November 26, 2011

Review: Jethro Tull-Aqualung 40th Anniversary Box Set

There are two albums that defined the Jethro Tull legacy, Aqualung and Thick As A Brick. There were claims that Aqualung was a concept album to witch Ian Anderson said poppycock! The album revolved around social issues that are still prevalent today. Ian and the band challenged the beliefs of church and state and even God! Oh my! Well none of that ever scared us away now did it? Why did so many people insist it was a concept album, perhaps because it sounded more prog? The music stood on its own thank you very much and it did not need any fabricated labels to make it all legitimate. Anderson has never been happy with the recording quality and finally after all these years we get to hear Aqualung in all its sonic glory as it was originally envisioned. 
There are more choices for listening experiences in this set than you could possibly imagine. The Aqualung 40th Anniversary Box Set includes the following: 1 180gm Vinyl  LP,  2 CDs, 1 DVD, 1 Blu-ray disc, a album sized 48 page hardback book that includes details of the albums recording sessions, engineering perspectives and stories from all the band members, lyrics of every song including some of the alternative versions and rare archive pictures.  All this comes housed in a quality hard cardboard case with new artwork. When you open the gatefold vinyl LP cover there are the 4 discs that fit into pockets that cleverly match with the bodies of the two characters portrayed.

The ever popular Steven Wilson was enlisted by Ian Anderson to handle the knob turning and once again he has outdone himself making his services so well known that he probably could spend the rest of his life remastering prog rock classics and put his recording career into permanent retirement. We don’t want to see that happen though as Wilson has produced plenty of brilliant music of his own over the years with Porcupine Tree and several other projects and most recently released an eclectic double solo album titled Grace For Drowning.

There are some striking changes to this legendary recording that everyone should hear now, especially if you are an Aqualung or prog rock fan. Some folks may think that all this attention to one release is overkill but I must say now that after taking in this entire experience presented here that I have a completely different viewpoint now of the recording. All the engaging stories behind the album are like having your own private window into a time machine and that is an added bonus. 

A few of the tracks that benefited the most from the new versions are “Aqualung”, “Cross-Eyed Mary” and “Wond'ring Aloud”, which showed how diverse the band could be. Speaking of variety, “From Later” is a bonus track that may surprise many folks. It is a lighthearted instrumental  jazz-rock fusion track that sounds as if it could have been playing on any progressive jazz radio station in the 70’s or now as a matter of fact.

Evaluating this massive set was a work in progress for over a week. I found many things to take into consideration and plenty to rant and rave about.  I ran into similar problems as I did with previous remasters (e.g. King Crimson reissues, Bowie-Station to Station box) such as the New Mix-DTS 96/24 5.1 Surround version not producing any sound. DTS never works on any remaster for me so the Quad version did not work either however the 96/24 LPCM and the New Mix Dolby Surround Sound 48/24 5.1 Surround Sound versions were superlative in many instances, as was a fantastic pristine version of the Quad Dolby 48/24 4.1 which yielded similar qualities but different results for the discerning ear. On the New Mix Dolby Surround Sound 48/24 5.1 Surround version I noticed a very obvious fluctuation with volume throughout some of the songs, from sharp exciting highs to a sudden drop out of the overall sound and in the same instance I could recognize the improvements when it was holding the EQ/VU properly. I also could not get the Blu-ray disc to work properly. I saw a forum dedicated to this release where one individual said similar things and I know there is no problem with my stereo system. I think you need a system that is top notch that is only a few years old (mine is 5.1 surround sound but several years old now) so perhaps this is why I have experienced repeating problems in certain formats. And finally, one omission that made no sense at all to me was the inclusion of any video footage. With everything that went into this beautiful set I find it very disappointing. In the end I guess it depends how discerning a listener you are and what you have come to expect with all the different versions that are offered. Since I already knew the DTS was going to be a problem it did not upset me and I was able to enjoy everything else immensely and recognized all of the fantastic improvements that Wilson was able to engineer throughout each specific version. The negatives did outweigh the positives.

I heard many things I had never heard before which is what this is all about. The new stereo mix is exceptional as well and with the 14 additional tracks it certainly is an attractive set to own. What I found interesting with the 5.1 surround sound versions of the bonus tracks was that they were perfect; I heard no volume fluctuations whatsoever.

The LP version is astoundingly crisp and clear and quite a treat for the ears compared to the original version. This is nothing like the 5.1 surround sound with the added instruments and other elements popping up here and there to perk up your ears and senses, yet it is a vast improvement upon what was previously available in typical vinyl releases for overall sonics and crispness.

Largely this is a very impressive set in regards to sound, packaging and extras. This is for audiophiles, collectors, JT fans and above all music fans that are interested in the process of making an album and hearing from the cast of characters who had a hand in making it all come to life. I now have a deeper understanding and appreciation for Aqualung and one that I could have never had if it were not for this amazing and revealing set.

Jethro Tull 1971: Ian Anderson (lead vocals, flute), Clive Bunker (drums), Martin Barre (guitar), John Evan (piano and organ) and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (bass).

4.5/5 Stars

Key Tracks: Aqualung, Cross-Eyed Mary, Wond'ring Aloud

Keith “MuzikMan” Hannaleck

November 26, 2011

1 comment:

  1. Sun streaking cold
    An old man standing lonely
    Taking time the only way he knows..
    Very unique band with a unique sound.