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Music Review: Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick [40th Anniversary CD/DVD Set]

Jethro Tull’s follow-up to their breakthrough Aqualung album was Thick as a Brick. The LP was as notable for its packaging as much as the music it contained. In fact, it was just about the most elaborate presentation of an album I have ever seen. When you slipped off the outer plastic wrap, the cover opened up into a full-sized, 12-page newspaper. The fictitious St. Cleve Chronicle was meant to replicate a small town newspaper. Somebody put a lot of work into this, as it had articles, advertisements, a TV guide, a births, deaths, and marriages page, a (hilarious) crossword puzzle, and even a record review of Thick as a Brick!

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the album, Chrysalis Records have quite literally doubled-down on the original release. The newly remixed edition is presented as a hardback book, containing a CD, and a 5.1 DTS audio DVD, plus a 100-page book with all the original newspaper material, plus new interviews, pictures, and all kinds of cool stuff.

By the way, did I mention there is a record somewhere in all of this? I guess not. Well, the package is a little overwhelming, but Tull were at a real peak at that point, and turned in an excellent album. Or an excellent song. Both are correct, for the recording is comprised of the 43:40 title track. On the original LP, the song was split in two, due to the format of the vinyl album. But on CD, it is all one piece. It is really kind of the holy grail of progressive rock. Back in the day, the longest song on an album was always the best, but most bands stopped at a single LP-side long track. That was the case with Close to the Edge by Yes, just to name one example.

Jethro Tull upped the ante, and went all the way. One song stretched out over two sides. Although it sounds like the ultimate prog noodle-fest, the album was not really what one might have expected. “Thick as a Brick” was one continuous tune, but it was broken up quite well, and never got boring. There were a number of different moods in the piece, and it definitely was not some pretentious wank.

Mind you, I am a big fan of pretentious wanks such as Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Tarkus, or Hawkwind‘s Space Ritual, which I think gives me every right to joke about them too. In any event, Thick as a Brick does not fall into that category. In fact, in an interview conducted in March 2012 with Ian Anderson for this set, he totally shocked me with his explanation of the genesis of the album. He was very happy with the success of Aqualung, which had come out the year before. But he hated the fact that critics called it a “concept” album. He insists it was not.

His quote says it all: “People thought that somehow we were guilty of making a concept album, so I thought ‘Okay, then we’ll give them the mother of all concept albums next time!’ So we did the completely over-the-top spoof concept album of Thick as a Brick.

The whole thing was a spoof, a put-on? I find that particular bit of information to be absolutely hilarious. Call it what you will but the band succeeded in creating a pretty great record. I had not listened to this recording in quite some time, and when I did, I could not believe how much better it was than I remembered it. For the longest time, I considered this to be Tull’s second best album, behind Aqualung. To be honest though, my opinion has changed. I now believe this to be their finest moment.

About Greg Barbrick

  • Kurt Nighswander

    great remix of TAAB…I have the original import from 72…nice job Steve Wilson on remix..

  • Greg Barbrick

    I love Porcupine Tree, and am kind of shocked that Steve Wilson was not prominently mentioned on the cover.

    He did a brilliant job with the remix.

  • Dave Smith

    I am RELIEVED to read your review, and the fact that you took this hook, line, and sinker like I did. TAAB was my BIBLE back then……my very long mantra. THEN, after all this time, I bought the audiophile 40 year version of it, and heard him say that it was meant as a SATIRE! Unlike you, I wasn’t laughing. LOL I felt HAD, BETRAYED, and everything that goes with those feelings.

    A note for you however. When I bought this and Aqualung, there were two versions of each released: One was mixed through Tubes, and one was mixed through Transistors, or solid sate. I went with the SS one, (theoretically lower noise) and it sounds fantastic. I might try to find the tube-mix versions of them, because Ian has always had a very warm voice, and the whole thing might sound a bit more mellow.

    All that said, I LOVE the concept albums of that day. Fragile by Yes, and Dark Side by Pink Floyd, Moving Waves by Focus, Three Friends by Gentle Giant were all masterpieces………right along with this one.

  • http://neilyoungfaq.wordpress.com Glen Boyd

    So does this mean that A Passion Play, Tull’s *other* concept monstrosity from the same period, was also a joke? Sorry Ian, not buyin’ it mate!

    -Glen

  • Terry J. Brown

    I too am a fan of Porcupine Tree and I also have my original vinyl copy of TAAB from 40 years ago. I think Steve Wilson’s credit on the 40th anniversary reissue is just right where he is listed as producer without additional fanfare. Here’s why. If you know who he is, you’re automatically interested in the album. Secondly, Ian Anderson’s name figures prominently, as it should, as writer and producer for the remix of the original album. The mere fact that someone besides Mr. Anderson was given the reins to produce the 5.1 mix speaks volumes. Finally, Steve Wilson’s 5.1 mix is an immersive experience that doesn’t involve a lot of gimmickry that featured predominantly in the quadraphonic releases from days of yore. The important thing though is that this is simply an amazing version of TAAB. As someone who has listened to the album hundreds of times over the years, it was like listening to the album for the very first time.