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Jethro Tull: A (La Mode) 40th Anniversary Edition (3CD/3DVD)

Although it arrived right at the start of that decade, A found Jethro Tull meeting the 80s in a similar situation to that which many other veteran UK prog-rock acts would find themselves. Change was afoot, both in personnel and sound. With that in mind it’s also only fair to point out that A initially began life as an Ian Anderson solo project and only at the insistence of the record label, Chrysalis, did it become a band album instead. Alongside Anderson the only long-time Tuller to remain was guitarist Martin Barre, with the rest of the line-up completed by drummer Mark Carney and bassist Dave Pegg, who had toured the previous Stormwatch album with the band after the death of John Glascock. Whereas the keyboard position was filled by none less than ex-Curved Air, Roxy Music, Zappa and UK man Eddie Jobson, although under the guise of “guest”.

The latter of that bunch would undoubtedly make his mark on the album, synths to the fore as a much more 80s contemporary sound overtook what had been described as the band’s recent ‘rural’ approach. In all honesty, A, then and now, splits opinions, with some loving the cultural shift into more straight ahead rock territory - albeit still with strong prog leanings through Anderson’s unmistakable flute contributions and some electric violin from Jobson - while others simply hate it. The best examples of what this attack could create were the jagged, abrasive “Uniform” and much more fluid “Working John, Working Joe”. However, with hindsight I’ve found much of this album to stack up in a way I hadn’t previously remembered, “Crossfire” a clever introduction, while the “Pine Marten’s Jig” as it moves into “And Further On” certainly catches the imagination. In all honesty, I enjoyed revisiting A quite a lot more than I anticipated. The fact that this expanded 3CD/3DVD set sounds sumptuous thanks to the continued involvement of Steven Wilson as reissue campaign remixer doesn’t hurt either, with a life and vigour that I can’t find in the grooves of my old LP of this album actually catching me unawares when I first encountered this new version. Remixes are very much in the eye of the beholder, but class me as a real fan of this one.

However, if you’re not taken by the new angles offered, pull out DVD1 where alongside this mix comes a 5.1 version (that is excellent as well) and a flat transfer of the album from the original LP master. So, in short, surely something for everyone? Add in five ‘associated tracks’ from the time (found on both CD and DVD) and there’s a lot to like here. From those five, “Crossfire” is an extended version, “Working John, Working Joe” is a different ‘take’ (number 4 to be precise), while there’s an early version of “Cheerio” and the audio introduction to Slipstream (more of which later), where many a Tull piece is spliced together to make a live show curtain raiser. Finally there’s the outtake “Coriusk”, an instrumental taking its name from a Scottish Loch and an inclusion sure to delight fans.

CD2 and 3 offer up a 20 track live show from the LA Sports Arena in 1980 and fiery as hell it is too. Featuring the line-up that recorded the A album, it really is a cracking listen and arguably the highlight of this set. Combining old favourites such as “Aqualung”, “Songs From The Wood” and “Locomotive Breath” with new tracks, suddenly the two eras sound much more related and relatable. With a host of different audio versions of the show offered on DVD 2, I’ve found myself going back to this live document time and again since receiving the sumptuous 6 disc, hard back DVD case sized book. And that book in itself is a thing of beauty which comes with excellent photos from the time, a superb essay about Tull circa 1980, an interview with Mark Carney and a feature where Steven Wilson details the remixing process. In short, magnificent!

The final DVD offers up Slipstream, which was a VHS initially released by the band in 1981. It offers up a visual document of the A show as it toured the world, the footage here captured at the same venue that makes up the 2CD/DVD live portion of this set. However, that really is only half the story, with the whole thing interspersed with what amounts to bells and whistles promo videos for some of the songs - only 11 of the 20 tracks we hear on the audio only version made the cut - where Anderson and Co. dress up in silly regalia to act out the themes of pieces such as “Sweet Dream”, “Too Old To Rock ’n’ Roll” and “Dun Ringill”. With 40 years of hindsight, it’s all a bit silly - as is the band wearing the ‘A jumpsuits’ that they sport on the album cover as they perform live on stage. However, in many ways it adds to the bonkers-bizarreness of a lot of this footage and - let’s be honest - the engagingly over the top stage persona of Anderson himself, which is still captivating. Kitsch maybe, but enjoyably nonetheless, even if I’d rather have had the live show in its visual entirety, which, you’d guess, exists/existed somewhere.

I’ve always quite liked this undoubted diversion in the Jethro Tull catalogue but must admit that having this opportunity to reappraise A and its associated audio and visuals has been a real joy. It will never be the best representation of exactly what they were/are all about and yet if, like me, you can view Jobson’s presence as a real plus, it is still arguably one of their best, although other opinions are definitely available on that point of view. Either way, this is a superb release.

Track Listing
CD1: Original Album and Associated Tracks (Steven Wilson Stereo Remix)
“Fylingdale Flyer”
“Working John, Working Joe”
“Black Sunday”
“Protect And Survive”
“Batteries Not Included”
“4.W.D. (Low Ratio)”
“The Pine Marten’s Jig”
“And Further On”
Associated Tracks
“Crossfire” (Extended Version)
“Working John, Working Joe” (Take 4)
“Cheerio” (Early Version)
“Slipstream Intro”

CD2: Live at the LA Sports Arena 1980 (Pt 1) (Steven Wilson Stereo Remix)
“Slipstream Intro”
“Black Sunday”
“Songs From The Wood”
“Hunting Girl”
“The Pine Marten’s Jig”
“Working John, Working Joe”
“Heavy Horses”
Band Instrumental Intro
“Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day”
“Instrumental” (including flute solo)

CD3: Live at the LA Sports Arena 1980 (Pt 2) (Steven Wilson Stereo Remix)
Trio Instrumental
Keyboard solo
“Batteries Not Included”
“Uniform” (including drum solo instrumental)
“Protect and Survive” (including violin solo)
“Bungle In The Jungle”
Guitar Solo/Bass solo intro to encore
“Locomotive Breath”/Instrumental/”Black Sunday” (reprise)

DVD 1: Original Album and Associated Tracks (Audio Only)
Contains Steven Wilson’s 2020 remix of the album and 5 associated tracks in DTS and Dolby AC 3, 5.1 surround, and stereo 96/24 LPCM. Flat transfers of the original LP master in 96/24 LPCM

DVD 2: Live At The LA Sports Arena November 1980 (Audio Only)
Contains Steven Wilson’s 2020 mix of the concert in DTS and Dolby AC 3, 5.1 surround and stereo 96/24 LPCM

DVD 3: Slipstream Video (Audiovisual)
With audio tracks remixed by Steven Wilson in DTS and Dolby AC 3, 5.1 surround and stereo 96/24 LPCM

Added: April 10th 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Jethro Tull online
Hits: 809
Language: english

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