Out of the ashes of the 60s new sounds emerged and began to bud, just as that decade went. Progressive rock surfaced and gave anonymity to music, letting strange concepts and extravagant music step in front of the band itself. In 1972 it finally blossomed with classic releases by Genesis
. Even though they are known as two of the greatest prog bands ever, it was another band that mastered the continuity of a prog album: Jethro Tull. Thick as a Brick was the first album to have a single song on an LP (the song split in half due to the technology back then, but it is one song.)
Of course Jethro Tull knew if you're going to be the first to do something, you better do it right. And they did, despite both sides/songs being over 20 minutes each, they contain no filler at all. On top of that, Thick as a Brick wasn't your typical prog album; instead of mystical themes and spacey virtuosity, Jethro Tull maintained a hard rock/pseudo folk feel to their music. The album's story is about a boy who writes an intricate poem for some kind of contest, but is disqualified for using a four letter word (the word itself never revealed). The judges used the word as an excuse to kick him out; they're disturbed about the poem's entirety and moral. They instead choose a girl who wrote a simple essay about Christian principles. As strange and amusing as it may seem, the whole concept was a statement on British society's unwillingness to confront controversial issues, which still finds itself relevant in today's world.
This epic starts out with the most famous 3 minutes of the whole song, featured on Best of Jethro Tull (just shows how much attention span some people have). While this acoustic folk intro stands on its own as a pleasant song, it can only get better. At 3.05 the song reveals a more hard rock side, like this LP's predecessor Aqualung
. But it is still very organ driven as well, an organ solo springs into action very quickly, with a short but sweet guitar solo by Martin Barre. The music themes change very quickly, at around 5 minutes the song changes into a dramatic sounding tune. Still, singer/flutist Ian Anderson keeps it all together with his vocals. With all the drum-filled, guitar driven speed changes, at no point does Thick as a Brick come off as pretentious. The halfway mark for part one comes in seamlessly, as Jethro Tull keep a good pace throughout by varying a lot, but not enough to make the listener get lost from the beginning. That being said, halfway through the song a new theme is introduced, rather abruptly, by John Evans' organ. This marks Thick as a Brick's folksiest moment yet, directed by Anderson's signature flute. That transitions into a jazzy tune which goes on until part one is ended by four frenzied notes repeated into a fade out.
The sudden agitation in mood continues into part two, Thick as a Brick is reintroduced by the same four notes, until quickly breaking into the 3/4 jam first heard at 3.05 in part one, with a more frantic feeling. This feeling is outlined by the burst of music through the guitar and organ, and with a drum solo by Barriemore Barlow accompanied by awkward flute fills. At around 3 minutes the whole thing starts to swirl, themes mixing together, while bassist Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (yeah that's his name) does some spoken word. The music stops. Part two hasn't proven to be as smooth as part one so far. The music starts again. And stops again. This pattern continues a bit, until Barre's acoustic initiates some folksy Tull again. Definitely a change from part two's beginning, the music returns to a pastoral feel, Anderson's voice sounding as good as ever, pinballing between a strange optimism and somberness. At around 12 minutes the song bounces into a catchy, upbeat theme, one of my favourite moments in the album. Thick as a Brick moves into one more theme, a very fast one, before reprising the first 'song'. And so, it ends as it began:
So you ride yourselves over the fields and
you make all your animal deals and
your wise men don't know how it feels to be thick as a brick.
As unbiased as possible, I can say that there are no faults in this album. The only one would probably be that a lot of people wouldn't want to listen to 20+ minute songs, but that's their own fault anyway. Jethro Tull successfully combine hard rock, jazz, folk, and great melodies into a progressive rock opus. Even so, it's way easier to get into, and listen to than other prog rock albums. A definite essential for any fan of the genre.
Thick as a Brick -----------> 5 stars