Sound: This album is considered to be the last of Tull's "folk prog" albums (the others being "Songs From The Wood" and "Heavy Horses"), although the influence of folk music is much less prominent on "Stormwatch". I would call this a logical progression from the organic Tull of the 70s to the more synthesizered, "cold" atmospherics of the 80s albums. The sound is still almost completely analog, though, and the progression happening here is purely musical, with an increasing focus on "hollow" harmonies such as fourths and fifths. The compositions, though, are still the multi-part prog epics in the impossible 69/42 beats we all know and love.
Jethro Tull was having some lineup-troubles during the creation of this album in 1979. Bassist John Glascock was suffering from a disease that would eventually claim his life, so band leader Ian Anderson can be heard playing the bass on a majority of the songs, in addition to his usual singing, flute playing and acoustic guitar-strumming (is there ANY instrument that freak of nature can't play?). While he's doing it well, his playing with the pick creates quite a bright and "un-bassy" that I don't like very much. But that's a minor issue, and I guess it adds to the album's character. // 6
Lyrics: The lyrics are among the album's main selling points. They were written around a time when scientists were contemplating the idea of "global cooling", and the oil strike of the 70s had been extremely hard on the economy of the western world. The result became a bleak collection of lyrics about the environment, set against a backdrop of cold dark waters, lighthouses and bearded old seamen gazing through their binoculars (as the cover suggests). Some of the lyrics really make me shiver, even though they're not scary or even overly pessimistic. "Old Ghosts" and "Dun Ringill" are perhaps the best examples of the album's lyrical qualities, and the music (which is quite dark by Tull standards) adds to the atmosphere. A huge step forwards from Anderson's introverted, boring lyrics from the mid 70s.
Anderson's vocals are no different from the preceding albums, he gives us his usual storytelling vocals, his voice being as strong as it would ever get (and as it remained until 1986, when a throat surgery ruined it). // 9
Overall Impression: With this album, Jethro Tull was still going strong in a time when most of their fellow early 70s prog rock bands were falling apart and rock was being taken over by the punk movement (and up-and-coming metal bands such as Judas Priest and Motorhead). It's got several strong songs to make it stand out; the uplifting instrumental "Warm Sporran", the epic "Flying Dutchman", the shape-shifting "Orion", and my two favourites: The elegantly orchestrated 7/4 rocker "Old Ghosts", and the gorgeous acoustic ballad "Dun Ringill", with it's chilling use of delayed vocals.
One problem, as with every Tull album post-"Thick As A Brick", is that it doesn't offer many new ideas. Most of the gimmicks can be traced to earlier albums, so it should not be considered an inventive album in any way. Jethro Tull were incredibly inventive when they emerged in the late 60s, but they soon started to repeat themselves, sometimes with less-than-satisfying results ("Too Old To Rock N' Roll") and sometimes while still being able to engage the listener. I would even consider this album to be a good starting point for the new listener who wants a solid album, but wants to save the gems for later. // 7