Jethro Tull returned to the studio during early 1974 to record their first studio album since A Passion Play. The resulting War Child was originally meant to be the soundtrack for a film of the same name. When the film did not materialize a number of songs were released as a stand alone album.
In my opinion it is just as well the movie did not happen. After the one song concept albums,Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play, this release was a welcome relief as its short songs and whimsical approach made it a more relaxed listen.
War Child retained one of the classic Tull lineups. Drummer Barriemore Barlow, guitarist Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, and bassist Jeffrey Hammond all returned for the third studio album in a row. David Palmer was back to provide the orchestral arrangements. Ian Anderson would continue as the songwriter, lead vocalist, flute, and saxophone player. Anderson has stated he will never play the sax live again which precludes many of these songs from ever being a part of their concert act.
The music falls right into a progressive rock sound. It would continue the groups run as one of the most popular bands in the world as it reached number two on the American album charts and sold well in their native country.
The first two tracks would go against the grain of the lighter approach of the album as a whole. The title track echoed the theme of the failed film as it told the story of the afterlife of a deceased girl. Palmer’s strings, Barre’s guitar, and Anderson’s multiple talents make it a serious and complex track. “Queen and Country” is political commentary made interesting by the use of an accordion as a supportive instrument.
The remaining eight songs are a much easier listen and were very welcome at this point during their career. “Bungle In The Jungle” may have been a criticism of the inner city, but it was a smooth flowing track and became one of only two songs in their long career to reach The American Top Forty singles chart. “Back-Door Angels” fuses some jazz with their rock approach. “Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day” has an odd beauty to it and remains my favorite song from the album. “Ladies” is a simple song with a renaissance flavor which would look ahead to some of their future work. The final track, “Two Fingers,” was left over from the Aqualung sessions and explores salvation and religion from Anderson’s unique point of view.
War Child may not be among the more creative Jethro Tull releases but it served the purpose of allowing the group to catch its breath before moving on. As such when placed in perspective nearly forty years later it remains frozen in time and is not one of their essential releases.