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Jethro Tull - A Passion Play  CD (album) cover

A PASSION PLAY

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.01 | 998 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Review 45, A Passion Play, Jethro Tull, 1973

StarStarStarStarStarLamp

After the phenomenal success of Thick As A Brick, Anderson and co. at length and after the abortive and somewhat vague events of the Chateau D'Isaster resurrected from the ashes a more cohesive and thoroughly composed one-song album. Whereas Thick As A Brick's approach (several songs welded together, and parts of pt. 1 cleverly reprised with variations in side 2) had a definite charm throughout, this is a much more acquired taste, and it takes time to fully appreciate exactly where the more unitary one-song album pays dividends. I did like this on the first listen, but it took a lot longer to remember the melodic hooks and clever twists in it. In short, the issue is very much one of cohesion and the opportunities for real twists rather than small additions. You can get the same bar of music leading up to a completely different entity, and that does grow on you. All of the flow is more deliberately handled than on Thick, certainly, but with Thick As A Brick, you come to love the problems as well as the greatness, and with the more clinical approach of A Passion Play, that is not the case.

Ian Anderson's vocals (most of those here, though John Evan and Jeffrey Hammond contribute a couple of spoken lines), lyrics, acoustics and flute are excellent as ever throughout the entire album, and the more prominent use of his sax (which isn't generally great, but does contribute to the more chaotic and dissonant sections of the album). We do get some well-applied touches of violin, most obviously on The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles. Anderson's vocals on this album may well be his best ever (though my money's on Baker Street Muse). The other standout player is John Evan, whose hearty application of piano and organ for blocky, delicate, effervescent, grandiose, forceful and hectic sections in equal measure is a welcome development from Thick As A Brick. There are also valuable glimpses of VCS-3 in both the more chaotic and careful sections.

Martin Barre generally seems rather more carefully applied on this one, so carries a lot more weight when he does burst out of the woodwork. He does handle some superb soloing and hard rock lines around the 'All of your best friend's telephones/Never cooled from the heat of your hand' section, as well as some wonderful sax-guitar-VCS-3 interplay on the second half. Barriemore Barlowe has, somewhat deliberately, not so obviously spotlighted the glockenspiel on this one, and gone more typically for occasional bangs on tympani, as well as some very interesting rhythms (I don't pretend to understand them, I just find them interesting) on the drums. He contributes well throughout.

I suppose the player I find least enjoyable on this one is Jeffrey Hammond(-Hammond), who is still an excellent bassist and completely adequate. My small issue is that I loved his connecting bass on Thick As A Brick, with its oozing, flowing feel, and I find the bass on this slightly less distinctive. Nonetheless, his bass throughout is very good, and has its moments.

Now, that's just an overview of the musicianship. The combination of these things, and the masses of high-quality interplay in an initially overwhelming array of styles (whether that's pure acoustic guitar and piano, harder rock, chaotic jams or even the parodic Hammond-narrated Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles) is half of what makes this album so exceptional. There are very few moments, if any, where I feel someone is taking away from the mix. The much-loathed Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles, in my opinion, is a fairly amusing touch, and doesn't clash too much with the rest of the album. I could see it being split over the two sides as an annoyance on vinyl, but I think it's transferred well to CD format.

The other half is the composition. Anderson's writing provides clever catches and multiple cases where you have the same lead-up to two completely different sections and end up virtually tripping over yourself in either admiration or surprise as you hear the twists. The overture is neatly done, and the choices of instruments throughout is grand. This is not at all trying to be Thick As A Brick, it's trying to be a one-song concept album, and, as a rule, it succeeds monumentally at that. I do get a little irritated by the 'Overseer' section, and I think an ending with slightly more aggression or force would have been more desirable, though probably not better-suited, but otherwise the whole piece is fantastic listening.

After sufficient acquisition time, this album definitely begins to grow on you, and there are some incredibly good moments, both lyrically and musically, but its increased panache doesn't always result in an increased charm. Essential listening, for curiosity and interest as well as quality. The flow is impeccable, and the benefits of the one-song album as a basic concept are on display throughout.

If we're arguing 'objectively' whether Thick As A Brick or A Passion Play takes the Tull crown, I'd go without hesitation for A Passion Play, but for personal connection, Thick is a much easier and better sell. For the hard-core proggers this is clearly of much greater interest, and noone should miss out on this album. More trivially, this is one of two albums to which I have been caught playing air acoustics very badly. I'm restraining myself from awarding five stars, but only because my personal preference finds itself elsewhere at the moment.

Rating: Five stars in contradiction to the above (edits are edits) - preferences changed a little. Favourite Track: Ian Anderson unwittingly mocks my review format.

Fived. I'm as likely to listen to this as anything by Tull these days.

TGM: Orb | 5/5 |

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