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While "Aqualung" showed Tull's command of the straight song format, "Thick as a Brick" is their progressive rock masterpiece. Embracing and gently mocking the concept album format, this was billed as a collaboration between Tull and a fictional eight-year-old poet named Gerald Bostock. So by presenting it as a story within a story, Tull singer and lyricist Ian Anderson slyly gave himself the licence to be as verbose as possible. The lyrics are doused with as much metaphor and symbolism as is tasteful, but all in the spirit of an alternately vicious and mischievous satire. Laden with scathing barbs and droll humour, it lambasted the hypocrisy, small-mindedness and anti-intellectualism of small-town society. Its lavish sleeve even included an elaborate parody of an English local newspaper, which apparently took longer to produce than the music.
They were constrained by vinyl to split this essentially continuous piece into two halves, punctuated by an abrupt stop and start. From the infectious acoustic folk and flute lilt of the opening, the first side is a tour-de-force of prog rock, played simply by a band of five guys. The breathtaking "See, a son is born" passage ups the tempo, showing their control of all aspects of the music. Its relentless 5/4 bassline, blaring sax stabs, John Evan's propulsive Hammond organ chops and Barriemore Barlow's breathlessly varied drumming, show each musician at the top of their game. It has a similar punch to Genesis's "Supper's Ready" but harder-edged, without as many romantic flights of fancy. Thoroughly engaging for all its 22 minutes.
The second side is more chaotic, starting with an even higher-octane transformation of the "See, a son is born" section. Some drum fireworks lead in to a spicy free-form breakdown. Much more exciting than wanky, despite the goofy "fluffy duck" voice samples. Following that is a passage based on one of the most haunting of the album's many simple but fantastic hooks, "do you believe in the day". Towards the middle of this side is the only place where the album loses its momentum. Although they could have done with a bit more variation, the reprise of tunes from Part One forms a neat conclusion to a hugely satisfying album.
March 30, 2005