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Jethro Tull - A Passion Play CD (album) cover

A PASSION PLAY

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.01 | 1265 ratings

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Magnum Vaeltaja
2 stars "Ambitious Concept Albums 2: Electric Boogaloo"

After the smash mega-hit "Thick As A Brick", I suppose that, in an almost Hollywood-like fashion, Ian Anderson was just seeking to one up himself. And, in much the same way that many a blockbuster sequel bombs in comparison to the source material, "A Passion Play" has certainly not maintained nearly as much respect as its predecessor. However, unlike many a b-movie flopper, Jethro Tull's most notorious work isn't quite so crippled in awfulness, and does still have some redeeming features. As with "Thick As A Brick", though, it suffers from many of the same plights.

After "Thick As A Brick" firmly established Tull as a band capable of competing in the world of progressive rock, "A Passion Play" took this prowess a step further. The typical folk influences in Jethro Tull's music are toned down, and the album seems to be the nearest to symphonic prog as they ever got. The playing on here is even more complex and technical than on "Thick As A Brick", and the arrangements even more erratic. However, it seems that, being swept up in chart success, the band didn't think critically on how they could move forward and improve what they did the first time around. Indeed, the technicality is usual for nought. As I've always maintained, technique and virtuosity should only serve to augment already strong music; it should never serve as the be-all, end-all. And just like in "Thick As A Brick", if you look past the concept, the abrupt and erratic musical changes seem to be done more as a sleight of hand, to distract from the fact that the music has no emotional grounding.

Speaking of the concept, "A Passion Play" is a definite step down from "Thick As A Brick". While the latter was actually quite clever, I'm honestly not even sure what this one is supposed to be about. The lyrics are utter nonsense. Normally I don't have any problem with that. Take Yes for instance: Jon Anderson's lyrics may be cryptic and have no literal meaning, but it's very clear how his words and phrases augment the sentiments and mood of the song, and his angelic voice blends with and even carries the music. The same can be said for many other prog bands where the voice serves as just another instrument. This is problematic for Tull, though, because frankly, Ian Anderson just isn't a good singer. In addition to having no charisma in his voice, it sounds like he's straining (even suffering) to sing even the simplest of phrases. As a result, the vocal-driven sections of the album are plain unenjoyable, just as they were on "Thick As A Brick", and virtually all Tull material for that matter.

In all, it's easy to see why prog gets attacked as pretentious when albums like this are being put out. Unnecessarily over-the-top arrangements, with little more charm to go by than flipping through the dictionary to see the longest words they could find (e.g. surreptitiously) and assaulting the listener with unrelenting English-ness. If you're into prog just to appreciate technical performances, or to sit in the den, stroking your chin while admiring how smart you are, then this should be right up your alley. But if you actually enjoy mood, atmosphere, or genuine pathos, then look anywhere else but here. If you're a Jethro Tull fan and loved "Thick As a Brick", you might enjoy this one as the endearing sequel, but there are no guarantees. While the intricate performances on the album demand so much more, I find this one straddling the line between 2 and 3 stars for a rating. I'll be conservative and err towards the lower end of that. There are many Tull fans who consider this work near and dear to their hearts, but this certainly isn't something anyone should go out of their way to get into.

Magnum Vaeltaja | 2/5 |

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