In a way, War Child saw a scaling back in terms of ambition from Ian Anderson, with its return to concise songcraft after the single continuous pieces of music of 1972’s Thick As A Brick and 1973’s A Passion Play.
But the modest 10-track record was actually part of a more grandiose enterprise, including a feature-length movie and accompanying soundtrack album.
Provisionally titled War Child - A Musical Fantasy, the film was scripted and, according to the 80-page booklet in this sumptuous package, described “the short stay of a girl called Evelyn in the afterlife”: think Alice In Wonderland via Heaven and Hell. John Cleese and Leonard Rossiter were even mooted to be involved. Initial demos were laid down at London’s Morgan Studios in December ’73; the full recording, including band and David (now Dee) Palmer’s string orchestrations, took place at Conway Hall the following February.
And then, nothing – for 40 years, the music was consigned to the vaults, give or take the odd airing as intro and outro music at gigs during 1974⁄5. Here, in addition to the original album – remixed in 5.1 surround and stereo by (you guessed it) Steven Wilson – you get for the first time 30 minutes of lush, rousing orchestral music that receives favourable comparisons in the liner notes to Elgar and Tchaikovsky, as well as other material, including some from the aborted September 1972 recordings at the Château d’Hérouville (the fabled ‘Chateau D’Isaster’ sessions), three of which – War Child II, Good Godmother and Tomorrow Was Today – are previously unreleased.
The album itself was a standalone affair with 10 generic, ’74-era Tull progressive rock nuggets heavy on sax and quixotic tempos. Some of the songs, such as the closing Two Fingers, could be Roxy Music at their most proggy. Ladies is like a rock’n’roll madrigal, _Only Solitaire _is 90 seconds of sardonic invective aimed at rock critics, Back-Door Angels is
a raggle-taggle form of prog far from the shiny cosmic/epic variant offered by Yes and ELP. Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day places War Child historically – this was back when a new ice age, not global warming, was the prevailing eco dread – and Bungle In The Jungle was the hit single not a million miles from Bolan’s glam boogie.
“It gets a bit on your tits after a while,” says Anderson in the sleevenotes, opining that _War Child _ranks below Aqualung, Stand Up, Thick As A Brick and Songs From The Wood in the Tull pantheon. He might be right, but as part of this lavish package it’s a fascinating document of Tull in their pomp.