Thursday, February 16, 2012

Song #123 of 9999 - Locomotive Breath by Jethro Tull

Song #123 of 9999

Title: Locomotive Breath
Artist: Jethro Tull
Year: 1971
Album: Aqualung

I seem to be leaning in the direction of progressive rock where 1971 is concerned and probably with good reason. 1971 saw the release of Yes's Fragile and The Yes Album, Led Zeppelin IV (perhaps not prog by definition, but certainly displaying many of the elements traditionally associated with the genre), Zappa's 200 Motels, Pink Floyd's Meddle, Focus II, Genesis's Nursery Crime, Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Pictures at an Exhibition (with apologies to Mussorgsky) and Aqualung. As recording technology was becoming more advanced, it makes sense that more and more musical artists would want to try more complex recording techniques and produce music on a grander scale. The three-minute single was fading as album-oriented rock (AOR) radio was emerging, granting new-found attention to lengthy album tracks and an entirely new slate of bands.

Like Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull are also unmistakably English and exhibit the same blend of heavy and acoustic elements. Unlike Zeppelin, the individual band members in Jethro Tull are not widely recognized and, arguably, not very important, with the exception of the group's leader Ian Anderson. (Martin Barre fans, feel free to scream at me in your replies.) Anderson's unique vocal style and especially his virtuoso flute playing make him a unique figured in pop music.

"Locomotive Breath" really is a very interesting song. I personally don't care at all about the bluesy piano solo at the beginning although I suppose it sets up the rest of the track nicely. Once the song proper begins, we're reminded that this band can really rock. The pulse of the song is pretty driving and action-oriented, most appropriate for the concept of a runaway train. The phrase "locomotive breath" itself is really creative and image-provoking, but the lyrical wit doesn't end there. Anderson's allegory of a man whose life is speeding out of his control has enough references to religion, adultery, and death to keep a room full of Tull fans arguing for hours about its true meaning. And then there's the flute solo: a singular blend of pitch, air and grunts that has come to epitomize the band's sound.

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