1987’s Crest Of A Knave pushed Jethro Tull in a harder rock direction which renewed their popularity. Ian Anderson’s frenetic style and his signature flute virtuosity enabled the group to retain its uniqueness as their sound moved into the modern age.
Rock Island released two years later in 1989, continued their hard rock journey. It did not have the consistent quality of its predecessor but there were enough high points to make it a solid release.
The core of the group remained the same. The ever present Ian Anderson, guitarist Martin Barre, and bass player David Pegg were together for the fifth studio album in a row. Drummer Doane Perry, who had worked with them part time on their last album, was elevated to full time member status. Former member Peter Vettese returned on a part time basis to add keyboards to four tracks.
When Jethro Tull is good they are usually very good. The title track contains some nice flute/guitar interplay and the lyrics are philosophical as they explore the theme of loneliness. “Another Christmas Song,” which re-appeared on their 2003 Christmas Album, is a rare soothing and positive song from the group. I have always liked the music of “Kissing Willie” but the lyrics move in a risqué direction to say the least. “The Whaler’s Dues” tells a poignant tale as it explores the story of a whaling man.
Many of the other songs are average which means nothing particularly bad or good. I tend to prefer the up-tempo “Big Riff and Mando” and “Ears Of Tin” over some of the other material.
Rock Island tends to get lost in the large Jethro Tull catalogue as there are a number of better stops. Still the album remains very listenable and is a good example of Tull’s current sound.