The 80s were a strange decade for prog. Having bestrode much of the 70s like the musical colossus it was, punk and new wave changed the public’s appetite, and there is a feeling that the big players of the previous decade suffered unduly, while the Marillion-led charge of the new guard had petered out by the middle of the decade.
The latter is largely true in terms of commercial success, Marillion aside – they were hitting the No.1 spot at the time – but by the end of the decade the likes of Genesis, Yes and Pink Floyd were all enjoying more success than ever.
Jethro Tull began the 80s in a state of flux. Experiments in new technology on both A (1980) and Under Wraps (1984) somewhat alienated a fanbase already perturbed by the ‘big split’ of the much-loved late 70s line-up, but they ended the decade with a Grammy, rocking hard and still selling out concerts, albeit in slightly smaller venues than the 70s.
Sandwiched in between A and ...Wraps, however, came The Broadsword And The Beast, wrapped in one of the band’s most evocative album covers, giving an indication of what was contained within. This was Tull expertly combining the fascination with modern-day sounds with the wild-eyed and rustic spirit that had always dwelt within. It was the first Tull album this writer took to his teenage heart, and remains a personal favourite to this day.
It still sounds fantastic on this sumptuous 40th anniversary monster edition – the biggest and boldest of these Tull reissues yet. Eight CDs, or four heavyweight vinyl albums, festooned with extras (demos, early sessions, associated recordings, a live show from Germany in 1982, a fascinating 164-page book) and with new mixes from Steven Wilson, who injects new life and verve into an album these ears found too quietly mixed back in the day. This writer was forever having to play around with his stereo’s graphic equalizer to attain a desired sound. It’s even better in 5.1 and, if you have the right equipment, Wilson’s Dolby Atmos mix is something else altogether.
Why is The Broadsword And The Beast so good? Certainly, as a collection of songs it’s up there with Anderson’s very best: the sinister strains of opener Beastie, the strident title track, while the likes of Clasp, Fallen On Hard Times and Pussy Willow all balance Peter-John Vettese’s modern-sounding synthesisers with the sound of the Tull of Aqualung or Minstrel In The Gallery to perfection. And there’s lashings of powerful Martin Barre guitar, too.
A grumble perhaps about the lack of live film from the era, which does exist. But really, that’s the smallest of gripes.
The Broadsword And The Beast (40th Anniversary Monster Edition) is on sale now via Warner Music.