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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
21 July 1973
JETHRO: NOTHING TO GET PASSIONATE ABOUT
The general concensus of opinion regarding Jethro Tull is that either Stand Up or Aqualung have been the band's best work to date. True, Thick As A Brick outsold all previous Tull albums, and doubtless Passion Play will do the same, but isn't that on name alone?
Both Aqualung and especially Stand Up contained some excellent songs. They were played well and also showed Ian Anderson to be a fine writer. Thick As A Brick followed and the band, other than Anderson, had completely changed from their original line-up. And so had the concept of their music. 'Brick' however was well received. It was one extended piece and when news arrived that the follow-up was going to be the same I got a bit wary. Could they pull off the same trick twice?
Those who wrote about Passion Play — me included — when Tull performed it at Wembley several weeks ago put the piece down with a rare unanimity. It's not often that nearly every rock writer agrees, but with Tull's Passion Play it happened. The record itself does little to alleviate my original opinions about the piece, and that's after repeated playings. Because believe me, I'd like to come out and say this is a good album.
Sure, it's not badly played, because this is Jethro Tull — one of the world's biggest rock bands. But I think I know what the reaction would have been if some non-descript bozos from nowhere released this. It wouldn't sell.
Fortunately Tull are in the position where whatever they turn out will sell. Like Thick As A Brick before it Passion Play is a concept album. Just what the concept is I'm not quite sure. It's about a play, the theatre, but other than that I'm left in the dark.
Really the idea is a bit like Thick As A Brick revisited, in that with Brick the cover was a satirical look at local newspapers and Passion Play does the same with the theatre.
In a spoof programme included with the album Tull are heavily disguised as five actors and under each picture is an equally spoof biography. Amusing, but like some of Tull's stage act, we've seen it done before-granted with a different theme. The music itself is split into two parts, with an irritating piece — it's not really a song — 'The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles' written by Hammond-Hammond, Evan and Anderson filling the gap. The music has about as much to do with rock as the title suggests and the story is narrated by John Evan in an exaggerated Northern accent.
Passion Play proper features Anderson playing soprano and sopranino sax as well as flute and acoustic guitars. His singing is harsher than ever, sometimes sounding like an old man rather than a youthful rock singer.
The music begins with a heart-beat, with flute in the background, before bursting into a staccato riff pumped out on organ and flute. This goes on for a while. Anderson does a little whistle, and he sings the first two lines unaccompanied before acoustic guitar and piano comes in.
His singing alternates with breaks of some very fast playing by the band. The music is never really allowed to develop before another theme chews the previous one up. Sadly Anderson's flute breaks sound like all his others. Martin Barre rarely gets a look in, only coming to the fore when the piece develops — at last — into a not especially inventive heavy riff. The second half is softer and, like the first, dominated by Evan and Anderson's instrumental work.
Lyrically Passion Play baffles me. There are a few oblique references to God and the Devil and every now and then Anderson throws in a cliche like "barking up the wrong tree" or "hopping mad".
Personally I've considered Jethro Tull to be on the slide since Stand Up right through to Thick As A Brick, though even then they played good music. If that was the slide Passion Play represents the fall. A shame because Ian Anderson is capable of so much better than this.