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Ian Anderson, ‘Thick As a Brick 2′ — Album Review

Capitol Records

To quote Ian Anderson, “If someone had suggested that I might release a prog-concept album in the year 2012, I would have thought him seriously, dangerously even, off his trolley. But that is precisely what happened.”

Ah, progressive rock, or “prog,” the mutant offspring of psychedelia. Often maligned and misunderstood, it became an easy target as songs got longer and concepts less, well, conceptual.

Jethro Tull began life as a folk-based blues rock band, but they had a secret weapon in frontman Ian Anderson, who looked like a hobo and played flute. Flute! Not exactly your standard artillery in the rock ‘n’ roll game, but he didn’t just make it work, he made it work well. The fact that he was not only an ace flautist but could also write some great songs certainly didn’t hurt.

Though not born of prog, Tull slid into their art rock shoes pretty comfortably. By the time their landmark LP ‘Aqualung’ was released, they were toe-to-toe with the giants of prog like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but there was something keeping them on the sidelines of all the grandeur.

With their 1972 album ‘Thick As a Brick,’ Tull leader Ian Anderson decided to throw his lot in the fire.

The original ‘TAAB’ album was meant to be a parody of the more pompous aspects of progressive rock. Mission accomplished — but it also happens to be one of the era’s finest artifacts. One song spread over two sides of an album, expertly played, and a storyline holding it all in place. In other words, a “concept” album. Concept albums date back to either the Who’s ‘Tommy’ or the Pretty Things’ ‘SF Sorrow,’ and throughout the prog era it became almost expected to have a go at the form.

Enter Gerald Bostock, the central figure in Anderson’s storyline on ‘Thick As a Brick 2.’ In 1972, Bostock was a 10-year-old lad beyond his years. It’s been 40 years since the original ‘Brick,’ and for the occasion, Anderson decided it was time to answer the “whatever happened to” question.

Gerald Bostock is now 50 years old and, as Ian Anderson himself explains on his website, this sequel will “examine the different paths that the precocious young schoolboy … might have taken later in life and … create alter-ego characters whose song-section identities illustrate the hugely varied potential twists and turns of fate and opportunity.” Anderson adds that it will also “echo how our own lives develop, change direction and ultimately conclude.”

The story unfolds as Gerald reflects on his life, and brings up some “what ifs” concerning the different paths he could’ve taken. There are subtle references to Anderson’s path over the last 40 years woven into the story as well.

So that’s the tale of Gerald, but what of the music within?

Longtime Tull fans will be happy, as this new ‘Brick’ has vintage Tull written all over it. Though credited to “Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson,” it’s more like Tull than much of Anderson’s solo work over the years. Some familiar themes and melodies creep in periodically to subtly tie it to the original album, but while it by no means sounds like a 1972 release, it does have that certain something that allows past and present to walk hand-in-hand. You’ll hear spoken-word narration, and of course Anderson’s flute is still front and center when called upon.

As you’d expect, prog-esque bravado and top-shelf musicianship are also in full flight. Dynamically produced by all around renaissance man, Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, No Man and many more), he captures a very full sound, sonically merging the warmth of the old with the attack of the new. He’s also intimately familiar with Tull’s music — last year he did the remix/remaster thing with ‘Aqualung’ and has recently done the same for the original ‘Thick,’ which is due out later this year.

Ultimately, ‘Thick As a Brick 2′ is an album sure to please longtime Tull and Anderson fans, and possibly one of the best examples of an elder statesman artist finding his way back from whence he came without cliche. It’s doubtful non-believers will be converted by it, but that’s okay — the disc is a nice journey from present to past to future for those who want to ride along. Stay tuned as Anderson takes both ‘Bricks’ on the road this fall.

7_out_10

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