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Jethro Tull

Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!

Review by Scott Prinzing

Although this is one of the albums from Jethro Tull’s heyday, the title track is the only song that has remained in the band’s live set list.  I first picked up a copy in the late ’70s, a few years after it was released, as I was filling out my Tull collection.  While I have purchased every new Tull album (and solo albums) as they were released, there are still a few from the back catalog albums that I need to get on CD.  As I had it on vinyl and had the bonus tracks on various box sets, Too Old… wasn’t one I considered essential, except for filling in the collection.  Revisiting the concept album approach of its earlier predecessors, Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play, this album contrasted with ten radio-length songs, connected by a storyline set out in the gatefold sleeve in “Strip Cartoon” style.  The story of an aging rocker (who looks an awful lot like Anderson) was said not to be autobiographical; Anderson is still going strong 36 years later.

After giving it a good listen with new ears, I am impressed yet again by the creative mind of iconic band leader Ian Anderson, and the incredible musicianship of this line-up: Martin Barre (electric guitar), Barriemore Barlow (drums/percussion), John Evan (piano/keyboards), new recruit John Glascock (bass/vocals), and soon-to-be member David Palmer (now Dee Palmer) guesting on sax and piano.  In addition to writing all the songs and playing the flute like none other, Anderson provides acoustic (and occasional electric) guitar, harmonica and percussion.  Some of these songs really deserve a second hearing; others are slightly under par (for Tull, anyway); plus, the two bonus tracks included on the 2002 remastered version show that Tull’s cast-offs compete with many of their contemporaries’ best attempts. 

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Quizz Kid

The scene is set with the first verse from the title track before “Quizz Kid” proper kicks in.  The story is set with this rocker about main character Ray Lomas trying out to be a contestant on a “quizz show that millions watch each week / Following the fate and fortunes of contestants as they speak.”  The story would be hard to follow without the comic book storyline; this song probably suffers from being too specific lyrically to stand on its own without folks scratching their heads.  “It’s a free trip down to London for a weekend of high life / They’ll wine you; dine you; undermine you  - better not bring the wife.”  Although, perhaps it should have enjoyed a new life in the wake of shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  “Answerable to everyone / Responsible to all / Publicity dissected brain cells splattered on the walls / of encyclopaedic knowledge.”

Crazed Institution
Sounding like an outtake from Warchild, this song remains in my head for days after each listen, so be forewarned.  It addresses the still very contemporary theme of the “Crazed institution of the stars;” which underscores Anderson’s artistic statement here that all cultural trends will eventually return if one just waits long enough.  And he never fails to find new words that rhyme: “You can ring a crown of roses round your cranium / Live and die upon your cross of platinum.” (ed. Or perhaps stretching the limits of what rhymes).
Salamander
One of Anderson’s many short, solo acoustic pieces; this one is longer than most, coming in at the perfect single length, 2:51.  It is as lively, infectious, and memorable as the mysterious lady he sings about.  “Who was it lit your candle – Branded you with your name? / I see you walking by my window in your Kensington haze.”
Taxi Grab
Musically, this bluesy ode to stealing a taxi sounds closer to the Tull of the first three albums.  It provides an opportunity for Anderson to show off his skills on harmonica.
From a Dead Beat to an Old Greaser
In what sounds like an elegant dirge, Lomas laments a time when, “tired young sax-players sold their instruments of torture / sat in the station sharing wet dreams of Charlie Parker.”  Here’s where Palmer, appropriately, lends a sax solo.  It’s a rather lovely song.
Bad-eyed and Loveless
Here’s another Anderson solo piece about a woman who, “Turns other women to envious green.”  It’s a low-key acoustic blues that uses unusual metaphors.
Big Dipper
This song draws its inspiration from a rollercoaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in Lancashire, England.  The early-70s sound dates this one a bit more than the progressive folk/rock era that would begin the next year with Songs from the Wood.  Proving that he was none too old to rock and roll, Lomas woos a cougar with, “Rich widowed landlady give me your spare front door key / If you’re 39 or over, I'll make love to you next Thursday.”
Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!
In the center-piece of this album, we hear of, “The old Rocker wore his hair too long,” and “wore his trouser cuffs too tight.”  David Palmer’s playful orchestration pits pizzicato strings with reeds without interfering with the classic rock form of this song.  Jethro Tull prophetically prove that “You’re never too old to rock ‘n’roll / If you’re too young to die.”  The last verse puts Lomas in the hospital after crashing his bike.
Pied Piper
Musically, the folk-leaning sound of this song hints of what will follow for the band over the next few albums.  Lyrically, the storyline is unique enough that the song might seem confusing outside of its context here.  Nonetheless, it’s an enjoyable work with a bit of Anderson’s randy lyrical leanings: “So follow me, hold on tight / My school girl fancy’s flowing in free flight / I’ve a tenner in my skin tight jeans / You can touch it if your hands are clean.”
The Chequered Flag (Dead or Alive)
The big album closer features a grand, albeit open arrangement underscored by Palmer’s strings.  It occurs to me that much of the instrumentation on this album is underplayed; perhaps a casualty of being too tied to the storyline and lyrics.  In any case, it concludes with a nice finale: “Isn’t it grand to be playing to the stand / dead or alive."
Bonus tracks

 

A Small Cigar
This song first appeared on the 1993 Tull outtake collection, Nightcap.  A somewhat lengthier and wordier solo acoustic piece than Anderson typically produces, its storytelling approach feels like it would be right at home in a coffee shop performance.  About a third of the way through it switches from acoustic guitar to piano.
Strip Cartoon
Always perplexing are the song choices made by Anderson when some of his leftovers are even stronger than some the album tracks.  This song originally appeared as a B-side to 1977’s “The Whistler” and is as strong as anything on the original running order.  Always so clever with his lyrics, this song is no exception for Anderson: “Fish and chips, sandpaper lips and a rainy pavement / Soho lights, another night, thinking of you.”

 

 

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