Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick – Album Review
Written by Staff on December 9, 2023
Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick – Album review by Joshua Reedy.
My copy: 2015 reissue by Chrysalis.
Jethro Tull’s 1972 jab at conceptual progressive-rock records consists of the first ever full-LP-spanning song; that is, both 20+ minute sides are technically one long song (which suits their controversial sense of humor quite nicely). While the talent for arrangement and performance is there, Thick As A Brick begs an important question about satirical music as a whole: is music that is ironically pretentious genius, or is it just plain pretentious?
If you have a firm relationship with music and its culture, you’ve probably been talked at by one of those prog guys about how Ian Anderson’s bold choice to stick it to his contemporaries by creating a mock concept album is one of the greatest achievements for the genre; and while the packaging, lyricism and production itself are impressive, the record seems to frequently forget that it’s supposed to be poking fun at prog concept albums. The rapid acoustic arpeggios that make up the first motif of the record are delightfully executed, babbling along in the background like a bubbly brook as Anderson plays bard with dramatic vocal performances. I’m not one for the flute – its melodies fluttering as if it were scoring the local renaissance fair. It should be made clear: the humor in the lyrics and presentation is understood loud and clear, and while it works quite well in some instances, their indulgence wears thin.
There are impressive dynamic moments in the first half, switching between tempos and time signatures at ease, though sonically these early passages can be rather bland. The scrambling solos wear on patience though there are moments of serenity with beautiful piano and organ stings. The most effective tactic employed in the first half is the delay of the rhythm section; sparking its arrival as a bombastic and grand moment – this high isn’t reached again until the second half. Anderson and co. begin to experiment more and more leading into part 2, with booming reverberation on piano strikes and stereo channel surfing. This sense of adventure continues into the early chapters of part 2, with the flute shimmering in vibrato while guitars sneak into dissonant Eastern scales. The drums of Barriemore Barlow are given a spotlight with crazed solos that are contrasted by schoolyard melodies played by bells and flute, with the music then breaking for several moments of silence – these moments of genuine ambition are far more propulsive than the mountains of mindless prog detours they eventually relinquish to.
The piano is lovely whenever it is highlighted, as are most of the organ sections though the guitar solos are too similar to the likes of Kansas or Emerson, Lake and Palmer to be effective as satire. There is much more melodic complexity to part 2, with powerful core riffs, though this good will is undone by a return to overly-jovial romp-music.
Thick As A Brick is really a quite strange record: it has moments of true ingenuity, with ambitious compositions and instrumental choices (arranging strings, harpsichord and of course, the flute) but it feels oftentimes all too deep in the ruse, sounding too similar to the styles and ideas it is attempting to poke fun at. Sure, this is “genius music” to that IT guy with the neckbeard who won’t leave you alone since you humored him in a conversation about Dream Theater, but even in its eye-rolling commitment to excessiveness, Thick As A Brick does contain a handful of knock-out moments.