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.
The album's opening is sprightly, with Ian's flute poking in and out; a more introspective, minor key digression follows, then a stalking bass line, accompanied by horns and John Evan's excited Rick Wakeman-like organ. The relentless and mechanical gives way to something very stately and regal, as English as, yet less folksy than the opening passage. The piano plays arpeggios; Anderson overlays a jazzy flute. Some overdubbed guitar yammerings follow.
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.
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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