Home Read Albums Of The Week: Jethro Tull | The Zealot Gene

Albums Of The Week: Jethro Tull | The Zealot Gene

Ian Anderson blends Bibilical tales with contemporary observations — and his usual flute-fuelled folk-prog, of course — on the band's first studio set in nearly 20 years.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:The Zealot Gene is the first studio album of new material in over 18 years from British progressive rock luminaries Jethro Tull.

A record that began to take shape as early as 2017, The Zealot Gene, in many ways, seeks to defy convention during a time when the business of being a touring and recording artist has never faced more uncertainties. Tull bandleader Ian Anderson holds no reservations about the role for which the mythos and themes of Biblical storytelling played in the lyrical content of the new album, saying: “While I have a spot of genuine fondness for the pomp and fairy-tale story-telling of the holy book, I still feel the need to question and draw sometimes unholy parallels from the text. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly rear their heads throughout, but are punctuated with elements of love, respect, and tenderness.”

When Anderson began work on The Zealot Gene, he started by writing a list of words that corresponded to strong human emotions. On the positive side, he listed love, compassion, and loyalty, among others. On the negative side, anger, rage, jealousy, etc. “I had 12 words for 12 songs, and it occurred to me that those words feature heavily in my memory of reading the Bible,” the renowned vocalist, guitarist, and flautist says. “So I reviewed some biblical text as a little reminder of where those words would’ve first appeared when the printing presses began to roll in Europe. It served as a useful reference point in writing the lyrics, but I never set out to illustrate the Bible as such. It’s really just taking those words and relating them to the present day.” Below, he discusses some key tracks on The Zealot Gene.

Mrs Tibbets

“One of the words that I wrote was ‘retribution,’ which was visited upon the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah by the angry God, Yahweh. Lot and his wife escaped, but she turned around to look at the destruction behind her and was turned into a pillar of salt, according to biblical tales. That brought up the inevitable comparison with someone turning to face a 2,000-foot air burst above Hiroshima. So I decided to write an analogous song based on the visitation of Little Boy, dropped by the air crew captain Paul Tibbets, son of Enola Gay Tibbets.”

Jacob’s Tales

“Apart from the Jacob in the title, it’s really a song about envy and jealousy in the sense of sibling rivalry, and the idea that brothers and sisters don’t always get on. And when it comes to the inevitable passing on of family assets and treasures, things can get a little difficult. The fact of taking an element from the Bible as a parallel is not very evident in any of the lyrics, but that was among the references. So, I set out to write the song, but keep it well outside any biblical context.”

The Zealot Gene

“It’s about the polarization of opinion-making in contemporary society, largely through social media, but also through — quite rightly in a democratic world — freedom of speech, the right to express your opinion. But these days that opinion reaches further and faster and in more forcible terms as a result of social media — and can be used in a way that is often very hurtful, very cruel, very socially divisive. And whether it’s at the hands of politicians or people in the world of sport, or media, or arts, it’s heavy-handed. It often is, perhaps, a result of a spontaneous outburst that finds its way onto Twitter or Facebook — and then, the next morning, after the three glasses of chardonnay have worn off, people might think, ‘Whoops, did I really say that?’ ”

Shoshana Sleeping

“This is a slightly erotic observation of the human form, but in a respectful and hands-off kind of a way. Hopefully you would get the impression in the lyrics that the person singing the song is already in some kind of a relationship with the person that he’s observing sleeping. In terms of biblical references, I read some verses from the Song of Solomon. In the original text, sometimes it takes on a pretty macho and unpleasant form — the biblical format is not terribly woke. Nonetheless, there are parts of the Song of Solomon which are very moving and spiritually generous.”

Sad City Sisters

“It has a parallel in biblical text, but more than anything it was conjured by visions I have often witnessed on a Friday or Saturday night, mostly in the U.K., when I’m walking from a concert hall back to a hotel somewhere after a show. Inevitably, you see late-night city life and the behaviour of relatively young people going on a mindless bender to see how much they can consume in the way of drink and drugs wearing impossibly skimpy clothing and getting themselves into potential serious danger. As a father of a daughter — I also have one granddaughter — you tend to hope and pray that this danger won’t be part of your own family’s experience.”

Where Did Saturday Go?

“Again, it could be seen as a reference to waking up and not being able to remember what you did on a weekend. But there’s obviously the reference of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Saturday following Good Friday — before Easter Sunday, the resurrection day. In this story, Saturday is very rarely mentioned. And in this 24-hour period you have to wonder what was happening in the minds of those followers of Jesus after his death but before his resurrection. But it’s never discussed to any degree in the Bible, so I’m just pondering that notion of a missing day in the narrative of Jesus.”

The Fisherman of Ephesus

“In that particular song I do stay more closely to the biblical stories of what happened to the disciples of Jesus. I’m talking primarily about John, and he being the only one not to die a gory death. And so the song is about guilt survival, something I know from talking to veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, who lost their buddies, and who were scarred for life as a result of surviving when others around them died. And that happens, obviously, in car crashes, plane crashes, and probably in terms of COVID mortalities. There’ll be people who survived alone in a family and the rest died from COVID before vaccination. So guilt survival is applicable right across the board. And that’s essentially the message of the song.”

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