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Jethro Tull - A Passion Play CD (album) cover

A PASSION PLAY

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.03 | 1436 ratings

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The Mentalist
5 stars A Passion play is undoubtedly Tull's finest hour. Not that they haven't produce a lot of fantastic album, it's just that this one is by far the most intense and ingenious thing Ian Anderson and Co have ever come up with. When it was released back in 1973 it was universally panned by the so-called music critics. Here's what Chris Welch of the dreadful 'Melody Maker' had to say about it: "I must admit chagrin at not finding the lengthy lyrics easy to interpret. Half a dozen readings gave me as many possible conclusions to be drawn. Perhaps they represent Ian Anderson's compassion for the human spirit buffeted by life's whims and fancies, jests and cruelties. If that's the case, then sobbing into a microphone won't help. And as the music is contrived to support the lyrics every beat of the way, the result is an endless, shifting conveyor-belt of chords; a unison beating of keyboards, guitars and drums, wholly lacking in melodic or rhythmic interest, and bereft of tonal quality." Steve Clake of the NME (An even worse paper the MM) said: "Lyrically Passion Play baffles me. There are a few oblique references to God and the Devil and every now and then Anderson throws in a cliché like "barking up the wrong tree" or "hopping mad".Personally I've considered Jethro Tull to be on the slide since Stand Up right through to Thick As A Brick, though even then they played good music. If that was the slide Passion Play represents the fall. A shame because Ian Anderson is capable of so much better than this." And a Mr Stephen Holden from the god-awful 'Rolling Stone' said (in a paragraph worthy of Bablefish): "Viewed as a recorded oratorio, or as a prolonged 'single', or as any in-between hybrid, A Passion Play strangles under the tonnage of its pretensions - a jumble of anarchic, childishly precocious gestures that are intellectually and emotionally faithless to any idea other than their own esoteric non-logic." Oh really! I see."esoteric non-logic" eh. Define "non". He ends by saying : "The overall impact of this music, however, is very slight. Not a single leitmotif sticks in the mind. What blues figurations there are are constipated and redundant. As a whole, the score is far less substantial than Thick As A Brick, itself a suffocatingly fey concoction. Finally, one leaves A Passion Play with the feeling of having been subjected to 45 minutes of vapid twittering and futzing about, all play and no passion - expensive, tedious nonsense. " I imagine that the reason "Not a single leitmotif sticks in the mind" is because Ian Anderson has never used the leitmotif system. DUH! As for "constipated and redundant blues figurations" What the fuck. . .???? Anyway, this album is classic Tull. It's a much darker, more lyrically oblique album than it's predecessor, 'Thick as a brick', and musically, much more mature. Its opening is remarkably similar to the opening of Pink Floyd's 'Dark side of the moon'. I've often wondered if the quiet heartbeat intro is meant to be a parody of the opening of Floyd's famous album. However, once the band enter, there's no mistaking that it's Jethro Tull we're listening to. The band launch into a twisted, limping "dance macabre" that has more than a hint of Berlioz's "witches sabbath" and Dukas's "Sorcerers apprentice" about it. This music has a sardonic, mocking quality that sets the tone for what's to come. The texture is also dark, with the sax making an appearance for the first time on a Tull album. (Interestingly enough, Anderson's soprano sax playing is one of the things that defines the sound and makes this album unique.) Lyrically, it's the most poetic thing Ian Anderson's ever attempted. Whether or not one can find any concrete meaning in the words is irrelevant when faced with verse as beautiful as: "And who comes here to wish me well? A sweetly scented angel fell. She laid her head upon my disbelief and bathed me with her ever-smile." And in true archaic fashion he sings "bathe-ed" rather than "bathed". Musically, A Passion Play is tricky stuff and contains some of the most complex time signatures of any tull album, probably due to the genius of drummer Barrimore Barlow. A good example is the weird sub division of 9/8 into 2+3+4 that occurs 'round about the six minute mark and which then changes to 11/8 (or 11/4, can't remember which) sub divided into 6+5. Not particularly difficult in itself, but throw in Barlow's weird phrasing and accents and suddenly we're walking a very perilous path indeed. John Evans's keyboard work deserves special praise. His playing is always inventive and in tune with the mood of the moment. The piano playing, heard after the opening "dance", is especially beautiful. And his two synth interludes that flank 'The hair who lost his spectacles are rather hypnotic and polyrhythmic and unlike anything Tull have ever produced before or since.

I'll not rant on any longer but end by saying that A Passion Play has to be one of the greatest "concept albums" of all time. I put it up there along with 'Tales from Topographic oceans" , and rank it higher than 'The Lamb Lies down on Broadway'. What more can I say. Creed!

The Mentalist | 5/5 |

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