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

THICK AS A BRICK

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.64 | 2247 ratings

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Raff
Prog Reviewer
5 stars On a swelteringly hot Monday afternoon, yours truly - too knackered by the humid heat to even remotely think about doing something 'serious' - got the brilliant idea to write what may very well be the 1000th review of one of her favourite albums of all time. As in the case of such other widely recognised masterpieces as CTTE or the mighty ITCOTCK, with "Thick as a Brick" (TAAB for friends) it was love at first hearing - the first, melancholy, acoustic notes of the intro still manage to evoke a response deep within me that many other records will never, ever achieve.

"Really don't mind if you sit this one out/ My words but a whisper, your deafness a shout..." - then Martin Barre's amazingly heavy guitar explodes in typical fashion, backed by Barriemore Barlow's thunderous drums. It is but the beginning of a stunningly intricate, intriguing cavalcade through JT's 'spoof' mother-of-all-concept-albums - which, funnily enough, is much more successful than dozens of seriously-meant works of similar bent. Complete with one of the most brilliantly thought out covers in the history of rock, the album is allegedly based on a long poem written by an 8-year-old boy living in a a stereotypically narrow-minded, English country town. I remember that, at the time I first heard TAAB, I took the whole story seriously and was amazed by the depth of insight, not to mention the corrosive wit of the lyrical content, wondering about how such a young boy could have come out with lines such as "your sperm's in the gutter, your love's in the sink". Much later, of course, I learnt about the spoof - the interview with Ian Anderson, Martin Barre and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond included in the record's recent remastered edition is very entertaining, and the best proof of how prog was not above showing a sense of humour.

In the good old times of vinyl records, TAAB was divided in two, and this division is preserved on CD (but more on this later). Unlike most albums which are comprised of songs, it is difficult to analyse individual sections of TAAB. The interplay between the instruments is superb, though, with Anderson's highly individual, storyteller's voice dominating the whole proceedings. Time signatures shift and change suddenly, taking the listener from a soothing acoustic soundscape to a much heavier, tense one.

My favourite section of all is probably the one starting with "See here, a son is born", introducing a deft change of mood from the wistful, pastoral tones of the beginning. Barre's electric guitar work is its usual brilliant self, perfectly complemented by Anderson's acoustic playing and the spectacular background provided by one of the tightest (though sadly overrated) rhythm sections of that period, courtesy of Messrs Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond and Barriemore Barlow. John Evan starts out with some beautiful piano runs, then midway through the first section his Hammond organ plays in unison with Anderson's flute.

The instrumental sections and the vocal ones interweave smoothly, giving each musician his own chance to shine. The almost military rhythm of one section gradually slows down and flows into another, beautifully accented by piano and acoustic guitar. "I see you shuffle in the courtroom/With your rings upon your fingers.". Those who tend to overlook Barrie Barlow in those endless, boring "best drummer" polls should get a good listen of his performance on this record - and all of us who love great music cannot but regret Jeffrey H-H leaving the music world for good after the "Minstrel in the Gallery" album.

The first part terminates with nearly strident, frantic interplay between drums, keys and flute, which fades out into silence and is then taken up again in slow motion. Hearing it as a continuous movement on CD is even more impressive than when you had to flip the vinyl over. Then, the rhythm gets high again with the reprise of the "See here, a son is born" theme, which features some truly spectacular drum rolls, accompanied by bells and flute. This is probably the most 'avant-garde' section of the album, almost dissonant at times, with Anderson half-singing, half-reciting lines about God being "an overwhelming responsibility" and "cats on the upgrade". Then, "In the clear white circles" brings back the pastoral atmosphere of the beginning, culminating in the minstrel-like, wistful atmosphere of "Do you believe in the day?", with Anderson's vocals at their plaintive best on Evan's solemn Hammond backing. This is followed by the dynamic, march-like "Let me tell you", which includes some impressive flute runs by Anderson - then segues directly into the reprise of the "So! Come on you childhood heroes" theme from the first part, only with a harder edge: "Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday." - pure, weird brilliance on the part of one of the greatest lyricists in rock. A soothing string section heralds the initially chaotic, then suddenly peaceful reprise of the beginning. "So you ride yourselves over the fields/and you make all your animal deals/and your wise men don't know how it feels/to be thick as a brick."

What else can be left to say? This is perfect album from the best incarnation of a truly great band, a milestone of every genre of prog and rock music. Don't miss it.

Raff | 5/5 |

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