Album Review: Ian Anderson, “Homo Erraticus”

Homo Erraticus

When they go on tour these days, most artists of Ian Anderson’s age might slot in a couple of new songs into their act, but mostly keep to a standard-issue “greatest hits” setlist. Anderson, clever fellow that he is, however, got audiences on his most recent tour to sit through a full hour of new material, by the rather brilliant stratagem of writing an album-length sequel to Thick as a Brick (entitled, creatively, Thick as a Brick 2) and then performing the two records back-to-back. And you know what? It was a really good record – no match for the original, certainly, but without question some of the best music Anderson has made since the late 70s.

This year he’s at it again, offering a sequel to that sequel in the form of Homo Erraticus (2014) (and touring it, in toto, alongside a “Tull’s Greatest Hits” setlist, appropriately enough). The concept this time out—because there has to be a concept—is that these songs are based on a “dusty, unpublished manuscript, written by local amateur historian Ernest T. Parritt (1873-1928)” and “rediscovered” by none other than Gerald Bostock of Brick fame. It’s a pretty loose concept, but it does lend the album a sense of continuity and coherence, even as it affords Anderson the freedom to range across the entirety of British history, from pre-Roman times to the present and beyond.

Musically speaking, longtime JT devotees may bemoan Martin Barre’s absence; and it’s certainly true that even Homo Erraticus‘s rockers are decidedly more staid than the likes of “Aqualung” or “Locomotive Breath.” But the band does a bang-up job of recreating the sound and feel of classic Tull, handling pastoral British folk (“Heavy Metals”), syncopated 70s prog (“Tripudium Ad Bellum”), and riff-heavy hard rock (“Cold Dead Reckoning”) with equal aplomb. As concertgoers know, Anderson’s voice is pretty battered after decades of use and abuse, but he’s in good form here, trading vocals (as he does live) with his young counterpart Ryan O’Donnell. Moreover, his lyrics are as good or better than ever. For him, British history is not so much as an inevitable march of progress as a revue of human foibles and frailties – a fact altered little by future prospects of technological utopia and and interplanetary exploration.

As Anderson casts his eye back upon his homeland’s long and storied past, he invites his listeners to cast their eye upon his own musical history. Since the late 70s, he’s been something of a homo erraticus himself. But coming quick on the heels of the excellent Thick as a Brick 2, Homo Erraticus (the album that is) would seem to signal a late-career renaissance for Mr. Anderson. Let’s hope there are more old manuscripts collecting dust in his library – and that he’ll see fit to bring them into the light of day in the not-too-distant future.


Listen here. Buy it here.

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