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Jethro Tull - A Passion Play CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.02 | 1333 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars This is the album a lot of people say went "overboard." Bull. I just don't see it. It's every bit as good, if not much better, than "Thick as a Brick." Whereas "Thick as a Brick" drew on the aspects of life and cynical dealings with humanity, cycles, and all that heavy-handed yet Ian Anderson-ly sarcastic material (much like the first half of "Aqualung" did), "A Passion Play" draws on the more religious concerns of Jethro Tull (much like the second half of "Aqualung" did -- although the music in the two are very different). The Play is also sarcastic and irreverant, perhaps even more so than "Thick as a Brick," but it's more hidden and less immediately visible. The music as well is more unconventional, with the saxophone and keyboards playing much larger roles (occaisionally sounding like Van Der Graaf Generator and Gentle Giant in some places), but I don't really see anything 'diabolical', 'self-indulgent', or 'pointless' at all. Some compare this album to YES' "Tales from Topographic Oceans," but this is completely unbased. "Tales..." is a great album, but there is very little similarity between it and the Play. "Tales" is much longer, clouded in strange mysticism, and much more difficult to decipher; I haven't been able to yet. Others compare the Play to ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery," which I don't see at all. "Brain Salad" didn't go overboard, it went underboard in my opinion, with a lot of sub-par material filling the first half and some varyingly good and great material on the second half. Doubters should consult http://www.ministry-of- for their full annotations and ideas. It REALLY helps, and only takes about 20 minutes to read through. I encourage the other reviewers here who gave this album mediocre reviews to see the site.

Regardless of what the title says, this is not a "passion play" in the sense of Jesus' life story. Instead, it is the story of an ordinary middle-class man (Ronnie Pilgrim) and his afterlife. The album begins with a soft heartbeat growing into a crescendo, and an instrumental "prelude" begins. Soon the prelude dies down, and the heartbeat does as well, crashing into the ground. As this happens, Ronnie Pilgrim's ghost rises from his coffin to attend his own funeral. After a short instrumental, he is taken to purgatory, where he meets an angel which leads him to a "viewing room" after another instrumental, to be sorted into either heaven or hell. Here, Anderson's sarcasm is apparent, as it would almost seem that this afterlife is flooded with earthly beauracracy. Ronnie enters the viewing room, and a panel of judges have him watch portions of his life on a screen. They review his life and criticize him during the second half of the first track, beginning softly and slowly increasing their sharpness and throwing impossible questions at poor Ronnie. Eventually, however, they let up and allow Ronnie to continue on to heaven, as he qualifies as "good enough." Following a short reprise of the first theme ("the silver cord") is a beautiful instrumental "Forest Dance" with a light, etheral, heartbeat keeping time throughout as magical guitars and synths build into a crashing halt as the second track begins.

Jeffery Hammond-Hammond announces "THIS IS THE STORY OF THE HARE WHO LOST HIS SPECTACLES!!!" loudly, and we have reached intermission. A silly Monty Python-ish story follows, orchestrated by the band and, well, an orchestra for background. It's fairly amusing, but has absolutely nothing to do with the storyline so far (much like "Willow Farm" in "Supper's Ready" by GENESIS).

Jeffrey declares "A-pairrrr" and the band begins where it left off, in the middle of the beautiful "Forest Dance" section, this time with a faster, more nervous hearbeat accompanying. It slows, and act three begins in "the office of G. Oddie and Son" (God and Jesus -- more Anderson sarcasm and post-death beauracracy hints). Ronnie has been in heaven for 2 days, and is bored. He complains to God that heaven is too pious and good for him, so he is going to give hell a try. The music intensifies, and the cry of a lost soul groans as the "Overseer Overture" begins and Ronnie listens to Lucy's (Lucifer -- get it?) monologue. This section is very synth-heavy, in contrast to the soft, acoustic music when God spoke. Ronnie predictably decides hell is not for him either, and he decides to flee. How he escaped eternal damnation is beyond me, but he does. He wishes to be alive again, and with the help of a mysterious non-speaking person/entity called Magus Perde he boards a train to a riverboat. The music becomes more hard rock at this point (the second half of the second track), and acoustic in sections much like "Thick as a Brick" as Ronnie rides the train and uses Magus Perde's powers to transport him onto a riverboat bound for earth. In other words, Ronnie has opted out of the Christian view of the afterlife, instead going for reincarnation. As the main theme is reprised, a more awkward, earthly heartbeat begins and Ronnie (now somebody else in flesh) rejoins the "ever-passion play," which is of course life itself.

There are many parallels between this album and other prog concept albums. For instance, "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" by GENESIS is about a street punk named Rael who dies and enters a purgatory in which he confronts himself; "The Human Equation" by AYREON is about a guy who enters a coma and must choose whether to live or to die, and he chooses the former; in contrast, "De-loused in the Comatorium" by THE MARS VOLTA is also about a guy who enters a coma and must decide whether to live or die, but he chooses the former. JETHRO TULL's version of this classic prog concept also takes on it's own flavor. GENESIS' Rael character learns to love and must venture through an existentialist maze of tests; MARS VOLTA's Cerpin Taxt, in true punk-prog fashion, lives fast and chooses death over life; TULL's character wanders thru a classic Christian version of the afterlife (almost beaurocratic in nature) and doesn't learn anything at all: nothing about him changes, he learns no lesson, and it drives home "Thick as a Brick"s point, in otherwordly fashion: "OF COURSE: 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."

Recommended for everybody.

penguindf12 | 5/5 |


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