I’ve never really been a huge Jethro Tull fan—I’ve always liked them just fine on a “greatest hits” level, and I’ve owned some of their albums purchased at garage sales when I was a tyke—but I was 11 when Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols came out, so “prog rock” was not really something I grew up on. It was something to be avoided. I respected them, liked certain songs a lot (“Bungle in the Jungle” was one of the earliest singles I ever bought) but from a safe, skinny tie and Ray-Ban-wearing distance.
In the past five years, though, I’ve started to listen to Jethro Tull through downloading quadraphonic (4 channel) bootlegs of Warchild and Aqualung that popped up on the Demonoid torrent tracker. I’m willing to listen to anything once in multi-channel and Tull’s classic albums were recorded especially well and the quad mixes of these albums were fun to listen to. Some 70s quad mixes were little more than doubled-up stereo afterthoughts and were pretty conservative sonically, but some performers did it right, like Jethro Tull, who perhaps did it the very best. I fanned out from there into some of their other albums.
Then I started to notice that new 5.1 Jethro Tull releases remastered by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree (who has been reworking the King Crimson catalog and is now also turning his attention to Yes and XTC) were starting to come to market and I picked up his Aqualung, which is damned good. Then yesterday I got a copy of the Wilson remastered Benefit—a Tull album from 1970 that I’ve (mostly) never heard before—and I’ve played it like ten times in the past 24 hours. It’s fucking killer and I am glad that I have “discovered” it, but honestly, since I don’t care what you think about Jethro Tull, why should I expect you to care about what I think about them? The issue of whether or not Jethro Tull are any good has been long settled and isn’t up for dispute and this isn’t a review as such. More like PSA for audiophile rock snobs.
What I would like to tell you fine people, is what a great value the Benefit
“collector’s edition” is, and praise the project’s producer Steven Wilson for yet another job well done. Wilson’s name on something these days is the gold standard as far as I am concerned. Hell, I’d buy something I wasn’t even particularly interested in just because he was involved in it with the expectation that I’d come to like it (For instance, Yes I normally don’t give a shit about, but the idea of hearing them in 5.1 surround and mixed by Steven Wilson, well all of a sudden that’s a very attractive proposition to me).
It’s not like I’m listening to Benefit “anew” after decades of living with it—I just got it yesterday, as mentioned above—but I am hearing it with fresh ears and it’s a product of remarkable quality and maniacal attention to detail. Wilson returned to the multi-track masters, did the slow bake process that needs to happen to older analog tapes with the iron oxide flaking off, and once the vocal and instrumental tracks were laid off to digital, went back to the same (or similar) vintage processors as would have been used in studios at the time to add EQ, phasing, reverb and double tracking consistent with the original mixes. In the CD booklet, Ian Anderson credits Steven Wilson with painstakingly removing technical glitches, amp buzz, stray noises and the analog hiss between musical notes, all the while retaining the original balance, but causing the music to sparkle in comparison to previous versions. In his notes about the process of restoring and remixing the album, Wilson wrote that he hopes fans who have lived with Benefit for 40 plus years wouldn’t even really notice what he’d done.
All in all, I’d rate this package an A. The music’s great, the surround mix is positively eargasmic and the price is right (you can buy the Benefit three disc set discounted to around $20 on Amazon). The reason that I’m not giving it an A+ is simply because they put the 5.1 and hi resolution stereo transfers on a regular DVD instead of a Blu-ray. It’s worth mentioning that Steven Wilson’s Yes and XTC remasters do come with a Blu-ray. This is what the folks who buy (as in purchase, as in who don’t download it for free, as in who spend money in record stores) physical media releases like this one WANT, but it’s not a fatal flaw and hopefully future labels who hire Wilson for his own special brand of ace reissues, will listen to him next time. I’d be willing to bet a finger that he argued for a Blu-ray instead of a standard DVD but was over-ruled by someone in the accounting department because it would have added another 17 cents to the per price cost of manufacture. Note to that accountant: the Warner Music Group would sell more of these suckers if there was a Blu-ray component here. It’s one of the main criteria that I, for instance, look at when doing the mental calculation of “do I want to buy this or download it?” Just sayin’, record industry. You might want to listen to your customers, the ones you still have left.
Or just listen to what Steven Wilson is telling you people. He’s the man!
“With You There to Help Me” performed in 1970. This is Benefit‘s lead-off track and in the 5.1 mix, it becomes a swirling thing of almost celestial beauty. I’m obsessed by this song. This live version here is simply stunning.
More vintage Jethro Tull after the jump…
“The Witch’s Promise” on Top of the Pops, 1970
The “Teacher” single, sans flute. They re-recorded this for the American market and added it to Benefit‘s running order, which differed from the UK release.