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Jethro Tull - A Passion Play: An Extended Perfomance CD (album) cover

A PASSION PLAY: AN EXTENDED PERFOMANCE

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

4.90 | 52 ratings

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Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Depending on your mood at any given moment, Jethro Tull's lofty 1973 LP represents either a) the nadir of self-indulgent Prog Rock pretension, or b) an underappreciated masterpiece. It's of course entirely possible the album was both, simultaneously: a flawed epic of high-minded musical imagination that aimed too high and overshot its target. You may love it or hate it, but either way the year 2014 "Extended Performance" draws a welcome silver lining around a cloudy historical legacy, adding so much invaluable hindsight and clarity that it has to be rated as an essential five-star experience.

The original 1973 album shouldn't require any introduction here. Suffice to say it arrived at the moment when Progressive Rock had reached its apex of grandiose ambition, followed within months by "Tales from Topographic Oceans" and ELP's "Brain Salad Surgery" (and, only a year later, by the Genesis "Lamb Lies Down" saga). Some sort of shared contagion must have been in the air at the time: check out Martin Barre's unmistakably Steve Howe-inspired guitar licks in the "Magus Perdé" curtain call of the Play.

The album was a lot to swallow in a single sitting, not least because of the pompous concept behind it: a meditation of Life (and the Afterlife) as theater, complete with gatefold proscenium cover layout and mock-program insert. The earlier "Thick as a Brick", likewise presenting an unbroken 40-minute suite, was designed in part as a concept album parody; this one demanded to be heard seriously, despite the oddball comic intermission about a Hare Who Lost His Spectacles.

Another divisive issue may have been Ian Anderson's over-reliance on synths and saxophone, instead of the more traditional guitar and flute. The results were predictably vilified in the pages of an increasingly conservative music press, expressing a (stupid) sense of betrayal by a group that had strayed too far from its Blues Rock roots.

But the passage of time has been generous to the album, and this lavish package makes it easier now to recognize the classic in the clutter. Besides a sympathetic stereo remix of the original LP by (who else?) Steven Wilson, you'll find copious essays, photos, and production notes in an 80-page (!) digibook, plus the inevitable surround-sound DVD, plus video clips of "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles" (crude, but amusing), plus an indispensable second CD with the aborted 1972 Château d'Hérouville sessions, unabridged and undoctored but again remixed by Wilson.

You may already be familiar with some the so-called Château d'Isaster tapes, previously featured (with belated Ian Anderson overdubs) on the late '90s "Nightcap" compilation. But hearing the full set in tandem with its final "Passion Play" realization adds essential perspective to a difficult and misunderstood chapter in Tull history, which would extend to the 1974 "War Child" album: another beneficiary of the scrapped Château sessions.

Hindsight is 20-20, of course, even to hares without their spectacles. But the bottom line to this overlong appraisal is simple: "A Passion Play" has never sounded better, and with all the bonus material has never made as much sense.

Neu!mann | 5/5 |

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