Jethro Tull – The Zealot Gene

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It’s been 19 years since Ian Anderson has released a new album under the Jethro Tull banner, that was 2003’s festive offering The Jethro Tull Christmas Album which basically did what it said on the tin and turned out to be the final album to feature the talented strings of long-time member Martin Barre on guitar much to fans dismay. Anderson has however released two further solo albums Thick As A Brick 2 in 2012 (the follow up to Tull’s 1972 album Thick As A Brick) and Homo Erraticus in 2014. The confusing thing for Tull’s audience is that the line-up featured on JETHRO TULL’s new album looks surprisingly similar to that on Anderson’s latest solo releases. So the musicians joining the leg waving flautist on The Zealot Gene are Joe Parrish-James and Florian Opahie on guitar, Scott Hammond on drums, John O’Hara on piano, keyboards and accordion and David Goodier on bass. Built up from ideas developed since 2017 the bands devotees were finally given their first glimpse of the material planned for the upcoming album when the title track of The Zealot Gene was included in the set of the Jethro Tull – The Prog Years tour in late 2021. The new track nestled comfortably amongst the likes of ‘Aqualung’, ‘Living In The Past’ and ‘Songs From The Wood’ boding well for what was on the horizon. Then in November the first video for ‘Shoshana Sleeping’ hit YouTube followed in January 2022 by the release of the official video for the title track building the anticipation for the album’s late January release. So has it all been worth the wait?

No matter what you think about any previous incarnation of the band it has to be said that for many years now Ian Anderson has been the driving force behind the Tull franchise, and it is his words, vocals and flute which have characterised the bands distinctive sound (controversial?) and irrespective of the sign over the shop door The Zealot Gene lives up to that Jethro Tull trademark. Once more working on a concept we find Anderson linking messages from the New Testament to more modern tales of voyeurism (‘Shoshana Sleeping’), sibling rivalry (‘Jacob’s Tales’), social observation (‘Sad City Sisters’) and much much more. Some of these connections are more obviously than others but the concept is strong. Opening with ‘Mrs. Tibbets’ with its classic Tull sound you would think this was business as usual but one thing that strikes you from the start is the fact that Anderson’s voice is not what it was (he is 74 after all), however in many ways his more “mature” voice adds to the mood of The Zealot Gene and it means tracks like Jacob’s Tales’ with it’s bluesy intro, ‘Three Loves, Three’, ‘In Brief Visitation’ and ‘Where Did Saturday Go?’ can be given a relatively sparse arrangement to allow the words to dominate and the lyrical content then becomes the real star. The flute as always is very evidently draped throughout the album adding to its “Tullness” (if that’s a word) but there are other musical stars lurking. O’Hara’s piano on Mine Is The Mountain’ (quite ‘My God’ from the Aqualung album in feel and subject) and his accordion on ‘Sad City Sisters’ help to tell the tale of a boozy Saturday night out on the streets of Cardiff as it’s debauched victims “toss their knockers in the bin”. Also in starring roles are Anderson’s harmonica on the previously mentioned ”Jacob’s Ladder’ and Scott Hammond’s syncopated drum rhythms and cymbal crashes which drive the title track (‘The Zealot Gene’). This percussive theme is also present on the following ‘Shoshana Sleeping’ with the voyeuristic charm and catchy flute riff which returns once more on ‘The Betrayal Of Joshua Kynde’. The music still finds plenty of room for the odd rock guitar riff, however on this release the riffs and solos punctuate rather than dominate the tracks and this is most evident within the likes of Barren Beth, Wild Desert John’. If I have one criticism of the album it would be the closing track The Fisherman Of Ephesus’ which although fitting well in the Bible/modern concept and opening with a quality marching beat just isn’t the strongest track present and feels a little pedestrian to close out this collection. So in conclusion The Zealot Gene is an album to really listen to, think about and come to your own conclusions on the subject matter. This is in no way “Prog Rock for Dummies”.

The Zealot Gene is just the latest product currently on Jethro Tull’s buckling merchandise shelves with the continued re-issue program moving forward with the 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition of Benefit last November and the “Silent Singing – The Complete Collected Lyrics Of Ian Anderson And Jethro Tull” book published around the same time these are looking like good times for the Tull fan. Each release and live appearance raises the question “is this the swansong for Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull?”. If so The Zealot Gene is a worthy studio exit and does nothing but add to the legacy built up over the past 55 years. No longer ‘Living In The Past’.

Track List:

1. Mrs. Tibbets
2. Jacob’s Tales
3. Mine Is The Mountain
4. The Zealot Gene
5. Shoshana Sleeping
6. Sad City Sisters
7. Barren Beth, Wild Desert John
8. The Betrayal Of Joshua Kynde
9. Where Did Saturday Go?
10. Three Loves, Three
11. In Brief Visitation
12. The Fisherman Of Ephesus