Forty years ago, in 1972, Jethro Tull released Thick As A Brick, their first concept album. The album only consisted of the 44-minute long title track. It was deliberately crafted in a bombastic style since it was meant as an over-the-top parody of the concept albums recorded in those days. The original packaging looked like a newspaper. The album claimed to be a musical adaptation of an epic poem by one Gerald Bostock, a fictional eight year old boy. Of course the lyrics were written by the band's front man Ian Anderson. Thick As A Brick was Jethro Tull's first real progressive rock attempt, four years after the release of the debut album. This epic album is noteworthy for its many musical themes, time signature changes and tempo shifts. These were all features of progressive rock which was emerging at the time.
The 40th anniversary of the original album is celebrated with TAAB: Thick As A Brick 2. The line-up includes logically Ian Anderson at the helm providing all the writing, vocals, flute and his small acoustic guitar, John O'Hara (keyboards), David Goodier (bass guitar, glockenspiel), Florian Opahle (electric guitar) and Scott Hammond (drums, percussion). The attentive reader might have noticed that guitarist Martin Barre is absent in this line-up. Rumour has it that he was busy recording a two-disc solo album.
This follow-up to Thick As A Brick nicely shows what happened to Gerald Bostock, the main character in the story who's now 48 years old. The first section on the album gives us an overview of the concept. Anderson outlines five different possible futures for Gerald: as a banker, a homeless man, a military man, a preacher or just an ordinary man, a shopkeeper in this case. Part three provides two possible ends to these futures and the final part is a quasi-reprise of the opening. The lyrics are quite topical and much more 'direct' than the first edition, which was more esoteric. Moreover there's a great deal of undisguised anger in some of them. The lyrics of the banker are, of course, based on current events, the homeless man is also sexually abused, the military man deals with loyalty and valour, the preacher is about power and money and finally the shopkeeper is a milquetoast, a very timid, spineless man.
It has to be said that Ian Anderson and his fellow-musicians delivered the finest progressive music since the release of The Broadsword And The Beast (1982), Under Wraps (1984) and Crest Of A Knave (1987). Certain musical themes taken from the original album make this second part very recognizable, but you never get the idea that the music sounds outdated. A modern approach and new recording facilities prevent you from listening to a seventies album. The flute playing of Mr. Anderson has always been his trademark and also this time it's prominent in the music. Maybe he doesn't sing as good as forty years ago, but the way he sings nowadays actually suits the music quite well. Compared to the albums Jethro Tull recorded after Crest Of A Knave, the music has much more progressive rock elements. Outstanding keyboard and electric guitar parts can be enjoyed throughout the album. Just like the first part of Thick As A Brick the music sounds as if it is one piece of music.
The album is offered in two formats: a one CD package and a two-CD Special Edition that I received for my review. This version has a tri-fold CD case containing the regular CD and a DVD featuring 5.1 stereo mixes, a 24-bit stereo mix, the video 'making of the album', interviews with the musicians, Ian Anderson reading the lyrics at various locations and a booklet. The latter once again looks like a kind of newspaper just like the first edition! If you put the 5.1 DVD in your stereo system connected to your TV or PC, each song displays the lyrics.
Inevitably, comparisons will be made with the first edition of Thick As A Brick, recorded forty years ago. Personally I think that this sequel has to be judged on its own merits. It's a very valuable successor of the first one and a wonderful addition to the already extensive JethroTull-collection. It's highly recommended to all fans of Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson despite the fact that Martin Barre is missing!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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