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Music Review: Jethro Tull – A Passion Play

I have always considered A Passion Play to be the yin to the yang of Thick As A Brick.Musically I tend to prefer Thick As A Brick.It was more tongue in cheek as Ian Anderson was in a relaxed and whimsical mood. As such, he managed to produce a lot of excellent progressive rock within the one 43 minute song. A Passion Play builds on the concept and the style but finds Anderson in a more serious mood. It is more progressive rock, but at times falls victim to excess. Sort of like Monty Python meets cirque du soleil.

Jethro Tull’s lineup stayed intact but added a few more instruments which were central to the sound. Ian Anderson plays a lot of saxophone in addition to his usual flute. Keyboardist John Evan added synthesizers to the Tull sound for the first time which gave the music a new flexibility. Guitarist Martin Barre, drummer Barriemore Barlow, and bass player Jeffrey Hammond all shine in places.

The album is again built around one extended piece but this time around it is divided into 16 sections. The original vinyl release had the tracks run together so it was basically an album to be listened too as a whole. Some CDs have banded the sections which allow the listener to pick and choose and is one of the rare instances I prefer the CD.

A main complaint is the talking parts which connect some of the sections. If they were meant as comedic relief they fall flat and for the most part are pointless.

On the other hand there is a lot of superb early seventies progressive rock contained among the albums 48 minutes of music. Jethro Tull brought their non-traditional sound to this developing music style which enhanced and expanded it and A Passion Play is an excellent example of this technique.

It also has a melodic nature and is certainly not predictable which is positive in this case. I’m not sure I completely understand all the lyrics but this was normal for this period of Ian Anderson’s career.

In the final analysis A Passion Play has a number of highs and lows and evokes strong emotion. It is not an album which graces my stereo system very often but every once in awhile when I am really in the mood it is worth a listen.

About David Bowling

  • JANK

    Seeing this live in 1973 or was it 1974 was spectacular as the concert opened with the album cover on a huge screen in front of us and as we stared at the prone balllerina looking at us with her dead eys her shoulder suddenly rose up as she rose to dance and the crowd went mad….

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/chuckwagnermusic Chuck Wagner

    The reviewer states that he prefers “Thick As A Brick” and cites a more whimsical nature within as opposed to “Passion Play”. Personally, though this was not the main focal point of his review, whimsical is not a prerequisite to quantify a piece of music.

    Rather, the differentiation between “Brick” and “Passion Play” is that “Brick” requires less effort to listen to casually, illustrated clearly in it’s middle section theme built of simple major triads.

    “Passion Play”, on the other hand, is much more difficult music, both from a musician’s standpoint and these complexities certainly can and did challenge those who did not find the light entertainment they were accustomed to, as “Passion Play” was music woven of multiple independent contrapuntal lines rather than clearcut (and simpler) homophony. If one views, in contrast, harmonic dissonances as of a higher regard and certainly harder to control in a tension -repose ratio than simpler music, then “Passion Play” broke new ground in the 70′s, as in it, Ian Anderson aspired to upping the game and was not content to take the easy route and also unwilling (thankfully) to accede to critics of the time who did not understand what they were hearing.

    Many reviews of “Passion Play” are overly concerned with interpreting the lyrics and some really come up with imaginative results, but I tend to view Ian Anderson’s lyrics as being entendres meant to be sung, and not to be interpreted to strict literals as the words themselves adopt the irregular and asymmetric phrases which characterize “Passion Play”.

    I saw the show when it toured and I consider it yet to be one of, if not the most compelling concert experience I have ever witnessed.

    The individual musicianship of this band incarnation was staggering and they were flawless in delivery of music that very few musicians today would be even able to play in studio, let alone the Herculean nature of playing it night after night on tour.

    It is important, I think, to accept that music such as this is far from vogue today, as the standard has, in my opinion, fallen to a low in both creativity and accomplishment. And perhaps “Passion Play” may yet find it’s audience to yet reach beyond admitted Tull fans such as myself because this album truly is a masterpiece.

    The biggest trouble, inevitably, with a work such as this is that when a composer’s decision is to not bend to please the average rock listener, then comes a backlash, however disproportionate, along with any accolades which ended up being often overshadowed by the negative reviews of the time, said negativity being from writers who were out of their league, however supposedly credentialed of the time.

  • j par

    Also saw Tull play PP live at the Forum in the early seventies. Unforgettable performance. Ian should have kept playing the alto sax. Anyway I can’t think of a better progressive rock album especially the second half after the rabbit’s spectacles. Although elusive and confusing I find PP lyrics very uplifting encouraging the common man to live and enjoy life to its fullest. Yes – a progressive rock masterpiece in music and pros.