JETHRO TULL Aqualung (Classic)
"Aqualung" is one of those albums that is so comprehensively awesome it baffles me that I haven't owed it before now. It's powered by Ian Anderson's vivid lyrical portraiture and a band well on the way to some kind of alchemical blues/folk/prog fusion, bending their quaintly old-fangled sound around twisty-turny sing structures, yet almost always remaining just the right side of overblown indulgence.
The title track - a kind of prog-crusty anthem -surely features the only use of the word 'snot' I've encountered in a lyric outside of Love's "Forever Changes". "Cheap Day Return" and "Wond'ring Aloud" are delicious acoustic miniatures; the former I'm partial to for its mention of my adopted home town, and the latter is surely the most goshdarnit romantic evocation of breakfast in bed in rock (ha, chew on that UB40!) The album only stumbles for me on "My God", falling victim to the kind of heavy-handedness that's made appreciating Tull something of a challenge for me in the past. Even here, though, respect is due for the howling, yelping blues Anderson summons up during his flute solo.
Reissued as part of Classic's Clarity Vinyl 45 RPM Series, this is probably the most lavishly presented album I own, with just about every trick in the audiophile book being thrown at it. Firstly, it runs at 45 RPM instead of 33; the higher velocity stretches out the modulations over a longer length of groove, making them easier for the stylus to follow accurately. Normally that would necessitate an album of "Aqualung"'s length to be pressed as two discs, but Classic go two better, presenting it on four single-sided slabs of 200 gram vinyl, the ungrooved side opposite the playing surface theoretically presenting less impediment to vibrations being conducted away from the stylus. That vinyl is also clear - well, a sort of translucent milky colour at least - because the carbon black used to dye conventional vinyl can become magnetised, probably undesirable in the general vicinity of the precise electromagnetic measuring device that is the modern cartridge.
All sound engineering theory, then, not snake oil, but does it sound any good? I think so, albeit with the caveat that I have no other vinyl version of "Aqualung" with which to compare it. It's probably not the most hi-res of recordings to begin with, as evinced by the drizzle of hiss that accompanies the album's quieter moments, yet it sounds marvellous to me, full-blooded, visceral and compelling in a way that's far more satisfying than the "CD with scratches" sound all too frequently served up by less conscientious vinyl reissue programmes, and all the better to appreciate Clive Bunker's "thousand drums". The packaging is equally considered, including what I feel safe in presuming is an accurate reproduction of the original UK issue's textured gatefold sleeve and lyric sheet, although the use of era-appropriate lime green Chrysalis labels is a bit puzzling when my Guinness book suggests the album was first released on Island. No matter, this is fabulous music presented with appropriate care and attention, and it would seem churlish to ask for more than that.