Judge Victor Valdivia is sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent.
Their fully authorized story.
Jethro Tull has never, by any reasonable criterion, been a likely candidate for rock superstardom. When Tull's debut album, This Was, was released in 1968, it didn't exactly seem like an easy sell. Even by the standards of the late '60s, Tull's music, which blended English folk, prog-rock complexity, jazz experimentalism, and hard-rock riffing, all held together by frontman Ian Anderson's unusual voice, cryptic lyrics, and wild blasts of flute (yes, flute), was seen as just way too peculiar to attract more than a cult following. Add the band's image as medieval English minstrels who shunned drugs and decried explicit sexuality as well as an odd band name (taken from an 18th-century agriculturalist) and it was no surprise that many critics and industry insiders thought Jethro Tull would fade away quickly.
As it runs out, the skeptics were spectacularly wrong. Jethro Tull would become one of the biggest bands of the '70s. After the 1971 breakthrough album Aqualung, Tull would sell out stadiums and release two consecutive number one albums in the United States, Thick As A Brick (1972) and A Passion Play (1973). Even more impressive is that those two albums consisted entirely of dense and intricate 40-minute compositions, without any singles or short, radio-friendly songs. If anything, Tull's stubborn refusal to kowtow to mainstream radio and media conventions only endeared the band to their devoted fans even more. Though Tull's days as megastars are behind them, the band still commands a devoted following that keeps their concerts profitable and devours every piece of Tull memorabilia hungrily.
It's that following that will most enjoy this DVD, but it's also fair to say that even newcomers to Tull's music will find it a good watch. Part of the Classic Artists series, this disc is just as thorough and entertaining as the other titles in the series. There are interviews with virtually every surviving ex-member of the band as well as most of the current ones. There's also plenty of archival footage and photographs that illustrate the story, as well as a generous sampling of the band's music.
This combined wealth of information helps give an excellent picture of Tull's career. The key figure, of course, is Anderson, who is the band's undisputed leader and visionary, as well as the only member who has played on all of Tull's albums. His perspective is obvious the central one, but the documentary gives special time to those of other members, past and present. Each one has an interesting story, from acerbic former keyboardist/arranger Dee (originally David) Palmer to amiable ex-drummer Clive Bunker to Anderson's most loyal regular collaborator, guitarist Martin Barre. The multiple perspectives are all seamlessly edited together and tied together with a comprehensive yet easy to follow narrative that tells the band's story clearly and thoroughly. It's also fascinating that even though this is the authorized DVD, Anderson doesn't always come off so well, particularly to hear many of the band's former members tell it. This disc may be authorized, but it certainly isn't whitewashed. Mixed with all of the archival footage, some of which hasn't been seen in years, these interviews and narrative make it an excellent history for both fans and newcomers.
Some fans, however, might quibble with the choices made in telling the story. The documentary skips the albums Tull recorded in second half of the '70s, ignoring some fan favorites like Songs From the Wood (1977) and Heavy Horses (1978). Instead it jumps from the mid-'70s all the way ahead to 1980, when a completely revamped lineup that included prog-rock superstar Eddie Jobson recorded the controversial synthesizer-heavy album A, a radical departure from the band's earlier work. There is some discussion of the band's brief electronic period in the early '80s and an amusing segment on Tull's 1989 Grammy win for best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal album for 1987's decidedly non-metallic Crest of a Knave. After that, however, the documentary pretty much ends with nothing about any of the albums made after that. Also, some important songs in Tull's canon, such as "Aqualung" and "Teacher," get short shrift. Still, though these flaws prevent this from being the all-out definitive history, they don't ruin or discredit it. Even with those omissions, Classic Artists is still impressive.
Also impressive is the presentation that Image Entertainment has put together for the disc. The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is sharp, even on the archival footage. The Dolby stereo mix is also superbly mixed, loud and clearly balanced. The extras are also well-assembled. The best is Swing In-Rock In, a 30-minute short film shot in 1969 for German TV. It's full of onstage footage and interviews, although the highlight is an interview with Anderson's parents, whose quiet pride in their son's achievements is endearing. There's also about an hour's worth of extended interviews, which are definitely worth a look for fans. The disc is rounded out with galleries of Tull album covers, memorabilia, and photographs from throughout the band's history. The disc also comes with a twenty-page booklet with essays from Anderson and former Tull bassist Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, who does not appear in the documentary.
All of which makes Classic Artists an essential item for anyone interested in Jethro Tull's music. There's no better biography that tells this story from the beginning until now and contains enough rare and classic footage to enthrall both longtime fans and newcomers alike. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Extended Interviews
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