Review: Ian Anderson – Thick as a Brick 2
Published on March 9th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
When Jethro Tull main man Ian Anderson says that his band’s original Thick as a Brick album was a “parody” of progressive rock – “a spoof to the albums of Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, much like what the movie Airplane! had been to Airport” – we can but take him at his word. Forty years later, he’s back with a labyrinthine sequel that not only reinforces the absurdity of this form, but also betrays anew Anderson’s evident relish for the challenges inherent in such an undertaking. Welcome back to the fold then, young Gerald Bostock; what had life’s rich tapestry been holding in store for you?
The theme of this sequel, we are told, is “to examine the possible different paths that precocious young schoolboy Gerald Bostock might have taken later in life, and to create alter-ego characters whose song-section identities illustrate the hugely varied potential twists and turns of fate and opportunity. Not just for Gerald but to echo how our own lives develop, change direction and ultimately conclude through chance encounters and interventions, however tiny and insignificant they might seem at the time.” It’s not the most original of concepts – perhaps that’s the point – but it is nevertheless a supremely accomplished piece of work courtesy of one of rock music’s most feverishly creative minds.
Official Thick as a Brick 2 trailer
Opener “From a Pebble Thrown” gets underway with a slow fade-in of wailing guitar stabs recognisable from the original piece, Anderson’s quizzical flute and eventual chugging guitar combining to sound like the re-emergence or rebirth at the beginning of a sequel of a protagonist presumed dead from before. “Which way to blue skies?” intones Anderson with an almost Disney-esque sense of wonder, laying the conceptual foundations with lines such as “Ripples from a pebble thrown/Make a tsunami on a foreign shore/I would slip right off this high-rise hell/But the elevator stops at every floor”.
By this point, two features that might repel any new listeners are set in stone, namely the medieval vibe conjured by Anderson’s bard-like delivery, and the authentic but not entirely welcome chugs of ’80s metal power chords. Suffice it to say, such a combination might bring the vehemently anti-prog out in some kind of rash, but accepting these stylistic concessions pays off handsomely with a collection of songs that hang together like those on Tommy or Arthur.
“Might Have Beens” introduces Anderson’s hilarious ‘noble knight’ approach to spoken word (“Might you have been the man of courage, Brave upon life’s battlefield?”), and then we are shown by the Ghost of Gerald Yet to Come a number of divergent outcomes for the boy’s future. A cursory glance at the tracklist should give you a decent idea of what to expect – “Upper Sixth Loan Shark”, “Banker Bets, Banker Wins”, “Kismet in Suburbia” and “Adrift and Dumbfounded”, the latter of which sounds as if it’s about to break into “In the Hall of the Mountain King” – and while the whole ‘bifurcating trousers of time’ schtick represents territory all-too-often trodden on, it can still be captivating and frequently profound when executed with this much panache.
Ian Anderson interview for Thick as a Brick 2
We have already referred to both Tommy and Arthur in this review, and the common ground is clearly marked by the uncomfortable implication of child abuse in “Swing it Far” and barbed endorsement of the simple life in “Cosy Corner” (“Gerald Bostock, fresh from school /With few O-levels, sets his sights/No grand, fanciful fantasies/But level-headed middle ground/The retail trade? The corner shop?/That humble service of plain town folk”); meanwhile, “Confessional” works as a sort of counter-eventuality to “Banker Bets, Banker Wins” (“I made my millions/Stashed the pile/In Swiss bank havens/Lost the lot/When Inland Revenue got wise/So I did my time/My time for what?”), while curtain-closer “What Ifs, Maybes” ties it all together by reprising at least two of the previous tracks and seasoning the experience with some cause for contemplation:
“We always wonder now and then/If things had turned out just plain different/Chance partaken, page unturned/Or brief encounter blossomed, splintered/Might I have been the man of courage/Brave upon life’s battlefield?”
Rocksucker says: A textbook and presumably self-aware musical odyssey housing a suitably existential case study, not to mention some very fine songs indeed. Eight Quails out of Ten!
Thick as a Brick 2 will be released on 2nd April through EMI Music. Ian Anderson will also play the following UK dates in April and May…
|18th||Liverpool||Philharmonic||0151 709 3789|
|19th||Sheffield||City Hall||0114 2 789 789|
|20th||Blackburn||St George’s Hall||0844 847 1664|
|21th||Harrogate||Royal Hall||0845 130 8840|
|22th||Manchester||Opera House||0844 847 2484|
|24th||Derby||Assembly Rooms||01332 255 800|
|25th||Ipswich||Regent Theatre||01473 433100|
|27th||London||Hammersmith Apollo||0843 221 0100|
|28th||Bristol||Colston Hall||0117 922 3686|
|29th||High Wycombe||The Swan Theatre||01494 512 000|
|30th||Birmingham||Symphony Hall||0121 780 3333|
|2nd||Oxford||Apollo||0844 847 1588|
|3rd||Reading||Hexagon||0118 960 6060|
|4th||Guildford||G Live||0844 7701 797|
|5th||Cardiff||St David’s Hall||029 2087 8444|
|6th||Southampton||Guildhall||023 8063 2601|
Tickets are available at www.gigantic.com
“After 44 years of leading Tull to 54 countries worldwide and over 60 million albums sold, Ian Anderson celebrates a true progressive rock classic with old and new fans across the UK for a whole three weeks. Anderson is known as the flute and voice of the legendary Jethro Tull, formed in the North of England in 1968 from the amalgamation of blues-based John Evan Band and McGregor’s Engine. Since their first performance at London’s famous Marquee Club in 1968, the band has released 30 studio and live albums and earned a prominent place in rock history.”
The official Jethro Tull website: jethrotull.com
Tickets are available at gigantic.com.