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Jethro Tull - A Passion Play  CD (album) cover

A PASSION PLAY

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.01 | 991 ratings

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Atavachron
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars It is hard to imagine that the planet we currently live on once tightly embraced Jethro Tull's sixth studio LP, warmly receiving it and anticipating the rapture of rock musicians who had gone completely off the deep end, way past the line of reasonable behavior. But people loved it. At least for awhile. The overindulgence, ambition for ambition's sake, limitless opportunities, all part of what modern rock had become. A Passion Play reached #1 in the U.S. in 1973. Let me say that again: number one on the charts. The Billboard charts. In America.

It's almost beyond belief. Okay maybe the record was feeding on the fresh and beloved coattails of its famous predecessor. Maybe the time was perfect to sell a new Jethro Tull album, and perhaps people were just too stoned to notice anything wrong. But the funny thing is, Passion Play is extraordinary. The people who bought it were right. They realized what a wonderful offering it really was, and what a wonderful time it represented. You'll forgive me if I romanticize things a bit-- at the time this was simply Jethro Tull's new record. But in hindsight it is much more. It is, in a way, progressive rock's greatest love letter, and also it's saddest Dear John.

Ian Anderson has expressed his misgivings about the release - indeed approaching it as a spoof, a tongue-in-cheek response to the concept album - and his desire to oblige naysayers by stripping down the material on subsequent Tull issues, breaking apart his music into more digestible pieces as evidenced on the next, the great but conspicuously abbreviated Warchild. It all worked out for the best, I suppose, with a slew of topnotch things to follow including bonafide Prog classics as Minstrel in the Gallery, Songs From the Wood, and Heavy Horses. But it all just makes this one that much more special, and an important if ironic marker for the movement. If you liked Passion Play you were pretty much ready for anything. Cardiographic noises and a din of instruments overtures as the sprawl gradually unfolds, Anderson establishing the 'story' here of a man recently deceased. There are few landmarks to grasp hold of. As much an assortment of interconnected themes as one long two-part opus, the disparate parts ingeniously sewn together so that things shift too frequently to bore and if you don't like what you're hearing, wait 30 seconds. What we got with A Passion Play was the glory of the unintended; a joke turned darkly and brilliantly serious by the end; a band fooled by its own muses into doing God's work, giving the world a piece of music so great it was hard to see. John Evan's organ and synth grind the mulch, Barriemore Barlow's drums work warmly and unobtrusively with Jeffrey Hammond's bass (who also lends his voice to the histrionic and pouffy 'The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles'). Musical quotes from previous Thick as a Brick appear, Anderson's sax as delightful a lead instrument as his lithe baroque guitar, and tasty riffs from Marty Barre throughout.

Make no mistake, the record is full of terrific music as good as anything they'd ever done. But here you have to sit down and listen. You have to listen carefully, or it'll all be over before you realize what's happening. Too long and involved? No I don't think so. You can say that about Tales From Topographic Oceans if you want, but not this. A Passion Play was a creative triumph if a public relations nightmare, and we are truly lucky to have it.

Atavachron | 5/5 |

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