Sunday, May 6, 2018

Review of Jethro Tull's "J-Tull Dot Com"

I downloaded this review just a couple of minutes ago to the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: Terminally bland.

J-Tull Dot Com (1999) was Jethro Tull's last studio album of original music, which is unfortunate, because it was also probably their worst. I know that not everyone would agree with this -- many fans were never able to warm to 1984's synth-laden Under Wraps, but I feel that album has been underrated by most. And some would perhaps rank 1989's Rock Island as the band's most lamentable LP, but even that album had a few songs that have endured somewhat, including "Another Christmas Song", "Strange Avenues", and the sophomoric-but-catchy "Kissing Willie" (and I've always had a warm place in my heart for the "tragic" musical tale of Martin Barre's stolen instrument, "Big Riff and Mando"). 

The problem with J-Tull Dot Com, however, isn't that it's unlistenable or painfully bad. It's that it's terminally bland. By the time of its release, Ian Anderson's voice was so shot that he had to write songs within a very narrow musical range for him to be able to handle them, and while there are some pleasant spots here and there, there's very little that's consistently interesting. Consequently, with the exception of 2017's criminally exploitive The String Quartets album, this is arguably the worst album ever released under the "Jethro Tull" moniker. (And in all honesty, that one is a Jethro Tull album in name only -- it's basically Anderson accompanied by a classical string quartet, with an occasional assist from the last of the Tull keyboard players, John O'Hara).

So what can I say that's good about this album? Well, as you'd probably expect, Anderson plays some really fine flute throughout. And there's a short number with some ravishing piano written by then-keyboard player Andrew Giddings, called "Nothing @ All (instrumental)". As for decent tracks, there are a few. My favorite is "The Dog-Ear Years", which is an enjoyable little ditty that finds Anderson making fun of his own age. And "El Nino" is slow, dark and mysterious enough to catch a listener's interest. I also enjoyed the guitar and flute line in "Like a Willow", and the accordion in "A Gift of Roses". The problem, though, is that even the best tracks don't reach that high of a level. The lows aren't embarrassingly low, but the highs just never soar very high. It's basically 55 minutes or so of mostly flat, stodgy plain.

To listen to this album, you'd have to be forgiven if you thought it marked the end of Ian Anderson as a top-level musical artist. You'd be wrong about that, though. He went on to do better work as a solo artist, especially more than a decade later, with the magnificent Thick As A Brick 2 (2012) and the almost-equally-excellent Homo Erraticus (2014). It's just a shame that J-Tull Dot Com effectively ended Jethro Tull's musical existence, not with a bang, but with a yawn.

Rating: 2 of 5 stars