It comes among the greatest of ironies that an album poking fun at the pretension of the prog rock world turns out to be one of the scene’s most loved masterpieces. Suffice to say, Jethro Tull received a lot of acclaim for their fourth album ‘Aqualung’, with many listeners overanalyzing the record, looking for things that- in Ian Anderson’s opinion- weren’t there to begin with. Keeping in line with the band’s tongue-in-cheek personality, the fifth album and follow-up to ‘Aqualung’ would address these misinterpretations by delivering an overblown prog epic that pulls out every trick in the concept album canon. ‘Thick As A Brick’ now has a reputation that precedes it, and for good reason; with their parody of concept albums, Tull has created a very complex album musically; one that delivers an unraveling experience over many listens. Although I may not agree that it is the ‘greatest prog album of all time’ like some tend to claim, I cannot help but to revere and appreciate this bombastic masterpiece.
Much of the album’s concept is conveyed through the album’s artwork; a mock newspaper that satirizes British society, its trivial fixations, and hypocrisy. The lyrics of the two-part epic are meant to be the winning poem that an 8 year old literary genius nicknamed ‘Little Milton’ sent in for a contest and won, only to have the prize taken away on the grounds that his poem sought to disturb the peace. Indeed, the lyrics on ‘Thick As A Brick’ are quite militant, calling out things as they are, and constantly criticizing various aspects of society and the complacency of people. Unlike the sort of prog rock that Tull was satirizing here, the fairly aggressive topics are handled with humour and personality, and Ian Anderson gives a fair dose of his personality through the vocal performance, which is very nicely done. Although his voice is made a little too nasal at points during this epic, his voice works quite well for the most part, and compliments the music nicely.
Like all good epics, Jethro Tull throws ample amounts of recurring melodies, themes and whatnot into the structure of their forty minute opus, rarely feeling needlessly repetitive. The whole thing builds up and climaxes masterfully, made even more vibrant by the band’s dynamic and heavy performance. Jethro Tull really surprised me by some of their complexity and heaviness towards the more active sections of ‘Thick As A Brick’, as I went into this expecting a much lighter folk ordeal. And indeed, there are plenty of Medieval folk moments for Anderson to croon to here, but ‘Thick As A Brick’ is certainly a creature of dynamic, and it makes for a listen that keeps throwing interesting things at the listener until the end. Needless to say, Tull’s music on the record cannot be digested with only a few listens; upon the first listen, I found myself a little lost on the more complex parts. Believe me when I say that ‘Thick As A Brick’ takes many listens to sink in. It may not be a perfect record, but it takes some time before a listener becomes familiar enough with the album to see how cleverly the band has stitched these ideas together.
Is ‘Thick As A Brick’ the greatest prog album ever made? Once again, a resounding no, as its flaws are a little too evident even after a couple of listens to call it perfect. However, Jethro Tull does rightfully earn a place at the upper echelon of prog with this one, and make no mistake; if you are a progressive rock fan, you should make a point to set some time aside for this one.