I was all set to be disappointed by this 40-years-on follow-up to Jethro Tull’s classic progressive rock concept album Thick As a Brick. First off, some of Ian Anderson’s late-Tull and post-Tull work hasn’t thrilled me, and second, how often do sequels measure up anyway?
It was with a sense, first of relief, then of honest joy, that I began listening to Thick As a Brick 2. It sounds like Jethro Tull of old.
Along with Surround Sound audio versions that I don’t have the equipment to listen to, the Special Edition’s DVD disc includes some low-key interviews and studio recording footage, during which Anderson notes that he wanted to keep to the “same palette and same instrumental colors” as on the original, so as to “keep the same general feel.” In that, Anderson and mixing engineer Steven Wilson (who had recently done the remix of the original TAAB) succeeded admirably.
Back in 1972, TAAB postulated a small boy, Gerald Bostock, who was supposed to have written the lyrics. Spurred by (among other things) urging from producer Derek Shulman of Gentle Giant fame, Anderson considered a variety of possible adult futures for Gerald. The new album centers on his musical interpretations of Bostock as banker, soldier, cleric, homeless castoff, and a “most ordinary man.” As always, Anderson is deft at calling up a world of sights, sounds, and smells with a carefully chosen word or image. The “ordinary” Gerald works in “[t]he retail trade, the corner shop/At humble service of plain town-folk/Open at nine and closed by six,” while City of London Gerald, with a “big fat bonus in the offing,” ignores the “Draconian calls for regulation … drowned in latte with Starbucks muffin/Mortgage meltdown: non est mea culpa.” While the instrumentation and compositional style recall classic Tull, as do a variety of mostly brief musical and lyrical quotes from old albums, the topicality of the lyrics is right up to the minute.
After the pairs of songs about the separate Geralds (“Divergence”) comes a “Convergence” sequence, introduced by a sweetly atmospheric instrumental introduction in which the flute floats us into a peaceful sky. “A new dawn glimmers. Time for a change of horses … No more empty towers of this unholy Babylon/Some four hundred thousand hours have come and gone/I smell, in the air, a new meadow morning.”
It has indeed been a long time coming, this album. But put aside your worries about weak sequels and ineffective revisits to past glories; TAAB 2 is superb. Complex melodies and juggled time signatures sit comfortably with Anderson’s flute and his band’s precision musicianship. The DVD footage gives a glimpse into how difficult this music was to get down, but the result, for fans of TAAB-era Tull, will feel like slipping on a comfortable pair of old but freshly shined shoes.
The DVD also includes a sequence with Anderson reciting the lyrics in a variety of settings. It’s a bit goofy, but made this old Tull fan smile nonetheless.
For a review with more historical background, see my colleague Wesley Britton’s excellent write-up in these pages.