Leave it to Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull to anoint the Eighties with a concept album about the erosion of old values in today’s rapidly devolving world. Anderson observes the entropy of spirit that’s got individuals and nations in its icy grip, and, with a noble tilt to his head, he unsheathes his excalibur and stalks off to slay the beast that visits this plague upon the motherland.
Though it’s hard to believe this is happening in 1982, there is something comfortingly antiquarian about The Broadsword and the Beast. Anderson often embellishes his morality plays with entrancingly lyrical, flawlessly executed ensemble passages, and “Clasp” and “Flying Colours,” in particular, have a restless, brooding grace about them. At the same time, there’s something disarming going on. The alienation and foreboding of Peter-John Vettese’s synthesizer, combined with the heavy-handedness of many of Anderson’s lyrics, seem at odds with Jethro Tull’s more lissome English folk leanings. Vettese plays very much in the style of his predecessor, Eddie Jobson, sketching a frenetic desolation that mirrors the coldness with which Anderson apparently views the modern world.
There’s nothing wrong with living in the past, perhaps. Indeed, Ian Anderson can make the wisdom of the ages seem preferable to the rootless philandering of the present day. But on The Broadsword and the Beast, the real beast may be Anderson’s penchant for ponderous sermonizing.