Amazon.com essential recording
Having previously challenged their audience with the lengthy opus Thick as a Brick, Jethro Tull went back to the concept-album for the even more difficult A Passion Play. The sometimes impenetrable work is part biblical allegory, part postmodern epic poem, and part psychedelic fairy tale. Such were the machinations of 1970s prog rock. The music mixes rock, English folk, and neoclassical material, an amalgamation that somehow hangs together. Reviled by critics when it was first released, A Passion Play has been redeemed over time thanks to the devotion of Tull fans, for whom it has always been an essential work. --Daniel Durchholz
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finulanu | Here, there, and everywhere | 09/28/2007
(1 out of 5 stars)
"Talk about a fall from grace. Wait, wait, back up. Talk about dropping all you have off a cliff. I consider Jethro Tull's work from 1969-1972 classic, with the best being 1969's Stand Up. But this... what is this? For one, it's one of the records that killed progressive rock's reputation. (I enjoy the genre a lot, too, and feel it gets unfairly underrated) - the other two are Yes' Tales of Topographic Oceans (I love Yes, but I never saw where they were going with that one - amazing instrumental work, though), and Genesis' Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which I, in spite of being a moderate Genesis fan, have never heard). Really, this has got to be the worst of them. And Thick as a Brick was stellar! My second-favorite Tull release, in fact. That was a dead-on satire of "over-intellectualism" and "prfound thought" that, in its own way, managed to be a deep look at how easily society is manipulated by poets and wise men spouting nonsense. That's exactly what Anderson becomes here: a wise man spouting nonsense, only Bibically inspired nonsense. It has none of the quick-witted sarcasm that made Brick such a riot. And the stylistic variety that kept Brick from wearing thin. And the little instrumental blurbs that gave Brick its variety. They're there, but there's no balance in them. TAAB gave Anderson, Barre, Evan, Hammond-Hammond and Barlow equal time to shine. This is almost entirely devoted to Anderson and his variety of woodwinds, which has at this point expanded into soprano and sopranino saxophones; and Evan, who plays a LOT of organ and pseudoclassical piano. Martin Barre, who was always my favorite musician in the group, gets pusehd aside.
I commented earlier on the lyrics, but I thought I'd go in depth with that. What inspired Anderson to go from mocking pompous pseudomysticalism to actually singing pompous pseudomysticalism? Ian's obviously quite sarcastic - that's his whole schtick - which means it's also quite hard to believe whether or not he's ever sincere - the Aqualung album being my exception to that rule. So that makes me wonder: was Thick as a Brick representitive of Ian's honest thoughts on overintellectualism? Or was he, in essence, mocking those who mocked it? Or, alternatively, did he just let Thick as a Brick's success go to his head, which in turn led to him saying, "It's okay if I write these overblown, dead-serious lyrics, just because it's me doing it. Everybody else who does so is a wanker, though"? Really is something for me to ponder. I'll get back to you when I've made up my mind on it.
Right, and here's the biggest problem: Anderson got so carried away with his cliche-loaded, keyboard, flute, and sax happy Grandiose Statement that he forgot one tiny little detail: writing any real melodies that really stick with you. That's another thing that Thick as a Brick had going for it. All kinds of melodies. I'm not saying everything has to be shallow, vapid, face-value entertainment (I am a jazz fan, after all), but there's just nothing to latch onto here. For me, music needs some form of hooks to keep it from going astray - the lack thereof was precisely what went wrong with King Crimson's Moonchild, but that's another story. It's also one of the many things that goes wrong with this album. The only melody that really grabs me is the "Overseer Overture" part, which is my favorite bit on the whole record. On the other end, my least favorite is probably the opening three parts: "Life Beats" (just random noisemaking, again like Moonchild), "Prelude" (mericfully brief indulgent jamming), and "The Silver Cord" (gives us a taste of what the lyrics will be like, though the piano's pretty). I don't approve of either "Forest Dance", while I'm complaining. Though the entire album is just dry, unimaginative, overblown, and lacking. Basically, I can't recommend this. I know it has its ardent supporters, and I'm not here to give them a hard time about it (though I know SOMEone will give ME a hard time about my intense dislike of this disaster). I'm just saying, I don't think it's very good. And I would love to read a review of this by someone who thought this was the masterpiece and Brick was the indulgent bomb. But yeah, this doesn't make the grade. I guess sometimes the band catches fire, but it's a very occasional thing, and when they do, they don't keep it going for long."
Tull's "A Passion PLay"
William E. Houser Jr. | Fort Lauderdale, FL United States | 08/14/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"While in high school, my friends and I waited with bated breath for the next Tull album. We'd been hooked at Stand Up, went gaga for Benefit, rejoiced with Aqualung, smiled at Living in the Past, and scraped our jaws off the floor with Thick as a Brick. Then, instead of a new album, we got rumors...Anderson hated the new stuff, it's to be scraped. They'll do a live album next because they're out of ideas...Ian is thinking of a *gasp* solo effort...etc.
So when Passion Play finally hits the stores, we're on it in a flash. We listen...look at each other...put on the other side...look at each other...and we laugh! What the heck are they thinking? What's with all these SAXAPHONES? What the heck is Ian trying to say with these lyrics? What is our favorite band doing?!?
We listen a few more times, discuss the ramifications of what this album will do to their popularity, disect a few passages, and come to the conclusion...
...It's O.K. Just O.K. Because when the music cranks, it's unstoppable, but the lyrics are obtuse and confusing, then there's this "Hare" thing in the middle, and...it's just O.K.
...30 some odd years later, my friends are memories living in other states, Tull is still soldiering along, and Passion Play is still just O.K. To me there are more enjoyable, accessable, and tighter albums. I would have liked to hear a whole album of the Chateau D'isaster tapes - get it on the Nightcap album - but even those lyrics were inscrutable. But if you are a Tull fan (I still am), get this album. If you are not, get one of their other classics."