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


Jethro Tull


Prog Folk

4.63 | 3222 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
5 stars (Thick as a Brick Pt. 5+)

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, here’s this guy, he seems to review exclusively Ian Anderson byproducts, and he’s giving five stars to Thick as a Brick. I wonder if the review is going to be written something like this...”


Well...if you want to stop reading now, go ahead. That’s pretty much all I’m going to say, only without the caps and the spelling (for the most part). I mean, what else can I say about this album that hasn’t been said? Thick as a Brick is my current best bet for greatest prog album ever; it sums up everything that is good about prog rock, about music, about life. Okay, at least everything that is good about prog. Thick contains the epic scale, ghostly beauty, and progressive weirdness that can be found throughout the genre, and STILL be good. So Thick is less an album...and more a force of nature. “Aha,” say you, “Whisty, you’ve gone mad with power!” Uh, what power?

But wait! What if I told you that Thick as a Brick wasn’t prog at all! THICK AS A BRICK ISN’T PROG (that’s to catch the attention of the people who stopped reading when I told them to)! How could I say something like that? Well, remember that Thick is a joke. It’s Ian’s backlash at the critics that he never liked anyway, who had the gall to believe that Aqualung was a concept album! Ha! So the Tullers set out to create an album that was the concept album of concept albums, on purpose. Complex music, mind-boggling lyrics (it's about...what, the death of childhood? The whole father son/man is born/where's Biggles stuff? Hey, it's as good a guess as anyone else's), an album that contains only one song. One really, REALLY long song. And it’s all a joke. Written by Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock, child prodigy. Yep.

We start with an unforgettable opening, dubbed “Thick as a Brick,” a prime candidate for best movement of the Thick as a Brick suite. It’s a downbeat folksy ballad with descending verse and the twisty chorus, but I love the lyrics: “And the love that I feel is just so far away.” Damn. That Bostock kid is a pretty good poet for an eight year old.

This shifts flawlessly into “See Now a Son is Born,” is a wrathful rocker (the lyrics are still firmly tongue in cheek). Barre attacks the melody with angry riffage, but this steadily turns into the cold, vaguely psychedelic “Poet and the Painter,” another good candidate for best movement. It’s one of those rare times (in fact, outside of the odd King Crimson tune, only time) a song both rocks and is truly beautiful. A painful flute build from Ian and some equally painful soloing from Martin. Cant' you just see them English seashores? I can.

There’s a little buildup, with John Evan showing off the new moog device. I should mention that Thick is really sandwiched together by two forces, and one is John. The other is Jeffrey, and that really comes out in “I’ve Come Down from the Upper Class,” a violent folksy...jig. Yep. It’s an Elizabethan march, complete with pounding organ and some of the best flute on the album (it’s sort of a fan favorite; I can see why). Jeffrey plays all kinds of neat tricks with his bass in it, it’s great.

Another quick break, this one a reprise of the opening movement, done with lullaby-like care. This turns into “Where the Hell Was Biggles,” another decent shot at best movement. It’s a sort of...I’m not sure what it is. It’s a sort of symphonic keyboard/orchestral duel, with a fantastically cold bridge. Those lyrics always get me: “The other kids have just backed out and put you first in line.” You just have to hear it.

Side one ends with orchestrals that dissolve into hard guitar/organ interplay. It’s a final enough stop, but you know something else is coming. And so it does; side one spills perfectly into side two, which opens with windy sound effects, lilting flute lines and a reprise of “See Now a Son is Born.” This also contains a drum solo and some spoken parts, but don’t fret! The drum solo, courtesy newcomer Barrie Barlow, is energetic and backed by the rest of the band (get that!), and the spoken parts, courtesy one Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, are hilarious.

“The Lord of the Hills” (my title), echoes back to the opening theme, an energetic, acoustic bit. It’s somewhat more upbeat, but it foreshadows a dark instrumental break. Said break transforms into “Do You Believe in the Day,” complete with gorgeous, soaring vocals. It starts out acoustic, but midway ascends with angry organ and guitar parts.

This gradually builds into “Let Me Help You to Pick Up Your Dead,” a fast paced baroque rocker, with the emphasis cast once again upon flute and John’s toys. Blazing instrumental parts abound, and eventually turns one more time into a stately reprise of “Where the Hell Was Biggles.” Then the band and the orchestra start playing faster and harder until they all fall away in the wake of Ian’s acoustic strumming, finishing the album the way it started.

So, what are we left with? An album in which nothing is wasted: all the song parts are brilliant, and all the instrumental breaks are engaging and inspired (unlike SOME band’s classic epics that are repetitive and boring, right Rick?). An album in which everyone, everyone, plays his guts out, over and over again. It’s like the bible of Tull. It’s more diverse than some bands are in their entire careers, and consistently good within and throughout. Still, I wouldn’t recommend you read the bible cover to cover without a little commentary, and neither do I recommend Thick (or any sidelong epic) as your first listen.

Now, some people say that the first side significantly outweighs the second. And, uh, well, they’re right. Sort of. The first side is the most perfect twenty minutes in music history (or at least, it’s damn good for a single song). The second side is a little weaker, but so little you shouldn’t hardly notice. Besides, all that trying to find the best movement stuff? It’s bull. Thick CAN function on a smaller song level, but really, it’s one complete unit, and to disgrace part of it is to disgrace it all.

So, why isn’t Thick prog you ask again (after all, I read though your review to get back to that, didn’t I Mr. The Whistler?). Well, answer me this: what is Ween’s album The Mollusk (which I consider a modern cousin of Thick in more than one way)? Is it a total spoof, or is it homage? In truth, I suppose it’s a little of both. And I realize that’s the gayest copout answer I could possibly give, but I mean it. Thick is complex, bombastic and, well, THICK, but it’s still a joke. It’s also a damn good joke. In fact, it’s the greatest joke ever written, because it manages to parody and idealize, and at the same time, be just as good as every other complex, bombastic progressive project before and since its creation. An essential masterpiece of the genre. Get it. Get it today. Why haven’t you gotten it yet? Don’t you love me and/or Ian anymore? Think of the children. Think of “Little Milton.”

(So, what of the “good albums with bad bonuses” curse? It’s gone! Holy crap, if the fact that the greatest album ever has good bonuses on the remaster isn’t proof enough that God loves you, I don’t know what is. There are two tracks: the first is a live version of “Thick,” taken from the Madison Square Gardens show. Great intro from Ian, and arguably the best secondary version of the song, where they play about half of the first side. Martin even improves the overall guitar work, granting the song more energy on stage (I love how "Poet and the Painter" becomes an epic trade off of the tune between him and Ian, John, whoever). And none of the epic feel is lost thanks to John's sturdy keyboard backbone. Ian is brilliant, just like every live show, God bless ‘im. Some guy shouts “yeah” really loud halfway though, God bless him too. The second track? An interview, but unlike the Aqualung interview, it’s consistently good! Equally informative and amusing, Ian preaches (“natty codpiece”), Martin complains (“Let’s go for a run”) and Jeffrey barely gets a word in, but when he can, he recants the good and mostly bad times making and touring the album (“John’s rabbit head”). The greatest album ever just got greater; if you weren’t quite psychologically won over by the album alone, with the bonuses, it’s NESSECARY as a prog rock landmark. Get it. Again.)

The Whistler | 5/5 |


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