Ian Anderson – Thick As A Brick 2: Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock? (2012) – an album review

NOTE: As promised on my old blogsite, I don’t have album-buying money to burn at the moment, so I haven’t gone out and purchased my copy of this album yet. This review was started during the promotional free streaming day Ian staged a few days ago. I was going to post it then, but hadn’t written all of the surrounding material yet, and got distracted by the shiny new site. So here it is at last.

Can Ian Anderson make a solo album that harkens back to the almost accidentally-on-purpose progressive brilliance of the seminal Jethro Tull album, Thick As A Brick? And especially, can he do it without his longtime Tull collaborator, guitarist Martin Barre? And will it achieve anything like its storied predecessor, particualrly if it isn’t under the mighty Tull banner? Well, I probably can’t answer that last one for you, as my crystal ball is in the shop (damned Feagles), but I’ll certainly give the first two a shot.

tl;dr Version: It’s a Jethro Tull album… or is it?

‘Splain, Lucy Version: Jethtro Tull is essentially Ian Anderson’s baby, and has been since he started it in 1967. But Martin Barre was in place from 1969 pretty much up to the present day, which sort of makes Tull at least in part his band too. Which is more or less why Ian Anderson makes solo albums. Or at least, this is how I imagine it to be. Not knowing either of them or being a scholar of the band’s history (I’ve read their Wikipedia article, but the venerable Wikipedia is notoriously bad at getting old band histories entirely accurate… and even more notoriously scurrilous about accepting the facts from the musicians themselves).

My point is, for whatever reason, Martin Barre has sat this one out (you see what I did there, right?), and Ian has found himself making a solo album sequel to a classic band album, using what I was lead to believe are current Tull band members, minus Barre. I can be wrong about this and other things, and frequently am (ask Julian Lennon about which instruments I called wrong). Ian seems to be conducting this as a solo album with his solo band, so perhaps the Tull connection is solely through him and the subject matter.

Martin, for his part, is apparently planning to stage a former-members reunion lineup (barring, of course, those who are no longer with us) to take the Tull music out on tour. And Ian plans on touring this and the original album for something like 18 months, if, again,Wikipedia is to be believed. We shall see. Or rather, you shall see, because I don’t have the money for live performances anymore. This may be why I write album reviews now, instead of concert reviews, which is what I used to (occasionally) do back in my LiveJournal days.

Boring Version: Okay, confession time: I really enjoy the original Thick As A Brick album. It’s just a great album. That said, I don’t count myself as a Jethro Tull fan. I just haven’t sat and listened to their other albums. It’s been a timing thing, really. I keep planning to make some time to absorb some more stuff, but there never seems to be enough time.

Also, because I’m basically broke, I’m not going to be buying this album right away, whether I like it or not. Instead, I’m going to listen to it on the Facebook Jethro Tull page, which is streaming it for today only {Oops, sorry, since writing this review, it seems to have stopped working. I guess that means it was YESTERDAY that it was being premiered; I just got lucky with my early morning antics. That’s the way it goes, folks}.

HOWEVER! If I DO like the album, I WILL be picking up a copy someday… unless somebody really sweet decides to gift me with a copy, in which case, I will retroactively dedicate this review to them as well. First come, first serve, unless, like, five copies arrive at once, in which case, I will thank you all and then announce some sort of giveaway for the spare copies, to make sure they go to a good home, AND to make sure that this landmark album is heard by as many people as possible.

And after I’ve heard this album, if I do indeed enjoy it, I will make it a point to go ahead and listen to some of the other Jethro Tull albums I’ve been making copies of (*gasp!*) from friends and then NOT listening to, bastard that I am.

THE REVIEW
From A Pebble Thrown opens on a gust of wind and waves of rushing water, reviving a classic guitar riff from the original album in a halting, broken form, before shifting to a bit of acoustic, repeating the guitar riff, and then introducing a new bit that leads to the first verse, which starts in pastoral fashion, but is soon joined by a polite electric guitar part and the rhythm section (drums, bass, organ) vamping. By about the two-thirty mark, it’s become a full ensemble piece, but as this is (essentially) Tull, the song ends soon afterwards, leading us to…

Pebbles Instrumental opens with accordion and flute, before being joined guitar and then drum and bass, in a rather jaunty number that demonstrates the virtuoso quality of the performers, Ian amongst them, as the flute features centrally here. It’s a fine flute performance, and I’ll definitely be playing it for my sister, just to give her night sweats… err, I mean ideas, when she finally gets a chance to record for me. The rest of the band get their day in the sun without being too indulgent. It’s a fun and edgy (mostly) instrumental piece, and has become my instant favourite upon first listening.

Might-have-beens opens with more stormy weather and spoken verse, Ian asking the question, ‘what if things had been different?’

Upper Sixth Loan Shark begins with Ian’s voice, acoustic guitar and vibes in a lovely melody, before a flute passage joins in, but this too is a short prelude to…

Banker Bets, Banker Wins starts acoustically, but with a bit of synth and organ spiking the riff, before transforming into a steady rock number, as Ian decries the world of high finance. Ian’s voice lacks a certain desirable level of venomous bite in the verses here; he sounds almost romantic here, but he corrects this in the bridge with a bit of vocal effect that doubles and flanges his voice to sound a bit grittier. Then we get a guitar solo, and it becomes clear that we aren’t going to suffer for a deficit of Martin Barre, at least. Another effected bridging verse, and then another instrumental passage, this time featuring a very growly flute. Oh yes, Jolene is going to hate this album when I am through with her. It’s very cool and effective playing. We return to the verses, and Ian seems to have found a bit more bile, but it’s still sung nicely, and I find myself wishing he had sung this part in his lower register voice. Then we get another instrumental passage, the guitar and flute sharing space, before the flute begins dueling with the organ, and it’s a very lovely bit that ends the tune.

Swing It Far begins with spoken word over what sounds like a celeste, but this is just a brief interlude before the guitar and Ian’s voice prettily escort in a new piece, joined by the band, including some nice piano. This too is a prelude to a riotously rocking chorus, which is gone before you know it, replaced by the pretty verse riff again. Normally, I would probably object to having such a pretty verse married to such a raucous chorus, but Ian lets the tune breathe; he’s not afraid to leave some space between the disjointed sections, including a return to the intro riff on celeste, ending the song as it began, a mini epic in under four minutes.

Adrift and Dumbfounded opens on what sounds like capoed acoustic guitar (probably Ian), organ and vocals before being joined by the rest of the band, and this tune has a bit of that classic 70s bombast and ballast feel. Lots of fun, and it sounds rather authentically 70s, even with the modern production tools. It’s a pretty cool tune, and ends almost too soon.

Old School Song takes us back to the late Sixties, flute and organ featuring front and center before the guitar joins in, dancing over a rather bouncy galloping bass line. The vocals in the verse are compressed and effected to sound like they’re coming through a radio speaker, which seems appropriate. The chorus is a bit muted, but warm with low vocal harmonies, before giving way to an instrumental section with plenty of virtuoso flute playing.

Wootton Bassett Town features strings and bells, which give way from time to time to electric guitar and flute, when Ian isn’t singing this downbeat number that wouldn’t sound out of place on a certain 80s Dire Straits album, if they had ever cared to employ a flautist, which hearing it here, occurs to me to have been an egregious oversight on Mark Knopfler’s part. Does anyone have Mark on speed dial? Back to the verse, it occurs to me that this is a rather more sincere effort than its namesake original album, which we all know—we DO all know this, right? Do I need a spoiler tag?—was a spoof of progressive rock albums. This song has some of that tongue in cheek quality to it as well, but I suspect that Ian wrote this album from the point of knowing that TAAB’s legacy rather mocks his original intent.

Power And Spirit opens with gorgeous piano, quickly joined by more acoustic guitar, vibes and flute, Ian singing in medieval mode, before electric guitar and rock organ shatter the romantic quietude, at least for a moment. This is a fun bit of neck-aching juxtaposition, and again, perhaps too short.

Give Till It Hurts is a folksy ballad with acoustic guitars and tambourine in a short ditty, attributed to Reverend Gerald Bostock performing on religious radio. Cute.

Cosy Corner opens with a BBC brass section and voiceover, telling Gerald’s day-in-the-story. This is an unusual piece, but charming as well, and it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Shunt And Shuffle brings us back to 60s-70s rock territory, a Native drum rhythm evoking a Cowboys and Indians vibe, but it’s a very intriguing combination of instruments, so I don’t find the theme as sonically offensive as I usually do when white people try suggesting Native North American music. It’s a cool number,and again, too bloody short, but that’s how it goes when you’re building a suite.

A Change of Horses is a plaintive, Celtic-sounding dirge, but extends itself into a proper epic song, powered mainly by an accordion, though it has a rather Pink Floyd bass line groove burbling underneath. Eventually we get Ian back on his flute, and I find myself thinking I could listen to the man’s playing for at least another hour. He denies me this, making room for a pretty hot and cool guitar solo, but then returns to spar with the guitar for a moment or two, evoking an almost Fiddler On the Roof (think ‘If I Were A Rich Man’) melody, before returning to those Celtic roots for the middle section. Then the drum machine starts up again, and the next verse begins, returning us to the accordion, an instrument you don’t hear in rock music much anymore; this tune is a pretty compelling counter argument. Then we get some more fantastic flute playing, this time setting up an instrumental outro section that goes double time into some hot guitar and a quick duel between flute, keys and guitar before grinding to a halt.

Confessional opens on clavinet, but makes room for Ian on acoustic and vocals, before it returns and Ian speaks for and sets up a rather 80s pop song, which again dives back to the 70s on organ, but next gives way to a calliope and acoustic passage, followed by a switch to a very progressive rock section, flute, guitar and drums propelling the rest of the tune into the next.

Kismet In Suburbia is an interesting number, with a droning tone in the background, an acoustic guitar setting up a galloping rhythm, building toward a pretty cool rock song in a similar vein to some of Tull’s 80s output. He manages to squeeze in some flute trills here and there, but it’s mainly a pretty steady rocker, only showing its vintage in the selection of organ tones. It breaks in a couple of places, but that just adds to the coolness, and then we find ourselves in a section where the flute, bass and guitar are dueling, soon joined by some great drumming, and then the piece is done.

What-ifs, Maybes And Might-have-beens returns on vibes and piano, Ian bringing back a bit of that medieval vibe, but this gives way to verse and then chorus of… here, let me stop the track for a second. This is the closing track, and Ian has clearly decided to use this as a proper finale, recapitulating a number of themes from the album, and including a brief quote of the classic TAAB flute melody, this time around on electric guitar. Each section starts and ends in a matter of seconds, flowing one from another so fast that that I don’t have time to complete one thought before the next begins. This wouldn’t have presented me with a problem back when I was unmedicated; I’d have just written it as a stream of conscience piece and be damned. There, I’ll start over. Passages pass again, and then we get to a great instrumental bridge that leads to Ian singing closer to his lower register, and it occurs to me that his voice has softened over the years, which I hadn’t really picked up on before. The finale returns us to that dueling theme that escorts in the original TAAB acoustic theme, and there we are, closing the piece as the old piece ended. Very nice. Perhaps a bit cheeky, but so was the original. I didn’t realize that riff gives me goosebumps. Weird. Does this mean I’m a Tull fan now?

SUMMARY
Well, I feel like I need to go back and listen tot he whole thing over again to make sure I got everything down. In fact, I’m quite sure I must have gotten a fair bit wrong there. A lot happens in this album. In no way do you get the feeling Ian is just rehashing old glories with no new material to add to the pot. It’s another stew of an album, and because it’s a CD, it doesn’t come in two parts, though it makes the modern concession of breaking the suite up into individual sections, thought he tracks mostly flow pretty seamlessly from one to the next. It’s all very well done, and gives me ideas for a suite I’m working on at present, but the important thing is, it sounds fresh, and yet gives just enough nods to the original, seminal album, that you don’t feel cheated for being told it’s a sequel of sorts.

So aside from thoughts of trying to turn my sister on to it, I would also like to dedicate this review to my friend Piet Van Hiel and to the author Elizabeth Bear, both of whom continually remind me about Tull with their occasional reference to this and that Tull track in their journals. This is your fault, dammit!

If and when someone opts to gift me with a copy, their name(s) will go here. Just saying, this paragraph could be all yours.

For those looking for my verdict, well, here it is. Go buy the album. It’s not for everyone, but it might just be a classic, and it’ll be easier to accept it now and learn to live with the oddity of the piece than to fight the inevitable. You won’t be able to hold your head up in public if you continue to go around pretending to have no knowledge of Jethro Tull. Prog, and even Mock-Prog, is back in style. Time to come out of the rain. Here’s your copy of Aqualung. Yes, there will be a test later.

© 2012 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

5 Responses to “Ian Anderson – Thick As A Brick 2: Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock? (2012) – an album review

  • Thank you for the review. Most of my Tull is on scratched and warped vinyl [original TAAB with the folded ‘newspaper’ sleeve]. I will get the album/download/record what ever you digital dudes call it based on your blow by blow account. I would suggest you start your Tullification by listening to the first three ‘blues’ albums. I enjoy them more than anything beyond Songs From the Woods. The leap from those early albums to the “Aqualung” rock sound was a great progression. I guess JT had to evolve beyond that sound to keep the Progressive Rock title, but I missed its drive.

    Question? You repeatedly say a song/theme is too short. Is it Too short to be on FM radio? Do you think any of the album will make it to today’s college students in the over the airwaves format?
    I guess I need to ask, is that the way the current generation is introduced to new music?
    In closing, there is damn little sex in Sexagenarian. Ah, to be think, as a brick once again.

    • There are a handful of numbers in the album that are the right length for FM/Satellite radio playing, and I count those amongst my favourites on the album. However, there are a number of themes that do interesting, fleet-footed things that sound like they could have been a full song in their own right, but come up at just a minute or two. They’re great sounding, and it’s a very, very busy album. You can’t get bored of it. But he throws in so many themes and riffs and such, you almost can’t afford to fall in love with any part of it until you’ve heard it altogether, so you know which themes cut chort and which ones extend and give you time to catch your breath.

      As for college radio, I’m a bit old myself (I’m 41). I listen to a lot of new music, but I have no idea what is actually popular with the college crowd today. I thought I was on top of things, but I’ve had to accept that I’ve fallen behind. If I’m listening to something the kids like this year, it’s news to me.

  • Thanks for the review, Lee! I will indeed be checking this out.

  • TAAB2 – Absolutely brilliant!

    Thanks for the review, Lee.

    I have the Special Edition CD (with DVD).

    If this album was released in the late 70s it would have easily debuted in the Top 10 on the Billboard Charts. What a great album.

    Love the http://www.StCleve.com website. Great, great marketing.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.

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