Saturday, January 29, 2022

Thick as a Brick - 1972

(Click Here to Read the St. Cleve Chronicle)
In 1971, Jethro Tull had its biggest hit worldwide with the LP Aqualung that critics described as a concept album about religion, which Ian Anderson adamantly denied, indeed despised. Anderson decided to express his feelings about concept albums and prog-rock via parody, recording an album-length "song" called "Thick As A Brick," highlighting poetic passages that (as part of the album's concept) are put forth as the work of a precocious schoolboy who won a contest. Thick As A Brick has been slammed by haters as an example of the genre at its most excessive, while embraced by enthusiasts for the same reason. Few get the joke.

The LP opens with a familiar three-minute passage that's less lumbering art-rock than folk-pop ditty. From there, the heaviness bullies its way in, yet it remains a single coherent song, not a suite or a medley. Though Anderson's word salad isn't meant to tell a story, the lyrics do cohere around a single theme, about how one shouldn't be quick to put his faith in pulp heroes or "wise men." It is, in many ways, a coming of age story. Whether campy parody or excessive self-aggrandizement, the music remains spry and fresh and retrospectively one of the most iconic pieces of the era.

The LP cover appears as a weekly, chatty small town newspaper carrying little world or national news.  There are plenty of Briticisms not readily understood by American readers, and written in a manner similar to Monty Python, with irreverent references to penguins, stuffed or otherwise, and a "non-rabbit" occur often, and the crossword puzzle is wonderful. So is the connect-the-dots drawing called "Children's Corner."  Here it is before filling it out:

The St. Cleve Chronicle (dated Friday, January 7, 1972) features an article on prize winning adolescent poet Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock, his prize-winning poem and the scandal surrounding his disqualification on grounds that the boy is "seriously unbalanced" and the poem is "a product of an 'extremely unwholesome attitude towards life, his God, and country.'"  Accompanying the front-page story is a photo in which Little Milton's 14-year-old girlfriend (Julia Fealey) can be seen in the background slightly lifting her shirt as she stares alluringly into the camera, her legs apart just enough to reveal her underpants. 

Ahh, That's Why
Fluffy is Smiling
The St. Cleve Chronicle is densely packed with references that bear upon the lyrics to Thick as a Brick.  Perhaps the most important to the basic theme of the "poem" is a small story on page 5 under the headline "Visiting Prof. Gives Talk." Here we learn that a certain Andrew Jorgensen tells his listeners that "man must learn to function as an independent observer of mass-behavior and develop the right of each individual to intellectual freedom on the particular level of which he is personally capable."  The story goes on: "Unfortunately the lecture was terminated by flying bottles which hit Mr. Jorgensen below the left eye."   

Considering the trouble and care lavished on this bogus community newspaper, it is curious that Anderson claimed that the album is not really a concept.  Anderson's point seems to be that the lyrics provide a series of glimpses into the life of the average middle-class Englishman, dealing in turn with birth, youth (including sexual awakening), school, military service, and organized religion.  Nonetheless, the song hangs together around a central theme, and indeed the elaborate sleeve design plays a crucial role in the way one understands the record.  During an era in which album packaging seemed in many cases to have been as creative as the music inside (or at least as interesting), Tull set a new standard with Thick as a Brick.