Benefit can be seen as something of a turning point in Jethro Tull’s career. At the time, it was their most successful release (#11 US, #3 UK) and a further step away from blues-rock towards the progressive style that would dominate later albums such as Aqualung (1971) and Thick As A Brick (1972) Benefit is clearly the bridge between the Jethro Tull of the 1960s and that of the 1970s.
The history of the album is somewhat complicated and has been a collector’s dream (or nightmare, depending on who you ask). The original UK and US releases differ significantly with the addition of the song “Teacher,” the B-side to their 1970 single “Witch’s Promise.” To further complicate things, the version of “Teacher” on the album was significantly different from the B-side. Fortunately, all of the material from that time period is captured in the new box set.
Immersive fans may recall that Benefit was previously reissued in a CD/DVD digipak in 2013, kicking off the ongoing Jethro Tull reissue series. The new 50th anniversary edition features the same book-type packaging as the other albums in the series, hopefully satisfying collectors that wish to see the entire series lined up on a shelf.
The album itself has aged remarkably well. Steven Wilson’s remix, as usual, enhances the album’s best qualities whilst also retaining the familiar sound of the original. There are some subtle differences, such as the increased presence of John Evan’s keyboard, but for the most part Wilson has remained faithful to the 1970 production. On the 5.1 mix in particular, he’s allowed each member to shine and one can really hear each band member’s contribution. Flat transfers of the original UK and US stereo mixes are included on the DVD for comparison, allowing fans to compare and contrast as they wish.
Also included in the box set are two concerts, Tanglewood 1970 and Chicago 1970. Tanglewood 1970 has been newly-remixed to 5.1 by Steven Wilson, setting this new release apart from the now out-of-print 2013 40th Anniversary Benefit reissue.
Wilson’s liner notes detail the limitations of working with decades-old live source material, but his Tanglewood remix sounds great and could certainly have been released as a separate live album. The 5.1 mix allows for the ambience of the audience to further shine through and create a more immersive atmosphere.
Benefit was a big album in 1970 and it did turn the spotlight on a band that was in the midst of transforming itself. With the use of 5.1, one hears that Anderson, who wrote all of the songs on the album, was arranging the music to best suit his members. Martin Barre’s guitar playing on this album is simply jaw-dropping and now can be heard clearer than ever.
Overall, this is a beautiful package. Anderson was developing into a stellar writer and his voice, up to this point, never sounded better. There is a confidence here that allows the stunning lyrics to be heard. His flute playing, as always, is quite unique and adds that extra originality to the music and album.