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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson talks ‘The Zealot Gene’ and why he has ‘zero interest’ in critics

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The last time Jethro Tull released an LP consisting entirely of new material, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” was duking it out with “Friends” and “Frasier” for top TV ratings. The legendary prog-rockers have just issued a remarkable return to form with “The Zealot Gene,” a record packed with ambiguously constructed contemporary themes mated with the time-honored acoustic/electric balance of classic Tull.

To put it another way, you’d need to return to the days of “Three’s Company” and “Happy Days” to find a new Jethro Tull album as consistently strong.

Jethro Tull materialized out of the congested British musical landscape of the late 1960s as a blues-rock fusion hybrid. Band leader Ian Anderson’s desire to introduce non-rock characteristics to their sound resulted in the composition of more complex material that bridged hard rock with elements of old English folk, Celtic, classical and jazz, peppered with unusual time signatures and flights of conceptual fancy. By the early ‘70s, albums including “Aqualung” and “Thick as a Brick” topped the charts while fans packed arenas – and eventually stadiums – to witness firsthand Anderson’s wild-eyed stage-stalking, flute-embracing, codpiece-baring theatricality and his band’s virtuosic live delivery of its repertoire.

Jethro Tull’s 22nd studio LP, “The Zealot Gene,” contains a dozen new Anderson songs each based on a different powerful human emotion. During an interview with The Maine Edge, Anderson said he first wrote a list of those emotions then noticed a number of them were words he associated with reading the Bible.

“Although the songs are all meant to be songs about the world we live in today, I thought it was interesting to make a comparison to refer to versions of powerful emotions where they appear in the Bible,” Anderson said, adding that it’s not an album based on the holy book. “As I do in many things that I write, I try not to make it one-dimensional which is a narrow way of looking at any subject,” he said.

Early glowing reviews for “The Zealot Gene” find critics and fans mostly on the same page for a change but Anderson admits to not paying much attention to what the world thinks of Jethro Tull. He admits to giving up reading the musings of music critics back in the mid-1970s.

“It was pretty obvious after an early start where the world loves you,” Anderson said of his critics. “It was happening to everybody after two or three years of being given a positive welcome that people would inevitably feel that either your best days had gone or they wanted to move onto something else. I got used to the fact that we received a solid caning from a lot of journalists.”

Always one of popular music’s most eloquent interviewees, Anderson didn’t mince words on the subject of social media which he tackles as subject matter on the title track for “The Zealot Gene.”

“The black and white, the stereotype, the polarizing pitch at play, while some of us sit in between interminable shades of grey” Anderson sings in the song’s chorus.

“I have zero interest in following what people, either fans or critics, might say on social media because it really serves as a platform for vitriol and general unpleasantness,” Anderson said, adding the song “The Zealot Gene” deals with “the use of social media as a tool of populist leaders of different countries who insist on creating even more division in society.”

That division is also referenced in the album’s stark black and white cover image based on a self-shot photograph of Anderson.

Following the release of his 2014 solo album “Homo Erraticus,” Anderson announced he would only thereafter release music under his own name. The about-face release of this record under the Jethro Tull banner came about he said upon his discovery that the members of his touring group made up the longest serving iteration of the band.

Anderson says he’s ready for Jethro Tull’s 2022 tour despite the fact that a few upcoming dates may bring them to parts of the globe where the zealot gene appears to be running rampant at the moment.

“We’ve already had to postpone for a fourth time our tour of Finland at the beginning of this year, followed by Sweden a couple of weeks later,” he said. “Now we’re onto Italy (Feb. 5), followed by Portugal (Feb. 18). Those should go ahead and I’m pretty confident things will happen during the rest of the year as they’re supposed to, with the possible exception of Ukraine, but that’s all down to Vladimir ‘Rich’-Putin and just exactly how much he wants to take over the world.”

(“The Zealot Gene” by Jethro Tull is available now on CD, vinyl, and on all digital platforms. A deluxe version containing a Blu-ray disc with the album mixed in 5.1 surround-sound is set for release on February 4.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 February 2022 06:54

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