Homo Erraticus— Latin for “wandering man”—is the latest release from longtime Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson. Written early last year this new album examines British history from the deep past forward. The listener makes spectacular leaps through time and place across the hour-plus recording. The story is about the spectacular leaps that humankind has taken over the millennia.
“This is a story of migration. This is a story that salutatory fact that we all ought to remember, that we’re all from somewhere else,” the veteran musician says. “It’s not just about the physicality of human migration, it’s also about the aesthetic, it’s also about the migration of ideas, the migration of commerce and trade, the migration of culture, of arts and entertainment. And allude to these things because it’s kind of important to remember that we Brits—and you Americans—are not terribly good at putting men with boots and guns on the ground and invading other countries. We don’t have a great track record, as of late especially.”
“But what we are brilliant at doing,” he continues, “and where we are world beaters, is taking over other countries with our arts and entertainment.”
Anderson adds that he doesn’t want to point fingers with the record or make accusations of ethnocentrism. Instead, he’d like the listener to think about how cultural exchanges have come to forge new elements of civilization.
“I’m trying to talk about some of the good stuff," he says. "I’m not just talking about invaders plundering and taking what they want. Generally speaking, most folks who’ve gone in—maybe they’ve had to stamp on a few heads along the way—but generally tend, on balance, to leave something quite positive behind as the result of their endeavors.”
One thing that hasn’t changed in the years since Jethro Tull debuted is that Anderson continues to fill his music with a wry sense of humor. Through the decades Anderson has skewered organized religion, British culture, and even the world of rock ‘n’ roll itself. Although it’s been part of everything he’s done, he says that he’s cautious about not letting the comedy overtake the music.
“It’s a way of sometimes presenting difficult stuff. ‘Big ideas.’ And, sometimes, more worrying ideas," he says. "But if you deliver them with a bit of smile on your face, then people are more open to it, then you can seduce people, perhaps, by giving it that veneer of, not comedic value, but sort of lightness that makes it more accessible and people are more likely to be drawn to it.”
Anderson adds that he learned to walk that fine line in part by learning from his peers.
“Frank Zappa was a case in point," he says. "Very, very fine musician, great lyricist, great songwriter, great performer. But we never got past the humor with Frank. Except in his instrumental-only pieces. Lyrically speaking he always felt compelled to make a joke of everything. Some of it was very funny, very cutting, very poignant, very observational. But we didn’t ever get to see Frank cry or kind of laugh at himself, or be someone who was obviously capable of the emotions that most of us feel. He seemed to almost use humor as a defense mechanism so that we couldn’t really see the soft, vulnerable center of that great musician. So, I’m sort of on guard not to do that myself, I wouldn’t want humor to overwhelm what I do.”
Fans of Jethro Tull or Anderson’s earlier solo work will note one or two musical influences that have crept into his compositions in recent years, right beside elements of classic Tull sounds.
Anderson, who has been performing professionally for over 50 years, says he feels it’s important for all musicians to continue evolving, no matter how long they’ve been playing music.
“I would remind them that it’s bit like qualifying as a doctor," he says. "It may equip you to heal people and fix people up at that particular point in time when you qualified. But medical science moves on. Unless you’re prepared to keep up, reading the latest journals and following the latest developments in drugs and treatment regimes, you are going to be left behind and you won’t be very good, perhaps, at healing people.”
Ian Anderson’s latest release, Homo Erraticus is out now.