Graded on a Curve:
Jethro Tull,
Thick as a Brick

Talk about your fitting gifts: when I was 14 my parents gave this baby to a teen delinquent relative of mine for Christmas, and he really was as thick as a brick. His budding criminal career came to an inglorious end when he saw a car sitting by the side of the road and decided to rifle through its trunk. But just as he was doing so he saw a state cop car come over the hill so he jumped in the car’s trunk and pulled the deck lid down behind him and it locked!

And it was hot as hell in there and he had no way out and he could hear the crunch of the state trooper’s jackboots on loose gravel approaching, followed by the words: “You comfortable in there, dumbass?”

Like I say: Thick as a brick.

It’s easy to forget that way back in 1972 Jethro Tull practically ruled the World–Aqualung was a smash hit and their concerts were carefully choreographed sold-out-in-a-minute EVENTS and plenty of good little hippies were hoping to discover Thick as a Brick beneath their Christmas tree. But imagine their disappointment when they put it on their record player because what they probably hadn’t anticipated was the fucker only had ONE SONG on it! Which meant if you wanted to hear the whole thing nonstop you basically had to own two turntables!

Even by superelongated prog rock standards a one-song LP was a stretch, and a bummer if like every freak in the U.S. of A. you’d grokked on 1971’s Aqualung and were hoping for some groovy hard rockers of palatable length like Cross-Eyed Mary” and “Locomotive Breath.” Robert Christgau of The Village Voice may have dismissed Thick as a Brick as “the usual shit” but he couldn’t have been more wrong; it was a monster any the world had ever beheld–44 continuous minutes of murk you could sink into and drown!

Probably the best thing about it was the mock newspaper cover complete with amusingly bogus stories and a gatefold that opened as a 12-page newspaper with more stories, which meant if you got bored listening to the LP at least you had some educational reading material to peruse while waiting for your record player’s stylus to run out of vinyl. Unfortunately said newspaper (“The St. Cleve Chronicle”) did not come complete with a prominently placed front page music review warning you not to buy said LP, because it might have spared unwary buyers a lot of unnecessary suffering. I would have written it for free.

As for the contents of said LP, I can’t tell you much because I lack the intestinal fortitude required to sit through it. Just kidding.

At first the whole thing just gunks up your ears in an undifferentiated toon stretch blur but upon repeated listening separate songs emerge from the ooze, and what becomes patently obvious is that said discrete songs simply aren’t as good as the songs on Aqualung for the simple reason that unlike Aqualung, Thick as a Brick eschews blunt force hard rock for the squeamish-making, genre-hopping progressive rock that made the early seventies such an awful time to have ears.

You get some classical and folk and jazz and lots of intricate and abrupt shifts and big plodding ELP marches and lots of baroque organ noodling and some fancy elfin interludes and instead of skating away on the thin ice of a new day or rocking and rolling Ye Olde England style, the lads sound like they’re trying really hard to prove they’re big musical geniuses like Yes or the aforementioned ELP or somebody.

Which isn’t to say Martin Barre doesn’t show some moments of real flash on guitar and some good shit (the opening part, for example) doesn’t occasionally jump out at you. It’s just you have to wade through a lot of pseudo-sophisticated goo to get there, and frankly I can’t be bothered because the stink of pretension tends to fill my nostrils making me faintly nauseous.

Pity I never found out what my delinquent cousin thought of Thick as a Brick. My bet is he gave it one listen and traded it in for an Alice Cooper LP. As for his short stay in that car trunk he learned his lesson, which is more than I can say for Jethro Tull because they followed Thick as a Brick with yet another concept album, A Passion Play, which was every bit as pompous and got pummeled by every right-thinking music critic on the planet.

Thick as a brick indeed.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D+

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