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Jethro Tull - A Passion Play CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.03 | 1425 ratings

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5 stars A controversial work in the TULL gallery?

Probably, but it shouldn't be. The controversy turns almost exclusively on how many times the album has been listened to before the audient decides, "WOW, Great!" or "Ugh, total rubbish...." Those who purchase it on the heels of falling in love with its considerably more celebrated predecessor, Thick As A Brick (TAAB) , may be disappointed upon hearing it the first time; this is an almost universal reaction, and yet there are many out there who have moved past that first listening because of some kernel of value they heard, despite their shocked first impressions. So it was with me - JETHRO TULL fan boy that I am - I must admit to having hated the record on first hearing. IAN ANDERSON's creative output is incredibly varied, and I was used to that, but A PASSION PLAY's histrionic vocal delivery, abstract lyrics, and near tunelessness (as I perceived it at the time) made me think I'd never learn to like it. And what were they thinking with that story interlude about the Hare and his Spectacles, anyway?

A PASSION PLAY (APP)'s instrumental parts definitely avoid giving a cohesive, or even pleasant, impression, at first. The music is as esoteric and hyperactive as the vocals are manic, and it never stays in one place for very long. Though it takes a page from TAAB's playbook in terms of setting up an album-long song in a stunning symphonic web of sound, using an array of different instruments many of us have probably never heard (never mind heard of !), it is really a work of astonishing complexity that puts it beyond TAAB, if not at the absolute pinnacle of Mr. ANDERSON's musical achievements. The flute is given a lesser role than in most other TULL albums - I guess Ian wanted to try his hand at sax a bit instead - and many more rules are broken than would be typical in the cycle of presenting a work of rock music to the listener. Is this really rock'n'roll? No, in fact: We have left that world almost totally behind, and we're coming pretty close to a jazz structure here, even if played with predominantly rock instruments -- in a similar vein to how TAAB appropriates the structural and stylistic attributes of traditional English folk .

APP offers many rewards for a dedicated listener, but those rewards only are yielded with time and attention, so ... there you are. In this day and age how many people entering the fold as newbie prog fans (or fans from other prog lands just giving Tull a try because they've heard it's good) are going to give the time and attention that such a work demands? I write this in 2017, and much of the new work out there that passes for 'progressive' seems to take more cues from the accessible works of Genesis, Yes, and Rush -- the more accessible and pop-oriented bands of the 70's prog scene -- than from anything ambitious like this. And I suspect that the disease of our age, namely the rampant ADHD fuelled by action movies and ultraviolent video games, is driving us away from our ability to appreciate a sublime piece of music that develops itself across a span of 50 minutes. All I can say is this: if one reads reviews that throw shade at A PASSION PLAY, one might be inclined to give up on it immediately, but a better idea would be to play it in the background while reading a good book (oh wait, do we still have those?). Having taken this advice, by time you get done with it I will guarantee you will find its appeal has matured a bit. Or maybe it will have become more selective ... or at least you will have earned the right to pawn the record off on a friend!

CapnBearbossa | 5/5 |


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