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Ian Anderson - Thick As A Brick 2 [Aka: TAAB2] CD (album) cover


Ian Anderson


Prog Folk

3.74 | 398 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars By any reasonable standard, making a sequel to Thick as a Brick 40 years later was a bad idea, and it's such a blatantly bad idea that I initially assumed the announcement of its impending release was some weird kind of hoax. Right or wrong, it's impossible to pull this album from the towering shadow of its predecessor, even if that was a Jethro Tull album and this one is Ian Anderson solo (there's no Martin Barre here); is there anybody who would purchase this album who wouldn't already know Thick as a Brick basically inside and out? If this album strongly hearkened back to the original, then it would be far too easy to criticize Ian for milking the ideas and themes of the original as a substitute for creating anything new; if the album didn't strongly hearken back to the original, then it would be easy to criticize Ian for using the name and reputation of the original as a cheap way to get people to listen to his new solo album. Furthermore, if the quality of the album was too far below the quality of the original (there was no way this could even be 80% of the original; the key was to keep it from being 50% or worse), there was the chance that this might spoil people's attitudes towards the original like the Star Wars prequels spoiled the original trilogy for lots of people.

On the plus side, Ian had to know all of this himself, and this is probably the reason this album didn't happen sooner (people had been pestering him for years, but it wasn't until a conversation with Derek Shulman, formerly of Gentle Giant fame, that he was persuaded to give it a go). On this album, Ian does his very best to walk the tightrope inherent in the project, and quite honestly the final product is about as good as it was probably going to get. Within the flawed framework, there is a reasonable amount of *wink*/*nod* references to the original; enough to justify the connection to the original, but not so many that they become too obnoxious. Surrounding these references are a good mix of (a) nods to the kind of general approach Ian took to writing music in the 70s (for better or worse) and (b) the kind of music Ian would have been writing anyway in 2012 if he wasn't doing this project. There are some ridiculous cheese moments that come from the nods to the past (like the ending nod to the original that ends with, "And your wise men don't know how it feels to be thick as a brick ... 2"), but there are nice ones as well, like the opening sounds that hearken back to the side 1 end/side 2 beginning from the predecessor, or the menacing alteration of a familiar theme at the beginning of "Old School Song." Plus, it's really nice at a gut level to hear Ian writing songs around the same kinds of instrumentation that he would have used way back when.

The concept of the album centers around Gerald Bostock, concerning 5 possible paths his life could have taken and imagining the consequences, before going off into various philosophical tie-ins about these possible lives. The different lives each span multiple tracks, but the multiple tracks in each life are best listened to in groups (this is how I ripped them for iPod listening). From the introductory tracks that set the scene (a pleasant nostalgic jaunt that moves into enjoyable instrumental passages before resolving in a slightly silly spoken passage), we see these paths in the groups "Gerald the Banker," "Gerald Goes Homeless," "Gerald the Military Man," "Gerald the Chorister" and "Gerald: A Most Ordinary Man." If I had to target one of these as having the best music, it would probably be "Gerald the Banker," as the "Banker Bets, Banker Wins" track has some great angry stretches. Unfortunately, a lot of the lyrics in this section are a little eye-rolling; these might sound better 40 years down the road, but I'm not really counting on it. If lyrics and music are considered together, I'd pick the "Gerald the Military Man" group, consisting of "Old School Song" (which, as mentioned, is in the same style of march as the most famous one on TAAB, and would probably have been a highly regarded outtake had it been recorded then) and "Wootton Bassett," which basically sounds exactly like older Tull with slightly updated keyboard patches (with a melodic reprise of "Banker Bets"). The other groups all have their good and bad sides, but they're enjoyable in aggregate.

The album kinda loses steam for me in the last twenty minutes, though, once we're done speculating on Gerald's life paths. There's nothing especially wrong with "A Change of Horses" (other than being a mildly pleasant excursion into latter-day flute/guitar dialogues that should not last 8 minutes) or the "Confessional"/"Kismet in Suburbia" combo or the closing "What-ifs, Maybes and Might-Have-Beens," and I'd be willing to listen to them individually again from time to time, but when put in a row they make me feel a little sleepy and distracted. Ian makes a good stab at tying everything back together and recovering the momentum in the last track, but by then it's a little too late.

In the end, while I wouldn't recommend this album to anybody who doesn't already love Thick as a Brick, this gets a more hearty recommendation to Thick as a Brick lovers than I originally feared I could give. I'd be perfectly happy if it didn't exist, and I'll continue to seek out the original about ten times as often as I'll seek out this one, but it could be a lot worse.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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