Ian Anderson continues to make great music
Only two years gone from "Thick as a Brick 2," the follow up to his band's landmark progressive-rock album from 1972, Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson returns with "Hono Erraticus." The third installment is another-genre contorting box of assorted musical chocolates in the "Thick as a Brick" chronology, detailing the adventures of Gerald Bostock, who served as protagonist in the two previous albums.
"Homo Erraticus" combines rock, progressive, folk and metal styles, with a complex layering of instruments. Weighty guitar or piano riffs will be accented by synthesizers, accordions and woodwinds, which pay brief four to eight bar visits before temporarily exiting the stage. "Homo Erraticus" favors mostly up-tempo stop-and-go arrangements; with melodies that run up and down scales like excited children. In terms of sound, it closest resembles "Thick as a Brick 2," or "Roots and Branches," an often overlooked "Jethro Tull" album from 1995. But it also comes closer to the heyday work of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, than any of Anderson's previous work-even in the golden age of Jethro Tull.
Having been making music for nearly 50 years, Anderson knows how to weave a progressive tune. The guitar, piano and bass intermingle perfectly, and Anderson's dazzling flute solos always kick a song into high gear. Transitions are always solid, and none of stranger segments overstay their welcome. The guitar work is primarily electric, although the album's two acoustic songs, "Heavy Metals" and "In for a Pound" are whimsical standouts.
Anderson and the group both produce melodies that are typically robust and larger than life. Even on their worst songs, the tune is unique and identifiable in the opening chords. While consistent, the arrangements on "Homo Erraticus" aren't as diverse as some of Anderson's previous works, with several tracks in the album's first half feeling interchangeable. Several instrumental interludes boil down a flute racing against a guitar. The production also feels a bit restrained, some of the music seems apprehensive of being everything it can be.
If anything is more signature than Anderson's flute work, it's his lyrics. He combines stream of conscious imagery, pop culture monikers, tongue in cheek japes and thoughtful social commentary, into eclectic poetry. The album begins by taking us through history with the opening track, "Doggerland," which recalls man's journey through the ancient era of civilization. "The Engineer" is a portrait of England during the Industrial Revolution. "Per Errationes Ad Astra," the majority of which is just Anderson speaking unaccompanied, is absolutely fascinating. The cryptic nature of Anderson's music is park of what makes it worth coming back to.
The only song that falls flat lyrically is the disappointing "Enter The Uninvited," which is about the rise of materialism and popular entertainment. In this track Anderson simply lists many of his references, "Star Trek, Baywatch, Friends, Sopranos, West Wing, Mad Men, Walking Dead," rather than putting them into a more poetic syntax. As for that, there's a reason "American Pie" is praised over "We Didn't Start the Fire."
While it appears Jethro Tull will never put on a studio album again, Anderson keeps the spirit of his former band alive, and both "Homo Erraticus" and "Thick as a Brick 2" show he's willing to combine the legacy of the past with the realities of the present. I think "Homo Erraticus" is the weaker of the two, but it's still a healthy dose of progressive stew that blends many of the genre's most savory ingredients.
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