The Album -- Jethro Tull's "A," on Chrysalis, Che 1301.; THE SHOW-- Sunday at 8 at the Capital Centre.
Ian Anderson has traded in his tights and hip boots for a Star Wars-style jumpsuit, and though it's nice to see him in a change of clothes, the same old cliche-monger lurks behind all that parachute nylon.
Jethro Tull's comback is entitled simply "a," as in A -bomb, alien, apocalypse -- Anderson leaves it ambiguous enough to make this a sort of do-it-yourself concept Lp. The group has made the quantum leap from 16th to 21st century with the basic Tull sound still intact, so that what you get might be described as Elizabethan spacedisco. The discovery that progressive rock is not so progressive may have come too late for Jethro Tull. The group makes a valiant effort to cash in on every aspect of popular cultrue, from the new wave angst-rock of songs like "Crossfire" (about hostages) to the Orwellian overtones of "working John, Working Joe," which actually refers to Big Brother in a very stale stab at social commentary: And God and the Economy Have blessed me with equality Now I'm equal to the best of you And better than the rest of you Who could criticize my success In times of national unrest And so forth.
You can't really blame a group whose very novelty once made it a hot item for wanting to hitch its carriage to every commerical comet that whizzes by. But no matter how sincere the intention to be New! Improved!, this kind of thinking inevitably causes a time warp.
Neither the playing nor the lyrics are terrible, just hackneyed. The progressions on track after track of "a" are straight off "Aqualung," although with a somewhat bouncier beat behind them. A definite improvement is that Anderson does not burden every cut with the yelps and overblowing that used to pass for dynamic flute playing; he saves all that for "The Pine Marten's Jig," an instrumental using a number of Rennaisance-style gimmicks for old times' sake.
The back cover of "a" is a straight out of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind:" the band members in their new uniforms, standing on runway tarmac and staring awe-struck and fearful at some strange phenomenon approaching from Out There.
One can't help getting the depressing feeling that Anderson is seeing the future of rock and roll and that, judging from the look on his face, he's not in it.