Friday, August 22, 2014

Jethro Tull 5: Thick As A Brick

We’ve tried to maintain something of a style and approach here, so when something like Thick As A Brick comes out of the bullpen, it’s a challenge to discuss it in our usual fashion. The reason is the obvious one: the album consists of a single “song” over two sides of an LP.
It’s a pretty clever idea, and presented well: an epic poem penned by a precocious youngster, forming the centerpiece of a local newspaper folded into the record’s packaging (complete with crossword puzzle, obituaries, classified ads, and even a review of the album itself). That alone begs comparisons to Monty Python, but then the band went ahead and set said poem to music, then took it on tour, perpetuating the in-joke to those seeking a concept album.
Taken all together, Thick As A Brick is an archetypal Jethro Tull album, encompassing folk and jazz, bombast and the deflation thereof, but nothing in the way of blues. And to call it a 42-minute song isn’t entirely correct; it’s several themes linked and repeated. One wonders if any of the repeats involved any Bitches Brew-style loop editing.
The beginning states the central theme, a fingerpicked acoustic and flute supporting the vocal, which says, “Really don’t mind if you sit this one out”. Okay then, we’ll just lift the needle, hit the stop button, whatever. But we like this little piece, so we’ll leave it on. Two verses and choruses make the song familiar, setting up the inevitable bridge. Were this a standard rock song, a third verse would follow a solo, but instead the theme reverts to a minor key, there’s a slight fade, and then everything scatters. “See there a son is born,” and he will be again and again.
For the rest of side one the music shifts between heavy riffing like any prog album (which was the idea) and madrigal-type strumming that began the side. The Hammond organ and piano are prominent, so fans of Aqualung will feel right at home. The acoustic guitar is incredibly crisp. And of course, there’s the flute. Lots of flute.
Because it was designed to be heard as two sides, the first half ends with an echo effect on a theme. The second half comes in on a sinister wind, that effected theme peeks through, then the son is born, again, just in time for… the drum solo! This was a nice gesture for Barriemore Barlow, their newest band member, but they throw in some more riffs and muffled conversation to keep the spotlight from shining too brightly. (A phone even rings a few times, which would feature on stage. And the symphony orchestra does show up before time runs out.) The established themes follow and intertwine, marching to the end. Which it does, finally, just as it began.
One thing that leaps out, and we’ve said this before, if not every time we’ve discussed a prog-rock album, is just how tight and precise the band is. The different themes do fit and flow without ever seeming tacked on. Because of this, Thick As A Brick does sustain itself for the entire program, making it a successful concept album. (We’ll also aver that Tubular Bells wouldn’t have happened without it.) That said, it’s easy to tune out unless you’re sitting with the paper in your lap reading along, which is tough to do if you’ve got a cassette or one of the first CDs. The 25th Anniversary CD made the newspaper available again, and added a 1978 live distillation plus a retrospective interview. When the 40th anniversary came around, they stuck with the original two-part sequence, plus a radio ad and various mixes on a DVD. And, of course, the newspaper.

Jethro Tull Thick As A Brick (1972)—3
1997 remastered CD: same as 1972, plus 2 extra tracks
2012 40th Anniversary Edition: same as 1972, plus 1 extra track (and DVD)

No comments:

Post a Comment