on November 9, 2001
"Thick As A Brick" has had to contend with two obstacles since its release. The first was that it was the follow-up release to "Aqualung" - considered by many as "the" Jethro Tull album - and thus had to (for many listeners) improve upon perfection. The second, and more difficult to overcome, problem is its sheer size. A 43 minute epic song with multiple layers of lyrical meaning always runs the risk of becoming the musical equivalent of "War and Peace" - that is, an epic that everyone wants to claim to have heard or read but no one actually wants to do go to the trouble of hearing or reading.
In typical Tull style, both problems were overcome with flying colours. The combination of soaring electric guitar and "Olde Englishe" folk motifs that created the Tull sound on "Aqualung" was continued and embellished here - in my opinion making "Aqualung" a pale second best in the Tull canon. To overcome the problem of the length, Ian Anderson surpassed himself in both wonderful lyricism and creativity, while the rest of the band - the best lineup under the Tull name - seem engaged in a constant battle to out-do themselves and each other in the instrumental department.
From the first moment the listener hears Ian's acoustic guitar and the memorable opening "Really don't mind if you sit this one out/My words but a whisper, your deafness a shout", they are transported to a magical world where anything goes musically.
Martin Barre's sublime freakouts, Barriemore Barlow's drumming at the start of the second half, John Evans' quasi-classical organ playing and the wonderful sound of Ian's flute combine in an odyssey of rock, folk, jazz and classical elements to create a marvellous experience.
One review I've seen of this album suggests that you keep yourself busy while playing it, quite frankly I'd find that impossible. No sooner had I started doing anything, I'd be singing along and whistling the tunes - it's just that catchy.
The highlights of the song are many and varied and will probably be completely different for everyone. I personally can't get past any of these:
1) The march which is struck up from the 15 minute mark. 2) The drumroll which introduces the "youngest/oldest in the family" sequence. 3) The "failing light" sequence.
Ian's poetry reaches new heights on this album. His imagery is sure to stick with any listener long after the final notes have died away. My friends, for whom I've taped my CD several times, and I often use various lines to prove points in assignments and the like. The "which part of the song does this line come from?" game is a tradition of lunchtimes - I'm still a high school student. That said, the poetry is not all marvellously intellectual, in keeping with the English folk music being used as a base there are lines like "Your sperm's in the gutter, your love's in the sink" and the like - all of which generate just as much interest.
The two "extra tracks" on this version of the CD - a live performance and an interview - are really only recommended for serious Tull fans. The live performance is severely truncated - only 11 minutes long - and the recording quality is not quite as good as perhaps we in more modern times are used to. It is, however, quite interesting to hear Ian's banter as he introduces the song - his live asides are apparently a real highlight of concerts and here ("Welcome to New York - stupid to say that, you live here don't you?") they are certainly very funny.
The interview - in which Ian's part has been recorded separately from the other two - is quite interesting in order to understand the troubles of actually recording and playing the album (Ian makes some interesting confessions here). Martin and bassist Jeffrey Hammond tell some wonderful anecdotes about early performances - poor John! The most interesting part of the interview for me, however, was the explanation by Ian about why they did such a "mother of all concept albums".
Overall, a classic which has certainly stood the test of time. One of the most wonderful albums/songs of all time and a CD that no collection should be without. Almost certainly something for everyone and everything for many.
Call it what you like, this album is progressive because Jethro Tull married multiple musical styles on one album. The album is conceptual because the entire song is actually multiple songs married into one song by a variety of transitions and interludes. There may be an occasional unevenness in the transitions, but in general the whole thing works, and is one of the most unique works of rock music.
Early progressive rock was born in fits and starts. Tracing back, some of the earliest identifiable elements of progressive rock show up in some Beatles' songs. The Moody Blues provided more definition to progressive rock, and created the first progressive rock albums, though their progressive rock was on the lighter side and was much less daring than King Crimson, who's "In the Court of the Crimson King" established how cutting edge progressive rock could be. By 1972, progressive rock had a better-defined face, and that face was readily identifiable on albums such as "Fragile" and "Close to the Edge", by Yes, "Foxtrot" by Genesis, and "Thick as a Brick", by Jethro Tull. There were quite a few other progressive albums released by 1972, and numerous other artists using progressive elements in their music, but these albums were among those that helped to define the limits, or lack thereof, of progressive rock.
As serious as some of us like to believe this album is, it is a satire. This album pokes fun at issues contemporary to 1972, which somehow remain somewhat contemporary to now. Some examples: the drive to push society to cater to the needs of the "average" person rather than helping the above-average person develop their skills; the debate over war and the need for war; helping others to build their country and then having them go to war with you; people who live on the dole rather than being some useful part of society. The list is quite extensive, and much of the tone is sarcastic, often caustic, if you can discern the meaning.
To match the extensive nature of the album lyrics are musical styles that range nearly as wide: there are catchy pop-like tunes; there are folk-classical influenced portions; there is a dirge on side two; there are faster rock portions; even a bit of pomp and circumstance. I haven't even covered half the range of styles. At the very least, Jethro Tull wasn't afraid to commit their feelings of the moment musically to an album. Artistically their vision on this album is as expansive as any other group I can recall. Add to this broad range of styles sound effects and bizarre transitions, and you can tell that not only did Jethro Tull use everything, they also threw in the kitchen sink.
This album became a nearly instant classic in 1972. It vaulted to number one, and for a while made Jethro Tull one of the biggest groups in rock, though their music was far broader than rock. The album was also anti-establishment (a term that hasn't been spoken since at least the early 70s). Though portions of the counter-culture lyrics are relatively plain, substantial other portions of the lyrics are subtle, nearly cryptic, and manage to poke fun at numerous institutions and philosophies. Some messages are so cleverly phrased and subtle that you could call Jethro Tull progressive rock for intellectuals, though you need not delve that deeply into Tull's lyrics to enjoy them.
By the way, the phrase "thick as a brick" is slang for "stupid". I think Ian Anderson was already poking fun at those that wouldn't have the foggiest idea at what he was attempting to do with this CD, and already having a big laugh in preparation for the reaction after the album was released. The reaction was mixed. Many critics hailed it for its "message"; others derided it for being counter-culture and musical garbage. Likely many people ascribed deeper meanings to it where there were none, and missed the meaning where there was some. At the end of it all was Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, laughing, because they knew from the beginning that all of this was their art, which has to be interpreted by each person in their own way, and one person may see something that another doesn't, which ultimately means that while there are some clearly common elements, you don't want to make too much of the meanings. They are what they are, and they may be different for you and me. Isn't great music grand?
Five stars for one of the best progressive rock albums to ever be released, and for music to be intellectually stimulated by.
on November 20, 2001
This to me is Jethro Tull's finest work. A total masterpiece in the greatest sense of the word. I'm not even sure I can write a decent review for this album without sounding like an idiot. But I'll try anyway.
It's a concept album about a young boy named Gerald Bostock (fake character), who writes a poem for a contest, but it is deemed offensive, and the boy gets disqualified. The lyrics are VERY complicated and understated, and to make a long story short, at least in my opinion, is based on the young boy's cynical outlook on life. But, you needn't worry about any of that, since the concept was mainly a big joke (or parody/spoof) by Ian Anderson & Company, and most importantly, the music is *so* overwhelmingly powerful and seductive, you won't care all that much about the lyrical meanings anyway.
The music on here drowns in it's own sophistication, refinement and high-class; the musicianship and it's high-class is something that shouldn't be taken too lightly, and should be the envy of many a musician and a listener. It starts off with acoustic guitar, followed by the flute, then Ian's vocals. The piece takes off from there. From there you will find tremendous melody, some hard rock, folk, jazz, and classical influences combined with many different shifts in tempo and time, and the band pulls no punches, as musical ideas keep flowing and flowing into each other like one huge piece, until the climactic end. It's divided into two halves. To be quite honest, the whole thing sounds like one gigantic classical piece, only with rock added. Also, I arguably think the second half is the stronger of the two, as the grandiose first half gets turned up a notch or two to a full blown english renaissance drama.
I can't say much more because I feel I'm at a lost for words. This is *indefinitely* one of my favorites in all of rock music, and music, period. If you REALLY like musical music, classical, jazz, folk or prog-rock in general, I think this is VERY ESSENTIAL and I highly recommend it to music lovers. It's *that* good.
on April 16, 1999
"Thick as a Brick" is one song. With an amazing variety of moods and textures from lilting baroque/classical passages to screaming electric guitar, grinding B-3 organ, and thunderous rhythm. I was lucky enough to see Jethro and his band (ha-ha!) back in '72, shortly after this album was released. Obviously it was the first song they did. The album runs 43-45 minutes; they embellished it a lot in the concert with music AND DRAMA! - and it lasted well over an hour. Ian Anderson was man possessed - standing on one foot, leading the band with his flute, flying around the stage. At the end of the song, a huge standing ovation, and Ian saying, "Thank you. For our second number....." He was drowned out by another huge wave of applause. Ah, what a fond memory. (I was weeping... I was sad that the song had ended so soon!) Jethro Tull remains one of the best rock bands of all time, and this is my second-favorite album (Benefit is #1; currently out of print).
on December 4, 1999
A remarkable work, especially for a band still early in its career. Many Tull fans who are more fond of the earlier, more youthful and impetuous Tull music rank this work as their favorite. And it's easy to see why. It is a compelling and stylistically complex album -- the seeds for much of what Tull was later to achieve were sown here. Naturally, it is most famous for being the mother of all concept albums -- not, of course, in the sense of being the first of such things but as being the ultimate in concept albums. It is often described as a 45-minute long song, which is not really accurate in that there is no classic song structure here -- if it were a song it would be so asymmetrical as to make Happiness is a Warm Gun blush. Really, the closest description is to call it an unusually-structured Oratorio, with the different elements blended together into a more-or-less seamless mass.
While the structure is complex, the music itself is quite accessible, and really bears more resemblance to earlier, simpler Tull melodies than the more complex and deeply textured work which would come later. In some cases, the melodies actually draw, stylistically, upon simple marches and children's rhymes for inspiration -- and this is nicely in keeping with the faux-concept (joke really) of having been written by and about the pre-pubescent Gerald Bostock. (Why some are annoyed by this Tull joke is a little baffling, why they actually fell for it is even more so!) But while the melodies are simpler and more direct than those of later works, the brutal time-signature changes, which would quickly become a Tull trademark, are as complex, unorthodox and plentiful as can be found in modern popular music. For the band, it had to be a beast to play, especially live. If you listed to Velvet Green from Songs From The Wood, or more recently Far Alaska from Dot Com, you can easily hear the influence of Thick As A Brick (and there are many more examples). That aspect of Tull music really began with this work.
For those of you who didn't originally buy this in LP form, which of necessity broke the piece into two halves, the middle section fade-out and fade-in might seem a little strange and unneccessary. Technology advances. I've listened to this album at various times over a period of 25 years, and while I now prefer the more mature later (and even the most recent) Tull works, Thick As A Brick is still very impressive. There is a lot of tongue-in-the-cheek humour here (and not just in the liner notes). The lack of arrogance in a piece so formidable keeps it fresh to the ears. Generally, the first half of the work is the most compelling. While not apparent at first, after all these years the second half now seems to drag on just a little bit, without enough new ideas to keep it moving at the break-neck pace set in the first half. A minor quibble. No one who seriously calls themselves a Tull fan can be without this CD. For those who aren't Tull fans (yet) -- try it -- no matter what you've listened to, you really haven't heard anything like this before. But beware, you just might get hooked.
on April 14, 2000
Ah, thick as a brick. this record has forever changed the way I listen to music. i am 19 and am an enormous Jethro Tull fan (at least up through Stormwatch), and I have to say hands down this is the best Tull album. Every second is brillant. it is such an uplifting record to listen to. I bought this record about two years ago and i have listened to it heavily and regularly ever since. As another reviewer said, the IS a reason why no one has given this less than four stars. The perfect production really comes through on CD. The stereo sound is excellent as it builds around you on so many different platforms of sound. Every note of every instrument compliment each other and build and twist into an almost orgasmic effect. New secrets of musical genius are revealed every listen. Without a doubt, Thick as a Brick is the happiest, most inspiring, fantastically interesting 45 minutes of wonder to ever grace my ear. I cannot reccomend it enough to you. whether you enjoy Jethro Tull or not, this album should offer some bit of joy for you.
on July 22, 2002
Considering that this authentic English band is still touring and recording new material, some 30 years after breaking onto the late 60's pop rock scene, Jethro Tull crested fast and early with a true colossus among concept albums: Thick As A Brick.
Perhaps it is unfair to Tull's other work--the bulk of which lies after the release of TAAB--to classify this one album as the most inspired. Certainly albums like the romping Songs From The Wood deserve recognition as being fan favorites. Indeed, the key to Tull's longevity has been their ability to blend innovation with clacissism, new with old, bulwarked by Ian Anderson's minstrel genius. But if you were to look across Tull's lengthy family tree and pluck one child from the horde as being the best among all, TAAB is it.
I won't take much time describing the mechanics of the album. Others have already done that. What I will say is that this is the first Tull album I ever purchased, and in some ways it is the only Tull album anyone ever need purchase if they want to listen to Jethro Tull distilled down to its purest form. Rolicking, irreverent, thumbing its nose at the edifice of Western English culture and yet paying solemn homage to that culture in the same breath. TAAB is a paradoxical album whose unheard of length (for its time) seems barely large enough to contain the musical explosion within.
In many ways Jethro Tull is the unsung hero of the 1960's Brit pop rock scene. Rarely guilty of penning mindlessly fluffy diddies, Tull is the quirky brainiac brother of better known and celebrated groups like the Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and David Bowie. Beneath the pattented Ian Anderson street persona--with its Aqualungian hairdo and unkept mein--lies the sharp collective mind of an enlightenment renaissance master.
And the master's full arsenal of talent is on gorgeous display in this one great album!
One final note: for those interested in Tull's efforts to recapture the grandeur of Thick As A Brick, check out A Passion Play, the sister concept album to TAAB. A Passion Play is different from TAAB in the same way that just about every Tull album is different from its siblings, but A Passion Play comes closest to reduxing the dizzying glory of TAAB.
Another final final note: Tull is still on the road, so please please please take some time to go see this historic rock group before the guys grow too weary of the life and close down the show for good! I saw Tull in concert at the cozy Seattle Opera House in 1999 and I must say that it was by far the BEST rock concert I have ever been too. Bar none. Better than even the big stadium bands.
on February 29, 2004
Thick as a Brick has a magical, melodic, moving sound like nothing else ever. When I first discovered this album 20 years ago, I was convinced that this was a groundbreaking work which would set the style for many albums to come. It never happened. I have never heard anything like this album since (save for some similar stuff from Tull, but even that never quite sounds like Thich as a Brick again). Thsi wonderful work essentially was a brief experimental tangent in the history of rock, and it is a shame.
on July 3, 2002
Before I begin, I have to admit I'm reviewing an older edition of this CD (without a live track or interview). From what I've heard and read elsewhere, the sound on this edition has been cleaned up considerably than the first edition CD I'm basing my review on. I'd also like to agree with another reviewer here that "bonus" material is best consigned to a second disc when dealing with an album presented like "Thick As A Brick" is. That said ...
In the hands of less skillful writers and artists, a 45 minute song could be an ordeal. When elements of epic poetry, English pastoral imagery, jazz and classical arrangements, and a tongue-in-cheek cover art (detailing a poem written by Gerald "Little Milton" Bostock) are added, the imagined results become even more cringeworthy. It's to Jethro Tull's credit that the results became the rock masterpiece "Thick As A Brick", and not a leaden, embarassing clunker (Yes' "Tales Of Topographic Oceans").
The deft interplay between delicate acoustic and frenzied prog rock segments within the song give the listener the feeling of watching a high wire act with no safety net. The progression is impeccable, save for an unfortunate (yet necessary for the LP format) break between the two sides of the album that disrupt the continuity somewhat. Guitarist Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, and of course, lead man Ian Anderson turn in the performances of a lifetime, flawlessly juggling the disparate elements that unite so satisfyingly as a whole. The melodies interspersed are catchy, alternately delicate and raucous. The lyrics also waver between the fanciful ("make your will and testament/won't you join your local government?/we'll have Superman for president/let Robin save the day!") and pointedly obtuse. The end result, delightfully, leaves the listener free to make his own associations and conclusions without the hamfisted "steering" of the listener that has a tendency to plague ambitious projects like this (Pink Floyd's "The Wall", for example).
While Jethro Tull released many fine albums after "Thick As A Brick", this is undoubtedly one of their finest hours, and offers a glimpse of a band at the top of their game, and sadly, shows how far popular music has declined since 1972. In today's day and age, popular music like "Thick As A Brick" would be impossible (can you imagine the meeting with the year 2000 record executives telling these shaggy, unkempt Englishmen that they don't hear a single or see a video for a 45 minute long song?).
If I were to own only one Jethro Tull album, or progressive rock record for that matter, this would be the one. Listeners who are just discovering Jethro Tull will almost certainly find their previous album ("Aqualung") more accessible as an appetizer, but "Thick As A Brick" is a gourmet feast for the ears.
on July 31, 2005
"Thick as a Brick," recorded in the early '70s is Tull's best album, even better than "Aqualung." I consider it the British group's masterpiece. From Ian Anderson's flute work to the poetic lyrics, one would have to be pretty thick not to appreciate this work. The CD also comes with a live performance track and another track featuring comments from the group about how they wrote and recorded "Thick" in just a few weeks. The "newspaper" that accompanies the CD is also a treat for those with strong eyes. (The print is so small that one needs a magnifying glass.) Besides that, the only bad thing is that not all of the "newspaper" is included. It appears that the bottom of each page is cut off to accomodate the smaller packaging.
Dave from Paxton, IL