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21 July 1973
Jethro Tull: A Passion Play
TULL: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH
It gives me no pleasure to report upon this recording. In fact I cannot recall an album by a British rock band that has given me more pain to endure.
The real disappointment is that it marks, seemingly, the end of an era. After studying this album at great length, stewing my eyes out over the lyrics, reprinted on the inner sleeve, bending an ear to each nuance of the music, I am left with the feeling of never wanting to hear another British rock group album again. I don't want to hear arrangements, Moog synthesisers, electric guitars, or bloody clever lyrics for as long as the polar caps are frozen: if this is where ten years of 'progression' have taken us then it's time to go backwards.
Jethro Tull I have always enjoyed — with reservations. I liked Ian Anderson's restless attempts to try something new, to aim for perfection. I liked their humour, never exactly side-splitting, but dry and droll. Ian impressed me as a sincere and talented musician, as adept at playing the flute as he was at organising musicians to interpret his ideas. But gradually the basic truths of rock have been exorcised to the point where theirs becomes another kind of music; a desperate tortuous danse macabre where the listeners search for Tull's intentions, lost in a fog of bleating petulance and carefully maintained obscurity.
I must admit chagrin at not finding the lengthy lyrics easy to interpret. Half a dozen readings gave me as many possible conclusions to be drawn. Perhaps they represent Ian Anderson's compassion for the human spirit buffeted by life's whims and fancies, jests and cruelties. If that's the case, then sobbing into a microphone won't help. And as the music is contrived to support the lyrics every beat of the way, the result is an endless, shifting conveyor-belt of chords; a unison beating of keyboards, guitars and drums, wholly lacking in melodic or rhythmic interest, and bereft of tonal quality.
Part of the play is held up by an interlude entitled 'The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles', which sounds like Vic Feather reading Danny Kaye, and is the basis of the film shown at live concert versions of the play. There is no outstanding solo work by any of the musicians. Although Ian occasionally plays some soprano saxophone the bulk of the work is shared between John Evan's strangely foursquare keyboard style, Barriemore Barlow's flat sounding drums and the bass guitar.
What is most depressing about Passion Play is the vast amount of work that has gone into its production. Aimed, I would think, at the American market, where size alone still seems to make some impression (and here I might be doing our American friends a grave injustice). It must have taken hours, months to conceive, write, rehearse and perform. Few bands could cope with the intricacies of the arrangement, but then few bands would want to.
I repeat, it gives me no pleasure to fulfil the role of the 'panel of judges' that Ian finds so distasteful. But all I can say is that music is a sacred trust, and for good or ill, that trust rests in the hands of musicians who today have greater technical and financial resources than ever before in the history of composing and performing. That musicians should want to utilise those resources is commendable and understandable. But please don't get lost in delusion and drama. Music must touch the soul. A Passion Play rattles with emptiness.