Thick As A Brick (TAAB) (1972) was the fifth studio album by the British progressive folk rock band Jethro Tull. It was my first album that I ever heard from this band, and to date it's still my favourite Jethro Tull album. In fact it contains only one piece of music spanning the entire album. In order to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of this classic album, a special anniversary collector's edition, consisting of a CD and a DVD, has been released. The original album was recorded by Ian Anderson (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, flute, violin, trumpet, saxophone), Martin Barre (electric guitar, lute), John Evan (piano, organ, harpsichord), Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (bass guitar, vocals), Barriemore Barlow (drums, percussion, timpani) and David Palmer (brass and string arrangements).
TAAB was deliberately crafted in the style of a concept album: very bombastic and above all over the top. It was meant to be a parody to the concept albums recorded by many prog rock bands in those days. Band leader Ian Anderson was surprised by the critical remarks he got on Aqualung (1971), the album that preceded TAAB. It was said to be a 'concept album', but to date Anderson firmly rejects this qualification. In an interview his response to the critics was: 'if they want a concept album, we'll give them the mother of all concept albums.' And he added: 'everyone said that we are a progressive rock band, so we decided to live up to that reputation and write a progressive album as a parody to the genre.'
TAAB was Jethro Tull's first progressive rock offering, four years after the release of their debut. This epic album is notable for its many musical themes, time signature changes and tempo shifts, all of which were features of the prog rock scene that emerged at the time. In addition, the instrumentation included harpsichord, xylophone, timpani, violin, lute, trumpet, saxophone and a string section. All these instruments were uncommon in blues-based rock. With TAAB, the band created an album deliberately integrated around one concept: a poem about the trials of growing up written by an intelligent English boy named Gerald Bostock. The original LP-cover was designed as a spoof of a 12-by-16-inch multiple-paged small-town English newspaper, entitled The St Cleve Chronicle and Linwell Advertiser. It contained articles, competitions, adverts and it lampooned the parochial and amateurish local journalism that still exists in many places today.
There are many inside puns cleverly hidden, continuing jokes and a surprisingly frank review of the album itself written by Ian Anderson under a pseudonym. It even contained a little naughty connect-the-dots children's activity. The newspaper was dated 7 January 1972 and it also included the entire lyrics to TAAB presented as a poem and written by the 8-year old literary prodigy Gerald 'Little Milton' Bostock, whose disqualification from a poetry contest is the focus of the front page story. This article claims that, although Bostock initially won the contest with TAAB, the judges' decision was repealed after a multitude of protests and threats concerning the offensive nature of the poem, furthered by allegations of the boy's psychological instability. Throughout the newspaper's many articles are subtly scattered with various references to the lyrics, to Gerald Bostock, to Jethro Tull, and to other peculiar parts of the newspaper itself.
This satirical newspaper was heavily abridged for conventional CD-booklets. The 40th anniversary boxed version contains a nearly-complete replica of the original newspaper, missing only an article spoofing Reprise Records, the former American Jethro Tull distributor. Furthermore this anniversary release includes a new album mix done by Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree). This certainly sounds very good and it's easy to notice that a lot of time and hard work was spent on this mix to achieve a good product! However, if you want the best possible version I recommend to play the included DVD with the 5.1 DTS and Dolby Digital surround sound mix. Almost all instruments can be heard in detail, sometimes going from one speaker to another. You can enjoy the terrific parts played on organ, acoustic and electric guitar. Also included is a high-quality 96/24 stereo mix as well as the original stereo mix of TAAB 1972 transferred to 96/24 PCM from the original recordings by Robin Black at the Black Morgan Studios. Finally the 1972 radio advert can be heard. Unfortunately there were no filmed live performances of this wonderful piece of music included. I think that's the only thing missing on this release.
The book that's appended to TAAB just looks stunning. It contains the original newspaper redesigned on sixteen pages. The 2012 newspaper is printed on gloss paper. It features an article by Classic Rocks' Dom Lawson about TAAB. An interview with Ian Anderson has been included as well covering both albums and the current 2012-tour. Many rare pictures of 1972/1973 and from the 2012-tour can be enjoyed. Memories of the recordings from engineer Robin Black have been added, as well as recording and touring memories from Martin Barre, Ian Anderson and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. You can also enjoy a section which is called Q&A with tour manager Eric Brooks holding memorable facts and a full itinerary about the 1972-tour.
If you're a fan of Jethro Tull or a lover of progressive rock music in general, you can't avoid this superb release. This is just a 'must have'! Words fail me to describe this best ever re-release of TAAB. The music on this concept album is brilliant from the first second until the last. Every single note sounds beautifully. I've always considered this album to be a true masterpiece and now, forty years later, it still sounds fabulous and better than ever. Together with the amazing artwork that has been added to this album, I can only give the highest rating of five stars!
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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