played on any releases as the last album was all the way back in 1999 (no, I am not including ‘The Christmas Album’), so perhaps it is fair. Also, a Tull album is way more commercially acceptable than a solo album, and that is exactly how ‘A’ came about along with the sacking of John Evan, Dee (David) Palmer and Barriemore Barlow.
It would be wrong to compare Jethro Tull of 2022 to the band of 50 years ago as we are not in the same world whatsoever, but how does it compare to ‘Rock Island’ or ‘Catfish Rising’? Surprisingly well it must be said. Actually, I found that as a complete album this had more in common with ‘Crest of a Knave’ than either of them, perhaps down to Ian recording much of it in his own studio with everyone else also working that way due to COVID. Opener “Mrs. Tibbets” could well have come from that album and would sit well alongside the likes of “Mountain Men”. While his vocals are noticeably not as strong as they used to be, particularly in the upper registers, overall his singing was far better than I expected it to be given his issues in the past while his flute playing is still as sharp and dynamic as it has ever been.
We get a mix of rockers and acoustic numbers, with some nice harmonica on “Jacob’s Tales” which takes us back in time, and while they are longer than the mouthwash material Ian was keen on in the early days to provide quick breaks, it has the same impact in providing strong contrast and dynamics. This was an album I approached with dread, as I was convinced it just was not going to be as good as I could ever hope, yet it exceeded all my expectations and reminded me why I used to spend silly amounts of money on the band. It has also made me want to go back and revisit my rather extensive collection, something I have not done in quite some time. I have even revisited my previous promise of never seeing them again. They may not be the Tull I grew up with, but this is a thoroughly enjoyable release which deserves to be viewed well within the overall canon.