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Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick CD (album) cover

THICK AS A BRICK

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.64 | 2285 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Well, here it is, Ian's tour de force. I still say that, in general, Anderson's 'prog' abilities were sorely lacking, but this is a MAJOR exception. It may not be the greatest prog album of all time, but it's easily in the top five, if you ask me (among ones I've heard, I mean). Ian would eventually start filling his albums with the aspects of prog rock that tend to make me fidget and squirm, but this time around he managed to fill an album almost completely with everything that I love about prog rock.

Funnily enough, the album was largely created as a parody of prog rock. As on Aqualung, Ian creates the appearance of a concept (this time, it seems to be about the way people are forced to take upon certain societal roles against their wishes and despite their youthful promise that they would be different than their parents), but if anything, that mocking tone helps give the album a sense of levity that wouldn't always be around later. But really, I care about this album not because of a concept, but because the music is flabbergastingly stupendous.

Before you feel nervous about listening to such an album (a one-track, 45-minute album), though, you need to know a few things. First of all, it isn't really one song. Rather, it consists of a number of great 'normal' songs, albeit sometimes not completely fleshed out with "proper" beginnings and endings, connected to each other with instrumental passages instead of having pauses between them, with a few reprises throughout as needed. If you want, think of this as the Abbey Road suite taken to its most bombastic and technically immaculate extreme (that is, the most extreme before losing the fundamental melody strengths of the original). Some people have said (approximately) that this album is essentially just the opening theme and variations upon it, but that frankly makes me wonder if they've bothered to keep track of the other songs that pop up. There aren't that many individual song ideas on this, granted, but there are certainly enough; any album that can freely shuffle war marches, differently-styled bombastic acoustic ballads and unconventional organ-driven 'rockers' (among other things) with the ease that this album does is going to get a thumbs up from me.

Since (naturally) this isn't an album one can easily dissect into individual sections for analysis, I'd instead like to focus on some of the aspects that really grab my interest and respect. The first thing I really love about this album is how, through the entire first half and most of the second, it never feels like it's just sitting there fiddling its diddle, treading water or killing time until it's time for another 'main' theme. Every song has instrumental and vocal hooks out the wazoo, and when the band engages in a lengthy instrumental passage, it makes that passage wild and crazy and (as far as I'm concerned) incapable of sounding boring. There is an exception to this, of course; near the beginning of the second side there's an overlong drum solo (which, granted, is both very fast and very loud, but is still a generic drum solo), as well as a blotch of Zappa-style noises, and this kinda puts a crimp on the immaculate momentum the album has built for itself to this point. Other than that, though, everything feels justified and "in place," if you will; they even make sure to link up the start of the second half to the end of the first half (which seemed to be kinda echoing off into the distance) by dragging it back from the same distant void and acting as if the break was only an illusion. Neat!

I'm also extremely fond of the lyrics, which (a) are an awful lot of fun despite the (theoretically) serious subject matter (they really do a good job of keeping Ian in his 'mischievious little scamp' role that he could pull off so very very well) and (b) do an excellent job of repeating certain themes in just the right way, with just the right variations, to invariably hook in the listener. The "See there a son is born and we pronounce him fit to fight..."/"See there a man is born and we pronounce him fit for peace" split between side one and side two is a good example, as are the repeated allusions to our "comic paper idols" and "Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?" and so on.

And sheesh, I know I mentioned that the instrumental passages are great, but it really cannot be stressed enough. Evans, Barre, Anderson and Hammond-Hammond (Barrow is fine too, though he doesn't particularly stand out) sound like an insane unstoppable machine (is it really true this album was recorded in only three takes? Holy Hell!!), combining tightness and aggression of an unbelievable level with chances for each to have their moments to shine as individuals. The biggest standout is, of course, the terrific flute solo around 37 minutes in, but that's hardly the only standout.

Beyond this, I don't really know what to say. Please buy this album and appreciate what an amazing musical machine this group was in the good old days, as well as to see what prog rock is fully capable of before the pomposity overcomes the music itself.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |

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