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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick

I will state right up front that this album is pretentious, overwrought, and completely ridiculous. Of course, that's exactly what the band wanted it to be. As a result, it is also more fun, start to finish, than any other pretentious, overwrought and ridiculous seventies concept album. Let me explain. Upon the release of the Aqualung album in 1971, Jethro Tull was labeled a "progressive" rock band, and the album was derided by critics as a "concept album," something which Ian Anderson, the lead singer/songwriter/instrumentalist of Jethro Tull, never meant it to be. As he claims in interviews, his natural reaction was, "If they think that was a concept album, I'll show them what a real concept album is like." So, developed as a response to critics who were calling his band pretentious and, more specifically, as a response to critics who continually referred to Aqualung as a 'concept album,' this album is completely over the top.

How Many Songs?

The entire album is just one song. The lyrics are meandering, confusing, overwrought and ridiculous, and were meant to be. The record came packaged in a full newspaper, as if it were an insert in a weekly paper. The story, as told by the paper is that the band recorded an epic poem, written by a 12-year-old boy, Gerald Bostock, which won a local poem writing competition. And that it was indeed an insert in that edition of the newspaper. In the first line Ian Anderson admits the entire thing is all a joke, "I really don't mind if you sit this one out / My words but a whisper / your deafness a shout / I may make you feel / but I can't make you think."

Ian Anderson describes the album as being the equivalent to concept albums what Airplane was to disaster movies.

Every Part is Pretentious

Even the album's title is in on the joke, Thick as a Brick being a derogatory term thrown at anybody who takes this at all seriously. It is just music. As for the music, this is some of the best this band has ever created. As if it were a serious classical piece, themes are introduced in the opening 'overture' and later re-appear and are evolved. As musicians, few have ever faulted the members of Jethro Tull, they are all excellent instrumentalists, and it's this facet that is pushed to the forefront on this album. Organs, guitars, and flute weave in and out of each other, picking up melodies started by one of the others and continuing it while the original instrument weaves off on another direction. Themes pop up, expand and disappear into a new theme, only to fight back up through the mix later in the song.

And just to make sure the overwrought pretensions of it all is extremely clear to the listener... There is even a drum solo in the later half of the song.

The Concept: The Final Analysis

Overall, this is one of the better albums in the entire Jethro Tull catalog. Mainly, this is because the thematic joke of the album parodies the pretensions of other progressive rock music so deftly. It does this so well, in fact, that the joke is lost on most listeners, who instantly lump this album in with other seventies excesses like those of Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Of course, those are the same listeners who believe Spinal Tap is a real band.

But What About The Packaging?

Sound quality on the remaster is excellent, better than any other CD release of the same material. All instruments are precise and easy to pinpoint in the mix. The stereo separation is wonderful, instruments sliding all over the soundscape, or appearing in one place for one note, and somewhere else for the next. This new CD release is a definite 'headphone album'. In addition, the new release comes complete with copy of the entire newspaper as well as the CD, all packaged together in a cardboard sleeve. The CD also comes complete with bonus tracks, the first being a 12-minute live performance of the piece from Madison Square Garden in 1977. The album closes with an interview with Ian Anderson, Martin Barre (guitar), and Jeffrey Hammond (bass) in which it is explained, among other things, that it took longer to put together the album packaging than to write and record the material.


  • How intricate. I await the day when you have your own podcast. It should be a lot easier to do that than it was to own a radio station.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:54 PM  

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