Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Chrysalis
Catalog Number: 2434-95400-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 72:06:00

Once in great while, a band or artist takes a huge chance or makes a major shift in course. Jethro Tull knew the risks and rewards of taking chances. From their inception, Jethro Tull had been a chameleon. A new name every week, a blues foursome, a folk influenced rock quintet, and then a hard rocking headlining act, they knew about change. In April 1972, Tull would take the biggest leap yet. The previous year, Aqualung had reached #7 on the Billboard charts, and it was clear that the USA would be good to Ian Anderson and the boys. The best path would surely be to record and release another collection of heavy rock numbers featuring crunching guitar work, and rock steady beat's. Why alter the band's course now?

England had spawned yet another revolution in music. King Crimson had drawn some attention in the US, and now Yes was being talked about, "Roundabout" was on the radio and progressive rock groups were selling a lot of records in the States. In this time of radical social theories and new artistic freedom, with young people boldly and sometimes foolishly abandoning all norms as fast as they could identify and denounce them, Ian Anderson had things to say as well. Aqualung had been the canvas on which he sketched out his first direct attack on the establishment, skewering the church, but not the flocks. With its follow up, Thick As A Brick, he would take aim now at those in the pews.

Sending up the rest of the world which, in his view, deserved a few eggs thrown at it, he served up a blistering indictment of art and artists, the gentry and their genuflection, and anyone who else hadn't ducked quickly enough. Full of mockery, he blasted the condescension of age towards youth and the old ways in general. Lyrically, a shotgun rather than a scalpel, Thick As A Brick debuted at #1 in America. Now, only in his twenties, Ian was the bearded prophet, the pied piper leading the listeners of Jethro Tull, but where?

Most American kids had little idea, if any, of what it all meant, but they were ready to listen to the charismatic fellow who appeared to be angry at, well ? something. Monty Python had appeared at about that same time and young people were, at the start of this second musical "English invasion," fascinated with the sound, the styles, the humor and language of Britain. We didn't get some of the jokes. We didn't understand some of the music. But we felt in our bones that this shaggy haired, posing poet had something important on his mind and, damn it, we would listen now and figure it all out later.

Thick As A Brick had so much going for it. Before you could even get it out of the wrap and on the turntable, you knew it was something different. The cover, a mock newspaper from the fictional community of St Cleve, was a signal that something out of the ordinary was waiting, and the clues in the "news" and the mysterious, unfathomable, lyrics that accompanied this amazing music made many a mind spin. Full of phrases and literary devices that baffled us, we were drawn in to a world that, while only across the sea, seemed to be existing in a time warp. How could this land produce such exciting new music while, if Ian's prose was telling the truth about England, continuing on as if in the previous century? And all these allusions! They formed concrete images, but without context. What poet? The infantry returned from where? Contemplating the milking girls offer? What age old purpose? Downy little sidies? And most of all, who the hell was Biggles?

Moving beyond the maze of images, the strange but somehow familiar allusions, there was that music! The lengthy suites of ELP, Genesis and Yes had expanded our idea of what rock music could encompass, but this, this surpassed everything. This was fourty four minutes of sheer exhilaration. Ever the risk taker, Ian Anderson would out think, out write, and out do them all, and of course, have a great laugh at everyone in the process.

Warner Bros. released the original in April 1972 (cat. No. MS 2072) and the CD reissue that I will write of came out in 1998. It is much improved in sonic character, clear as a pane of glass, the re-master a work of art in itself, worthy of the material it hones to a brighter shine. The separate voice of each instrument is distinct, the organ more biting, the acoustic guitar warmer, the flute less brittle than on the 1972 LP.

It is a more generous release as well. We will hear the masterpiece as Ian intended, without leaping to our feet as side one echos into the distance, running to the turntable to flip over the vinyl disc. We will hear this knuckle busting, finger stiffening monster whittled down to less than 12 minutes on stage at Madison Square Garden from their 1978 tour. We will revel in the knowledge gained from another bonus on this CD, interviews with Martin Barre, Jeffery Hammond and of course, the engine that powers the machine, Ian Anderson.

Written and rehearsed day by day, Thick As A Brick would grow, as if some embryonic creature. Several main themes were developed, and would be revisited again and again, each time ending in a musical change in course. This complex work challenged and stretched the compositional and technical abilities of all involved. The themes were laid out to stand as contrasts in texture and style, acoustic then electric, soft then loud, and the original LP, now tracks one and two, lent itself to another contrast. Side one began as a lilting ballad, slowly developing into an avalanche of instrumental fury and finally breaking apart, the remnants echoing into the void, whereas side two quickly plunged the listener into a pool of rushing, twisting rapids before pulling up and slowing the gait, and introducing a chamber ensemble, and then finally, reprising the major themes of the two sides, drawing us to the works conclusion. This is possibly the only "concept album" that is, in fact, totally integrated throughout, lyrically and thematically. I can think of no other work similar to this which is not actually a collection of songs with noticeable segues to unite them. All of this is captured and presented to its fullest extent on an outstanding CD reissue.

Despite already owning Thick As A Brick on LP and CD, this expanded and improved reissue was a necessity for me, and a necessity for any collection of progressive rock.

Thick As A Brick (22:45) / Thick As A Brick (21:05) / Thick As A Brick [Live] (11:48) / ?Interview With Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson (16:28)

Ian Anderson - flute, acoustic guitar, vocals, violin, saxophone, trumpet
Martin Barre - electric guitar, lute
Barriemore Barlow - percussion, tympani
John Evan - piano, Hammond organ, harpsichord
Jeffrey Hammond - bass guitar, vocals

This Was (1968)
Stand Up (1969)
Benefit (1970)
Aqualung (1971)
Thick As A Brick (1972)
Living In The Past (1972)
A Passion Play (1973)
War Child (1974)
Minstrel In The Gallery (1975)
M.U. The Best Of (1976)
Too Old To Rock 'N' Roll: Too Young To Die (1976)
Songs From The Wood (1977)
Repeat - The Best Of Jethro Tull Vol 2 (1977)
Heavy Horses (1978)
Bursting Out - Live (1978)
Stormwatch (1979/2004)
'A' (1980)
The Broadsword And The Beast (1982/2005)
Under Wraps (1984)
Original Masters (1985)
Crest Of A Knave (1987/2005)
20 Years Of Jethro Tull (1988)
Rock Island (1988)
Catfish Rising (1991)
A Little Light Music (1992)
The Anniversary Collection (1993)
25th Anniversary Box Set (1993)
Nightcap (1995)
Roots To Branches (1995)
J-Tull Dot Com (1999)
The Very Best Of (2001)
Living With The Past (2002)
The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003)
Classic Masters (2003)
Stand Up/This Was (2003)
Essential (2003)
Nothing Is Easy: Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 (2004)
Aqualung Live (2005)
Jethro Tull/Ian Anderson (2005)
Extended Versions (2006)
Live At Montreux 2003 (2007)
The Best Of Acoustic Jethro Tull (2007)
Living With The Past/Nothing Is Easy (2008)
This Was (expanded) (2008)
Nothing Is Easy - Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 (2004/2008)
The Anniversary Collection/A New Day Yesterday (2008)
Live At Montreux 2003 (2008)
Live At Madison Square Garden (2009)
Christmas Album (2009)
Live In Switzerland 2003 (LP) (2014)
A Passion Play - An Extended Performance (2014)
War Child - 40th Anniversary Theatre Edition (2014)
Minstrel In The Gallery - 40th Anniversary La Grande Edition (2015)

Living With The Past (DVD) (2002)
A New Day Yesterday: 1969-1994 - The 25th Anniversary Collection (VID/DVD) (1994/2003/4)
Nothing Is Easy - Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 (DVD) (2005) Live At Montreux 2003 (DVD) (2008)
Jack In The Green - Live In Germany (DVD) (2008)
Live In Bethlehem, PA, 2003 (DVD) (2008)
Their Full Authorized Story (DVD) (2009)
Live At AVO Session 2008 (DVD) (2009)
Live At Madison Square Garden (DVD) (rec 1978, rel 2009)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: March 7th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 1865
Language: english


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