It’s not very often that you run into an album where the stuff they recorded but left off is both as plentiful and as high quality as what made it onto the released record.
What is it?
The Broadsword and the Beast is the 1982 record from Jethro Tull, a band named for a guy who (in the 1700s) wrote a book that helped kick off the Agricultural Revolution. Much like another band who quickly tired of the question, “which one’s Pink?”, I’m sure Ian Anderson quickly tired of being called Jethro…
How does it sound?
Bring me my sampler mix as a talisman:
Why this pick?
My relationship with this band’s music is a bit weird. This is one of the few bands my Mom and I agree on, though we like different parts of their library. (My Dad and I don’t agree on any bands.) What’s considered Tull’s best work either bounces off of me entirely or just doesn’t overwhelm me. Yes, the Aqualung album is quite good, but the entire mid-to-late-70s stretch is very hit-or-miss. As is the post-80s stretch, if I’m honest.
Basically I’m as atypical a Tull fan as I am an atypical Bowie fan. Go figure.
I came to the band in the mid-80s thanks to their “Heavy Metal Grammy” winning (sorry, Metallica!) album, Crest of a Knave. After that one scored big, someone decided that a retrospective boxed set was in order. Thus, 20 Years of Jethro Tull, which introduced me to… basically most of the notable B-side material from Broadsword, though I didn’t know it yet.
Then, as I worked my way through the back catalog the same way I did with the other prog-rock stalwarts I got into back then, I found that the A-side material on Broadsword is pretty darned good, too. So here we are: It’s my absolute favorite Tull record and arguably the best “first” record of theirs for a new listener. I mean, I’m arguing it right here and now. QED, etc.
Which songs are the highlights?
From the original album itself? “Beastie” and “Clasp” start things out strong. Next comes the hit single (such as it was) in the form of “Fallen On Hard Times.”
“Broadsword” is an epic piece, one of the strongest things the band has ever done. How it never got used in a Highlander-ish show or movie is beyond me.
“Watching Me Watching You” is an odd but compelling piece, the strongest track out of the last few in the album proper.
The parade of B-side material starts with the vaguely-Christmas-themed “Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow.” By the time you’ve gotten through “Mayhem Maybe” (one of my all-time favorite Tull songs), “Too Many Too,” “Overhang,” and “Down At The End Of Your Road” you wonder why any of those couldn’t have replaced one or another of the lesser tracks on the album they actually released.
Which songs don’t work so well?
Even a favorite Tull album isn’t a spotless album, I’m afraid. “Flying Colours” falls flat largely due to its very, very dated 80s-synth underpinnings, “Slow Marching Band” is merely dull, and “Seal Driver” just doesn’t work for me, though its instrumental bridge section could have been pulled out into its own thing and I’d have liked that a lot more.
Among the extra tracks, when you hear “Rhythm In Gold” you know why it didn’t make it onto the album proper.
Which album did you almost pick in favor of this one?
I had some options here: The Grammy winner, Crest of a Knave, is a solid record worth talking about. I like a lot of the follow-up, Rock Island, as well. But I’d probably have gone with Under Wraps, the album after Broadsword where Ian Anderson and crew went absolutely bonkers for synthesizers. To be clear, there’d been a progression (if you can call it that) toward synths over the previous few albums. With Under Wraps, though, you get the full “welcome to the 1980s” experience. It’s the 80s-est of the Tull records by a country mile. I won’t say it’s a great album but it’s certainly interesting and there’s a handful of standout tracks found in it.
I wouldn’t have done Aqualung, though. It’s a classic, and I’m not averse to those (I picked Selling England By The Pound for my Genesis selection, after all) but I don’t think I could bring anything interesting to the topic. Hey, if you haven’t been burned out on “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath” yet, by all means pick up a copy! I consider it the album after which Ian Anderson kind of really got full of himself, which is why I can’t get into the next few albums (particularly the “no discrete songs to be found” concept albums, Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play).
Any final thoughts?
In case I’ve been too subtle on this point so far (which seems unlikely): Find a version of The Broadsword and the Beast with the full 18-track line-up. It’s absolutely worth it.