Jethro Tull is back with a vengeance.
The chart-busting seventies prog-rock band behind such FM standards as "Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath" hasn't released an all-new studio album since 1999.
Shown is Ian Anderson, frontman for Jethro Tull. His new album is 'Homo Erraticus.'
Shown is the cover for Ian Anderson’s latest solo album, “Homo Erraticus.”
In fact, the ensemble's frontman, Ian Anderson, recently admitted that he never cared for the name "Jethro Tull" and has retired it - to which end, he's churning out a string of solo efforts capped off by the dazzling new "Homo Erraticus," which entered British charts at No. 14.
That's right: An oddly named prog-folk album by a 66-year-old artist landed smack in the middle of the pop-music fray.
But a quick listen should allay surprise; "Homo Erraticus" is practically a masterpiece.
Now I'll admit Tull is my favorite band, but I'm not sure this biases me much; I haven't been wild about Anderson's recent work, and in any case, earlier gems like "Stand Up" (1969) and "Songs from the Wood" (1977) set an impossibly high standard.
Yet "Homo Erraticus" takes its place unashamedly beside those albums thanks to unusually strong vocals, solid lyrics and terrific writing. Indeed, with its trademark flute-and-guitar lines backed jaunty Hammond organ, much of it sounds like long-lost outtakes from "War Child" or "Thick as a Brick."
Making generous use of Latin - as in the title, which means, roughly, "wandering human" - the album's 15 catchy tracks chronicle man's odyssey on the British Isles, from prehistory right up through 2040.
Like "Thick as a Brick" and its tepid 2012 sequel, "Homo Erraticus" purports to be a series of poems written by Gerald Bostock, who in this case, supposedly based them on the obscure writings of one Ernest T. Parritt.
It's Anderson of course - using the double-persona, perhaps, to provide some distance from the cynical narrative, which feels especially prescient toward the end, when so many of Britain's intellectual, cultural and religious movements have deconstructed and all bets are off, leaving man to navigate by "cold dead reckoning."
That's the title of the sizzling final track, which suggests that man on his own might find a new Eden - but Anderson doesn't sound too hopeful.
Lyrics aside, the real appeal of "Homo Erraticus" is its songwriting and musicianship. Though the record features no seasoned Tull personnel (Anderson apparently no longer works with the band's unsung guitar hero, Martin Barre), the playing is dandy, with a variety of instruments and styles - including flute, bells, accordion, sprightly keyboards, spoken word and Anderson's chiming acoustic guitar.
There are a couple of short tracks (two at 90 seconds, one at just 37); a seven-minute standout ("Puer Ferox Adventus," about the advent of Christianity); tricky time signatures (a Tull hallmark, as in this album's best tune, "New Blood, Old Veins"); and a handful of rockers that can only be described as rollicking, old-fashioned, foot-stomping fun.
In the past decade or so, albums by aging rockers like Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young prove they still have the goods; Anderson now joins that stalwart cadre. For Tull-heads, this album is a must.
3 1/2 stars out of 5.
DOWNLOAD NOW: "Cold Dead Reckoning"