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Jethro Tull - A Passion Play CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.02 | 1339 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars A misunderstood album, 'A Passion Play' is JETHRO TULL'S last great progressive work. Let's review the misunderstandings.

Can't understand what it's about? This album was based on a real art form. A passion play told the story of Christ's trial and death, and the form developed over the centuries to include everything from the fall of Lucifer, the creation of man and the second coming. A modern version is Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ'. Even 'Jesus Christ Superstar' has elements of the passion play. This form allows the maverick JETHRO TULL to explore a passion play about the afterlife, beginning with the funeral (my friends as one all stand aligned) with cameos from God and His Son, Lucifer, Magus Perde and everyone else IAN ANDERSON could think of. Dante's 'Inferno' meets the Gospel of St. John.

Lack of melodies? The problem is not the lack of melodies, but too many, all falling over each other to be expressed. Listen to the introduction (Lifebeats/Prelude): I don't think they wrote anything as melodious as this. One of my criticisms of this album is that JETHRO TULL have collected too many ideas here, and don't give them room to breathe. Sixteen tracks (as IAN ANDERSON identified in 1973) is too many for 48 minutes. The album is either too short or too dense. Probably both.

The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles a pointless diversion? Quite the opposite. Such an interlude is an essential component of a passion play. Treated humorously, it is the equivalent of a Monty Python episode, and introduces levity into what is, by and large, a serious album. Treat it as an intermission. Take it out if you've had your humour gland removed. After all, this album is five minutes longer than 'Thick as a Brick'; it isn't as though you've been short-changed.

Speaking of 'Thick as a Brick', doesn't it suffer in comparison to that masterpiece? Well, yes, so does almost everything. That's not a reason to dislike this. In fact, in some areas this album is superior: this is arguably IAN ANDERSON'S premier vocal performance: the operatic nature of the mesic suited his voice perfectly. And the extra instruments certainly creates a more varied sound than TAAB.

The citics hated it. Yes, they did. They were willing to forgive one excess (TAAB); to many, 'A Passion Play' was taking progressive music too far. But you'll find that the most trenchant critics of this album also harboured a grudge against progressive rock in general. Sadly, the critics knocked the stuffing out of IAN ANDERSON'S musical and lyrical ambition. This album was followed by 'War Child' (shudder), and TULL'S subsequent exploration of folk and heavy metal has always smacked to me of a retreat, the antithesis of progressive music.

So what's good about it? Great lyrics, an excellent concept, melodies all over the place, superb musicianship (go to 11 minutes in and listen to the jam, superior to the TAAB jam at 7 minutes on that album, in my opinion), and some great composition ('Best Friends', at 13 minutes on Side 1, is outstanding, as is 'Overseer Overture' on Side 2). It's a little disjointed; it did have a chequered history and could have done with a little more thought and development. But what is here is magnificent. 5 stars for brilliance, even if it is flawed.

russellk | 5/5 |


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