JETHRO TULL – Crest of a Knave – (Chrysalis) – 1987

what Frank is listening to #204 – JETHRO TULL – Crest of a Knave – (Chrysalis) – 1987
I went through a short Jethro Tull phase.
Didn't we all?
Growing up in the inner west of Brisbane, in the 70s.
        Jethro Tull was a part of what the older kids listened to ….
            that and Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Rodriguez and AC/DC.
As a result of a number of reasons not relevant here I was listening to Elvis, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. At the time they were contemporary artists though from "another era". The only big concessions I made to modernity was Suzi Quatro and Skyhooks.
Otherwise I had little time for contemporary sounds on the prevalent and dominant AM radio. Eventually my Chilean Aunt's Chilean nephew (not my cousin – her side of the family) was up on holidays from Wollongong some time in the late 70s. He was a couple of years older and we hung out and he said that I "had" to listen to Jethro Tull …
… and Kiss,
… and Led Zeppelin,
… and Peter Frampton.
I did.
Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull took my fancy. I liked Tulls experimental blues rock, English folk, quasi classical art rock with flute. Though I hardly described it like that at the time
Some time later I went out and bought "A" by Jethro Tull … the album where singer, Ian Anderson, discovered the synthesiser.
Hardly indicative of their output …nevertheless I loved that album at the time.
I fully intended to explore more Jethro Tull but other musics overtook me.
Normally around here somewhere I would give you some background on the band but they have had 40+ years and 26 album career and they are still going so just refer to the links. Suffice it to say that Jethro Tull is the band and Ian Anderson is the singer songwriter and constant member and they play experimental blues rock, English folk, quasi classical art rock with flute.
Dribs and drabs of Tulls 70s output I'm familiar with but everything after 1980 is pretty alien to me.
Certainly, on face value, this album with it's sleeve and title, "Crest of a Knave", lends itself to imagery of the medieval lunacies of mid 70s Tull (and others : remember Rick Wakeman)
But alas one drop of the needle followed by a little googling settles that.
The album is often referred to as hard rock and most of the discussion on it seems to deal with Tull controversially winning the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental, beating favourite Metallica and their "And Justice for All" album.
And yes it is hard rock of sorts ( but not really) … it's more dominant style is AOR rock. The album apparently was a slight departure for the band from the various stylings they had utilized prior to that – it was more rock with more hard rock stylings, more guitar and less synth (the fans apparently didn't like the synth period following "A") but it still is a hodgepodge of musical styles ranging from progressive rock, blues, folk, AOR hard rock with Ian Anderson's personality (and he is the driving force of the band) coming through clearly.
There are vocal and musical comparisons with Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits – fans will say that Ian Anderson had had throat surgery which altered his voice slightly but I think he sounds like a less nasally Bob Dylan. Certainly his voice isn't as it was on the 70s records. It still is distinctively his voice and any defences don't really explain the music which panders to the 80s and to some Dire Straits stylings. Anderson also produced it so …..
In any event, the album went on to become a big hit, rejuvenating the band who also toured on it successfully.
But do I like it?
Well, I think any comments made have to refer to the fact that Ian Anderson is a forceful musical personality and anything he touches will be bent to suit his personality which is itself slightly bent. And that is admirable …
Having said that he has put out alot of crap.
Not suprisingly for Anderson there seems to be a theme in the album … the songs are all about various aspects of and ancillary aspects to the "working life". All the song's narrators are workers : industrial workers, rural workers, military men, or less convincingly, musicians.
Tracks (best in italics)
  • Steel Monkey –  bad, bad 80s. Despite some hard rock guitar wankery on some of the "ballads" this is the only proper hard rock song on the LP, and even then it's very MOR hard rock.  Either way it's bad.
  • Farm On The Freeway –  lyrically I like this song, a rejection of the modern in favour of pastoral times…. but the 80s, clean, AOR sound is hard to get over.
  • Jump Start –  obscure lyrically but something about love redeeming or at least "jump starting" the narrator so he can face another working day.
  • Said She Was A Dancer –  this has to be an Ian Anderson autobiographical song about a mid life infatuation with a Russian dancer or more simply about "wining on" …. or not in this case. If you don't believe me that this is autobiographical then find a picture of Ian Anderson (I have attached one at the bottom for you slack pricks) and listen to the narrator's lyric:
            So I stole one kiss, it was a near miss
            She looked at me like I was Jack, the ripper
            She leaned in close, "Goodnight", was all she said
            So I took myself off to bed
           I dare say there is honestly in that lyric.
  • Budapest –  another late mid age fantasy and seemingly another autobiographical song. This time the narrator has another infatuation (unrequited ?) with a female stage hand from Budapest. Hey, I've been to Budapest – I can understand the infatuation. Here, the redeeming elements of the song are undone by the fact that any old man singing about a infatuation with a young girl is going to sound sleazy. Any meaning he tries to inject into the song beyond trying to pull a root just comes out sounding pretentious. And it goes on to long (10 minutes or so). A pity…
            She bent down to fill the ice box
            and stuffed some more warm white wine in
            like some weird unearthly vision
            wearing only T-shirt, pants and skin.
            You know, it rippled, just a hint of muscle.
            But the boys and me were heading west
            so we left her to the late crew
            and a hot night in Budapest.
            It was a hot night in Budapest.
            She didn't speak much English language…
            (she didn't speak much anyway).
            She wouldn't make love, but she could make good sandwich
            and she poured sweet wine before we played.
           It is funny though…..
  • Mountain Men – a anti war song.
  • Raising Steam – Very Dire Straits. The narrator is a conductor on a old steam train and is the train itself.  Ahhh, the meaning. I shouldn't refer to Jethro Tull lyrics as they are an easy target especially when taken away from the music and the album concept being pushed . But I must:
            Let me be your engineer…
            have you smiling ear to ear
            raising steam.
            And will you tell me how it feels
            when you're up and rolling on your driving wheels?
            I got my whole life hanging in a sack,
            heading out into that wide world wide.
            I'll be your locomotive blowing off its stack
            and I don't care which way I ride.
            I may not be coming back.
            Raising steam.
        "Mystery train" it's not.
OK, so I've made merry of some lyrics above but as I've said a Jethro Tull album must be looked on as a whole. And I have here and it's still not very good. But there is worse out there and at least Ian Anderson beats no other mans drum, err flute. One thing for sure though, it's not a hard rock album. Tape a couple and sell…….
Chart Action
1987  Farm on the Freeway  Mainstream Rock #7
1987  Jump Start  Mainstream Rock #12
1987  Steel Monkey  Mainstream Rock #10

Steel Monkey  

Farm On The Freeway  

Jump Start  
Said She Was A Dancer  
and attached
Mountain Men   
song and interview – slightly pretentious and slightly ridiculous like a lot of Tull but at least it's "honest" …. Mumford and Sons would have credibility if they footnoted this rather than Americana.
  • the album "A" I refer to above was apparently meant to be an Ian Anderson solo album which the label encouraged him to release as a Jethro Tull album …hence the title "A" …as in "A" for Anderson.
  • wikipedia: "In response to the criticism they received over the award, the band took out an advertisement in a British music periodical with a picture of a flute lying amid a pile of iron re-bars and the line, "The flute is a heavy metal instrument." In response to an interview question about the controversy, Ian Anderson quipped, "Well, we do sometimes play our mandolins very loudly." In 2007, the win was named one of the ten biggest upsets in Grammy history by Entertainment Weekly". Oh, not a Grammy.
  • By this time Tull was effectively a core trio of Anderson, Barre, and bassist Dave Pegg, augmented by whatever musicians (drummers Gerry Conway and Doane Perry, Fairport Convention keyboard player Martin Allcock, and violinist Ric Sanders)
Other Comments
(originally posted: 10/04/2011)

About Franko

Hi, I'm just a person with a love of music, a lot of records and some spare time. My opinions are comments not reviews and are mine so don't be offended if I have slighted your favourite artist. I have listened to a lot of music and I don't pretend to be impartial. You can contact me on though I would rather you left a comment. I also sell music at Cheers
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