STOP ME IF you’ve heard this one before, but you really do gotta watch out for these guys who insist on releasing debut solo albums on which they’ve played all the instruments; they are everywhere. Not to mention those old-timers who suddenly get the urge to throw out 15 years of style to grope their way through the synthesizer trade.
Neil Young tried it at the beginning of last year with Trans and now, Lord help us, it’s Ian Anderson’s turn. That’s right, Mr. Songs From The Wood has gotten himself a haircut, traded his codpiece for a three piece and, in general, made himself over like some kinda weird mutant off-spring of Robert Fripp.
The first clue is the album cover, a real trendy attempt to look current with color bars running across a black ‘n’ white photo–you know, the kind of thing that makes you wonder if the cover was printed off register or improperly trimmed at the printers.
The second clue is the bit that says Ian played all of the instruments except for the synthesizers and piano. These were played by some guy named Peter-John Vettese, who also co-wrote half of the songs and sings background vocals. However, this ain’t no Asylum Choir democracy here, so Ian gets full credit–or full blame, as the case may be–and not Peter-John (you also gotta watch out for guys with hyphenated first names).
Once you get past the inner sleeve’s gray scales and pseudo-artsy effects to the record itself, that feeling of rising bile in your gorge is confirmed: this album is simply terrible. But if it’s evidence you want, just listen to the first track (‘Fly By Night’, unfortunately not the Rush tune) and hear how Ian pretends he’s Peter Gabriel by whispering hoarsely “I fly by night” over and over again. It’s worse that bad: it’s embarrassing.
Things pick up a bit with ‘Made In England’, a song that concerns itself with the usual Anderson working class polemics and contains Walk Into Light‘s only genuinely witty pun: “He watches the democratic process grind its way through the Commons cold.” What deep-sixes the track, however, is the synthesized music. Where there should be Jethro Tull there’s only Jethro Dull: recycled, plodding syntheplop which deprives the song of any bite it otherwise might have had.
The remaining eight songs only serve to drag this mess deeper into the slag heap. Do you really want to hear a tune called ‘User-Friendly’ that has sample and hold effects and a vocoder at the end? Especially when Alice Cooper did the same thing at the end of ‘Woman Machine’ ten years ago? Or one about sitting in trains (called ‘Trains’) with appropriate choo-choo sound effects? Especially when both Kraftwerk and Bowie also did that number to death ten years ago?
No, I think you get the message by now. But just in case you haven’t, aside from ten seconds of noodling with the main melody at the beginning of ‘Made In England’, Ian Anderson plays no flute on this album whatsoever.
Really don’t mind if I sit this one out.
© Jeffrey Morgan, Creem, April 1984