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Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick CD (album) cover

THICK AS A BRICK

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.64 | 2294 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars In response to music critics' insistence on branding "Aqualung" as a concept piece, Ian Anderson & Co. set out to create a good- natured lampoon of concept albums and "serious" groups like Yes and King Crimson in general. But something went awry on the way to completing their absurd farce. They produced an undisputed masterpiece of progressive rock. With only a sketchy blueprint to follow as they put this LP together under the gun and by the seat of their pants, they began throwing random ideas into the collaborative pot right and left. The difference was that they were absolutely brilliant ideas. Not to mention the fact that drummer Clive Bunker had left and was replaced by the extremely talented Barriemore Barlow. His superior technique injected a confidence into the band that obviously inspired them to reach beyond themselves and what they thought they were capable of.

Starting with one of the most memorable melodies in rock history, Jethro Tull pulls you into the exhilarating world of "Thick as a Brick" like a strong undertow that you are incapable of resisting. As if to warn the casual, ill-prepared listener that this won't be anything like "Cross-Eyed Mary" or such, the first words sung are "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/your sperm's in the gutter, your love's in the sink." Not your typical rock & roll lyrics, to be sure. In fact, the words are as surreal and difficult to comprehend as James Joyce on a binge but fit perfectly in this complex composition. There are three major themes that recur in ingenious forms throughout the album. The first one I just mentioned, followed by the second, a harder-edged rock/jazz riff where Ian's vocal floats overhead. It's also here that John Evans' fluid Hammond organ supplies a broader dimension to the sound. The third motif is a pseudo military march feel that allows Anderson's sprightly flute to amaze. A very controlled but spirited jam follows, kept in check by the efficient rhythm section of Barlow on drums and the steady Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond on bass. There's an almost classical segment next that swirls around your head like a swarm of butterflies as the organ, piano and flute cleverly intertwine. Evans provides a stunning organ break as they continue to redefine the march theme without ever becoming redundant. Somehow they effortlessly return to the original melody and proceed to perform fantastic variations on it. Ian's multiple flute tracks are wonderful. Part one ends with punchy accents and an arresting, dynamic fade out.

Part II starts with a psychedelic take on the previous closing pattern before busting into the furious rock/jazz riff once again. Showing that this project is indeed a total group endeavor, Barriemore gets to shine brightly as he performs one of the most tasteful drum solos ever recorded. With melodic episodes interspersed over his ride things never get boring or tiresome. Next they drop into a sort of free-fall improvisation with random voices popping in and out before re-introducing the first theme in yet another imaginative variation. A quieter segment follows that has an almost hymn-like reverence that evolves into a somewhat mysterious-sounding march where John's room-filling Hammond organ makes its welcome presence known again. This mind- boggling work of art never lets up for a moment as they segue into a very intricate, abstruse yet thrilling section complete with vocals that is darn near indescribable. It is sublime. To wrap things up neatly they revive both the march and the rock/jazz riff before delicately reprising the intriguing original theme that leads gracefully to the ideal terminus of "And your wise men don't know how it feels/to be thick as a brick." Sheer magnificence.

And, as if the immaculately remastered studio recording wasn't enough, they throw in an energetic concert performance from Madison Square Garden in 1978 to give a different perspective. Mind you, it's only an 11:47 snippet of Part I, but it is very refreshing and I only wish some other groups' reissues were done in the same way. Yes, for example, includes rough studio run- throughs and single edits that are only worth one or two listens at most. A live take would be much more enjoyable and relevant.

The cherry on the sundae is an interview with Ian, Jeffrey and guitarist Martin Barre in which they discuss this landmark project. You'd think a world famous band riding on the crest of their biggest success to date would be living the ritzy rock star lifestyle but their description of the dingy, dirty basement where they formulated and rehearsed most of this album dispels any false illusion of opulence in just a few sentences. It makes "Thick as a Brick" even more awe-inspiring when you hear about the less-than- favorable conditions it was created in. They also discuss the horrid food at the greasy spoon nearby, the scary challenge of initially playing the entire thing on stage, the Monty Python mindset they employed for the elaborate album cover and other humorous anecdotes. Again, this is the kind of packaging that makes a reissue truly remarkable and elevates the worth of this CD to indispensable status. What a treat.

The end result is Jethro Tull at their very best and a glorious example of unselfish ensemble cooperation and coordination of stellar musical brainstorming. Its overall tightness is exemplary, especially in an age where guide tracks and tempo-correction software was non-existent and the ever-changing pace had to be regulated solely by the drummer. The true irony is that what they thought would be a bit of silly fun turned out to be their first #1 LP and we proggers are the fortunate beneficiaries for all time to come. Any fan of quality, genuine progressive rock should have this in their collection and I highly recommend this reissue in particular. This album defines the word "masterpiece."

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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