Thick As A Brick
Released: April 1972
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 46
Certified Gold: 5/25/72
"Although not in the shops yet, I was able to acquire a 'white label' pressing of the current Jethro Tull winner Thick As A Brick from their London agents, Chrysalis Artists... The group consists of Ian Anderson, Martin Barre, John Evan, Jeffery Hammond-Hammond and Barriemore Barlow. Written around a poem by St. Cleve child prodigy Gerald Bostock, their music spins a delicate web of sensitive sounds: sometimes lilting, sometimes soaring to form a brilliant backdrop for the meaningful lyrics and improvisational techniques...
Ian Anderson (a.k.a. Julian Stone-Mason B.A.) has not only slyly reviewed his own album, he's also supplied the newspaper which contains it. Like so much flounder, Thick As A Brick comes wrapped in the St. Cleve's Chronicle, an apocryphal yet typical daily of Anderson's design. Played across the front page is the Gerald "Little Milton" Bostock scandal (the epithet refers to the author of Paradise Lost, not the soul singer). Eight-year-old Gerald is adjudged unfit to accept first prize from The Society For Literary Advancement And Gestation (SLAG) by virtue of the questionable contents of his epic poem Thick As A Brick.
Gerald is one of Ian Anderson's incarnations and ruses. Besides lyricist and impersonator, Anderson is also composer, arranger, singer, flutist, acoustic guitarist, violinist, saxophonist, trumpeter, satirist and overall composer. His adeptness at most of these functions, in particular, his ability to balance and fuse them, has created one of rock's most sophisticated and ground-breaking products.
Most of the Chronicle's features display a dry, fatuous, very English sense of humor. Under the "Deaths" column, there is the late Charles Stiff; and stories have titles along the lines of "Mongrel Dog Soils Actor's Foot" and "Non-Rabbit Missing." Characters in, say, a page two story will turn up again on page five in equally ludicrous circumstances. It is all very clever, yet at first seemingly irrelevant.
Page seven carries the words to Thick As A Brick. The writing is very dense and enigmatic, and the unidentified shifts in narrative voice compound the difficulty. The poem, as best I can make out, is a sweeping social critique, as pessimistic about poets, painters and the generally virtuous as it is condemnatory of politicians and other figures of authority. And what more perfectly encompasses or embodies the world Anderson aims to criticize than a daily newspaper? The paper in turn encompasses the poem. Furthermore, there are names in the poem which refer back to items in the newspaper. The poem "reviews" the newspaper, just as Stone-Mason reviewed the record. The entire package operates with the allusiveness of a Nabakov novel.
For all its intricacy, the "theme" or poetry of Thick As A Brick is its least important aspect. Anderson's language (in Aqualung as well) is often wordy and ponderous, and its bitter condescension and breadth of denunciation can be unpleasant. What marks this album as a significant departure from other Jethro Tull work, and rock in general, is the organization of all its music into one continuous track. Albums like Sgt. Pepper or Tommy were complete entities in themselves, but still chose to use songs as their basic components. While sections of Thick As A Brick are melodically distinct, they all inherently relate to each other. What connecting there is is uncontrived and is often the occasion for some of the album's boldest playing. The lyrics, clever and dense as they are, are chiefly valuable as a premise for the music.
Anderson takes to the violin and creates a whirling, macabre setting for the combative son's announcement, "I've come down from the upper/ class to mend your rotten ways." As the other son begins to speak, the music becomes milder, then sunnier. A bell-like organ rings out behind a jig, performed in almost telegraphic rhythm. This, and its reprise on side two, is the album's most attractive section. An ominous heraldic organ shatters the calm, and the side ends with the electric guitar shrieking helplessly, like a wounded bird.
Side two reintroduces side one's second statement. It merges into an energetic though hollow, unemphatic drum solo; then some free jazz, over which a set of lyrics is recited. A rather fine English folk melody emerges. Anderson's voice becomes more severe, a classical guitar is introduced, and the music takes an Iberian turn. A harpsichord plays as a guitar repeats the riff from George Harrison's "Wah Wah." The writing becomes very linear, with rapid harmonic shifts. This alternates with a vaulting melodic figure. Then a sudden whoosh, and we return to the closing theme of side one, now strongly reinforced by the organ, only to be momentarily interrupted by some expansive strings. As almost a postscript, the initial theme is recalled, and with it the sentiment, "And/ your wise men don't know how it/ feels to be thick as a brick."
The members of Jethro Tull were hand-picked by Anderson (several are old school chums); no one, save Ian, remains from the original band. The playing, not surprisingly, is tight as a drum. Martin Barre's guitar and John Evan's keyboards especially shine, and Ian's singing is no longer abrasive. Whether or not Thick As A Brick is an isolated experiment, it is nice to know that someone in rock has ambitions beyond the four or five minute conventional track, and has the intelligence to carry out his intentions, in all their intricacy, with considerable grace.
- Ben Gerson, Rolling Stone, 6/22/72.
The new Jethro Tull album for Reprise, Thick as a Brick, is already enjoying thunderous commercial success, which must mean that the public still has an appetite for rock music that is both vigorous and adventurous. Thick as a Brick is not, however, what anyone could call conventionally "commercial," even taking into account the fanatic loyalty of Tull devotees: an entire album devoted to one forty-four-minute "song," which is built around a difficult, often obscure, and sometimes tedious poem, has obviously made a few compromises in order to sell itself.
What Ian Anderson and his mates have done is to fashion an album whose basic sound is reasonably dependable and whose constituent parts can be immediately assimilated, even if deciphering the whole has to be put off indefinitely. The distinctive Tull sound, keyed to Anderson's flute, has been altered slightly: John Evan's organ becomes the unifying instrument, and Tull has changed drummer. The new one, Barriemore Barlow, is fast, sharp, and trained -- but a bit conservative. He doesn't muffle the phrase endings the way Clive Bunker did and so is responsible for a slight erosion in the group's style.
Anderson was criticized for making a fuss about so unhip a subject as hypocrisy in the Aqualung album. I expect he will draw fire now for beating such other "dead" horses as war-mongering and dollar-chasing. But reports of the death of those particular nags were much exaggerated. A by-product of the Jesus Movement was that it gave hypocrisy a rich new field in which to work -- young people. And, as Thick as a Brick tries (I think) to say, those who overthrow the war mongers and money changes tend somehow to settle into their own patterns of waging war and chasing foot.
The album is packaged in the form of a newspaper containing a fair to good satire on journalism. Its lead story tells of the controversy surrounding "Thick as a Brick," an epic poem written by Gerald "Little Milton" Bostock, age eight. It seems the Society for Literary Advancement and Gestation (SLAG) announced the poem as winner of a national literary contest and had Gerald read it on television. The society reversed itself after psychiatrists said the boy's mind was unbalanced and the telly station received "hundreds of protests and threats." The newspaper also carries a review by one Julian Stone-Mason, B. A., of the new Tull disc Thick as a Brick. Mr. Stone-Mason notes: "Poor, or perhaps naïve taste is responsible for some of the ugly changes of time signature and banal instrumental passages linking the main sections, but ability in this direction should come with maturity."
Mr. Stone-Mason has a point, but most of the instrumentals are reasonably interesting rock time-fillers -- not as good as those in Tommy, to be sure -- and there are a few passages, such as the one between the banishment of the father and the son's final decision to emulate the father's tyranny, that really make the grade as program music. Perhaps this bloke Stone-Mason oughter 'ave another listen.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 9/72.
Ian Anderson & friends have a penchant for creating albums that delight, amaze and thoroughly entertain, Thick as a Brick being no exception. It is a suitable successor to the genius that was Aqualung, the wildly enigmatic imagery producing a spellbinding fascination. There are no individual songs as such, simply sides one & two with no separation between the grooves.
- Billboard, 1972.
Thick as a Brick screams the jacket of Jetro Tull's newest. The disc comes symbolically enshrouded in a funny fascimile of an English small-town newspaper that reflects all the bourgeois nonsense that Ian Anderson, Tull's guiding light, apparently wants to put down. But while the poetry on the record is clogged and obscure, the music stretches out in one clear, continuous flow throughout the two sides. This is English art-rock at its best -- tight, thematically unified, with echoes of English folk and church music, jazz and Spanish rhythms. John Evan's organ is outstanding; Anderson's singing and flute playing have both improved since Aqualung. If he could only forget about his pretentious lyric baggage and present an album of straight music, he'd really have something.
- Playboy, 10/72.
The album-length song Thick as a Brick isn't for everyone, but remains one of the more inventive pop creations of the period. * * * 1/2
- Simon Glickman, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
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