Jethro Tull

Rock Island

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Even before Jethro Tull's 1987 LP Crest of a Knave controversially won the newly created Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance (beating out AC/DC, Jane's Addiction, Iggy Pop, and -- to the astonishment of many who ignored the "hard rock" tag and focused on "metal" -- Metallica), it represented a commercial comeback for the venerable British band led by Ian Anderson, becoming the group's first U.S. gold album in eight years. Thus, it might be said that there was something riding on the follow-up, not only in career terms, but also in the sense of musical credibility. But that doesn't seem to have mattered to Anderson, who, ensconced on the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Hebrides, just came up with another batch of his idiosyncratic songs, referring to his home in the title. Rock Island went on to disappoint somewhat in record stores compared with its predecessor, despite radio and video play for its lead-off track, "Kissing Willie." [Seventeen years later, on this reissue, Anderson provides liner notes that illuminate his sometimes opaque lyrics. "Heavy Water," for example, "reflects on the environmental damage from Chernobyl" -- who knew? -- while "Big Riff and Mando" is a fanciful retelling of an incident on tour when bandmember Martin Barre's mandolin was stolen and, amazingly, returned. Whatever the songs' meanings, the LP remains a representative but hardly special Jethro Tull album. For the bonus tracks, the group has gathered in a dressing room backstage in Zurich, Switzerland, on October 13, 1989, performing stripped-down versions of "A Christmas Song," "Cheap Day Return/Mother Goose," and "Locomotive Breath," with Anderson graciously introducing the performances as if hosting a special radio program, which, perhaps, he was.]

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