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Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.63 | 3469 ratings

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Laughter is one of the many things that separate man from beast. Throughout the ages its therapeutic worth has been attested by medicine men and all kinds of healers. Laughter is the best medicine, so they say. It's good for the body and for the soul. In older times it was said to give courage to men so they could face fearlessly the greatest of perils. From Erasmus of Rotterdam to Umberto Eco, great scholars of yesterday and today have praised it and put humour to use themselves, bringing joy and delight to their readers. Many were the heroes who got through their provations with the finnest wit and humour, from Ulysses to Sousa de Macedo. But there is more than just "written" humour. After all, there is nothing better to evoke laughter than hearing a good joke. Especially if it's full of hidden meanings and ends up criticising our way of being. Thus the latin motto ridendo castigat mores - to correct morals through laughter. The expression, some say coined by Molière, has for centuries been the motto of all those who choose wit and jest to expose the obtuse morality or simple lack of it in their surrounding world. At first used to describe the style of some playwrights, both previous and posterior to the French comedian, it was later applied to a whole new array of jokesters whose masterly use of satire allowed them to cast joyous hilarity on the eagerly aware listeners.

Woody Allen remains one of the masters of that trade. His stand-up years were especially prolific in that matter, as one of my favourite jokes from him can attest. It is the (in)famous "Moose Story", where after a succession of incredible (and belly-ache hilarious) events, mostly all of them making fun of contemporary customs or timeless idiocies, a Jewish couple end up permanent members of the very exclusive New York Athletic Club, without being invited or even having the club aware of their presence. Woody ends, referring to the Club, with a sound "And the joke's on them, 'cause it's restricted." That's all I'm going to tell you about that joke, for it is meant to be heard from its author, not read in a simple progressive rock review done by a mere scribbler. There is, however, another joke I would like to talk to you about. You all know the story: genius musician and talented band decide to show the critics a two-finger salute, by creating one of the greatest examples of sustained satire known to man, in the shape of a 45 minutes progressive rock album. Complete with cover - a lot of work was put into this amazing apparatus. 12 pages of sham news, adds and events, all filled with delightful tongue-in-cheek humour and utter nonsense. A hard work (according to the boys from the band, it took longer to make than the record itself) that culminates in the most brilliant piece of cover art ever made, with a clear nod to Monty Python.

The music, however, is pure Jethro Tull - a great array of acoustic ballads and heavy folk-rock tunes jumbled together in a single piece, being, however, much more keyboard dominated than previous albums where flute and guitar held rule. Yet one of the great hazards of epics is the flow of the song. Jethro Tull have no such problem. The entire piece, throughout its many inner variations flows beautifully. Side 1 is by far the best known part, with the famous 3-minute-acoustic-opener-turned-radio-single. Oh, but it is so much more than that! It is followed by a jump towards a heavier and faster-paced sound after that, giving way to some great hard-rockin' soloing from Evans and Barre, and great, almost martial percussion. Ian gets his turn to blow some of his jazzy flute into the works. Again a softer passage, vocals over church organ. More guitar work by Barre, a very strong presence throughout Side 1 (much stronger live, though), a spotlight he shares with keyboardist John Evans. The song just keeps on flowing, switching between softer and heavier bits, subtle fade-outs followed by loud sonic bursts. An especially famous and amusing section occurs halfway through minute twelve: the crescendo initiated by the keyboard, then complemented by the remaining instruments, turning into a small violin led jig, with some more flute jam. After such a folksy passage, what should we expect? At this point, we have no idea, but Ian opts for a lullaby (awe!!!). Don't worry, soon enough the folksy-rocky-gutsy melody is back, holding up the joints of Side 1, just before fading away into wind (literally), bringing the first part to an end. Despite all the success of Side 1, better composed and built together, I have a great cherish for the less tighter Side 2, which begins with trumpet sound being carried by the wind, introducing an alternative take on the first heavy section of Side 1, through some great jamming, especially by drummer Barriemore Barlow and keyboard wizard John Evans. It then reverts, like a musical mirror effect, to the same opening acoustic melody opening Side 1. After a gentler keyboard driven passage, we get to my favourite sections of the song - the slower, beautifully vocalized and instrumentaly accompanied Do you believe in the day? , and the following instrumental part, where we finally get to hear Martin Barre in Side 2. Afterwards, there is space for some more fast-paced improvisation with great flute playing and even harpsichord, and some more of Ian's singing (greatly improved since Aqualung!). The song finally ends in a cacophony of excerpts of the album jumbled up with some symphonic arrangements that suddenly fade, and all we hear towards the very end is the end of the very first acoustic section, bidding us farewell with the immortal words, So you ride yourselves over the fields and/ you make all your animal deals and/ your wise men don't know how it feels to be thick as a brick.. Magical.

The thing is, a joke is only a joke when the people you are telling it too know it's a joke. In Ian Anderson's case, he forgot to mention it. And so a lot of people took him seriously at the time, actually thinking poor Gerald Bostock a real person (having him credited not only in the cover, but on the vinyl record as well, didn't help either). With Thick As A Brick, Ian tried to be funny - and succeeded. He created the "mother of all concepts albums", in a manouvre to ridicule critics and fans. But in then end, the joke's was on him, because it actually turned out to be a real masterpiece of progressive rock.

Kotro | 5/5 |


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