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Jethro Tull - Thick as a Brick CD (album) cover


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.63 | 3397 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars A four-star review for the highest-rated album on Prog Archives is likely to sound more negative than positive. Jethro Tull's 'Thick as a Brick' has all the usual fan-boy terms thrown at it, apparently more than any other album; "Masterpiece", "Essential listening", "Pure prog bliss".... the list goes on. But I don't feel it's justified. The album is a spoof!

Granted, it is a very good spoof, good enough to be a concept-album in its own right, but still a mere piss- take of the 'Tarkus's' and 'Close to the Edges' that came before it. And those songs are much better for me. What 'Thick as a Brick' lacks is enough variation to keep it interesting; for its massive duration almost every theme is repeated several times, sometimes in a row, and all of these themes are similar in their composition.

Acoustic balladry opens the piece, and is nice. I doubt the first 3 minutes would work very well as an individual song, but the poetic lyrics help it to survive by making it obvious that it is just one small part of a much bigger concept (helped by the headline on the album cover). Then we explode into a rocking section with a 5/4 riff, characterised by flute bursts and a very Emerson solo from the Hammond Organ. Prog rock works for Jethro Tull, but how long can they keep it up for? New sections arrive that each fall into one of two categories: either this fast-paced, riff- based hard rock style, or a kind of medieval folk ditty which could be sung be a minstrel with a backing band. Some of the verses towards the latter half of side one are forgettable, and we become slightly sick of the re-used themes until saved by the pleasant march that closes this half. It's satisfying overall, but nothing extraordinary.

That would have been a nice place to stop, and wouldn't have spoiled the concept much. Tull could have packed side two with short pieces based on lesser headlines in the newspaper.... or something. The second half of 'Thick as a Brick' starts well with some themes from the first part mixed with crazy moments and drum solos. I love the track until this stops, because the new sections just drag on like the band is on depressants. Every time it comes to a point where I think "reprise main theme and end!" it just adds another verse, or another instrumental run-through of some of those overused hard riffs. Eventually the song ends, rather nicely actually, but I'm left with a discontent feeling.

If Anderson thought a little more about changing the instrumentation, then maybe this album would be more digestible for me. There is an omnipresent hammond and flute that just annoy me by the end; it would be nice if they were occasionally be replaced by synthesizers or mellotrons or electric guitar (which is underused). While other large-scale pieces from other bands often feel like 'suites' or 'journeys', this one really does just feel like "a long song". I really enjoy most of side one, and some of side two, so 30 minutes would be an optimum length for me. I did think 'Selling England by the Pound' was overrated, but perhaps not as much as this very 'okay' album!

thehallway | 4/5 |


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