Jethro Tull: Thick As A Brick (1972)

As I've mentioned, after spending my early teen years in the late 70s/early 80s delving deep into the classic rock archives, I found myself looking for something a little more boundary-pushing.  This led me in two directions -- punk and "new wave" bands like the Clash and the Jam and the Talking Heads; and prog.  Starting with Gabriel-era Genesis and early King Crimson, I started casting my net wider, enjoying these bands who pushed the musical and lyrical envelope beyond more radio-friendly fare.

Tull were one of those bands I knew from their FM-dial hits, "Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath" and "Teacher" and the like.  I can't say I was a big fan; I found them ok in small doses, but between Ian Anderson's more caustic vocals and music that at times veered closer to hard rock than the more pastoral vibe of Genesis, I found them a little grating.  Still, when I saw this one at a used record store for a few bucks, I had to pick it up, if only because it came wrapped in this weird little fictitious newspaper and, with a single song split over two sides of the vinyl, it seemed pretty adventurous.

And it was actually kinda cool.  There were parts I actually liked quite a bit, and still like today (albeit in a guilty pleasure sort of way).  The first third in particular introduces some infectious musical themes, and is outright tuneful in fits and starts.  At the same time, I had no clue what they were prattling on about, and the absence of actual "songs" made it feel interminable in spots, caving in to the worst excesses of the genre (see, e.g., Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans).  Still, it was something I'd take out for a spin now and again, and I have periodically returned to it over the years (though rarely make it all the way through). Edited down to a more manageable single as captured on various compilations, the title track is probably my favorite Tull song.

I think the reason the album still holds a fond place in my heart, notwithstanding its excesses and dissimilarities with most of what I enjoy, is that I so closely associate it with the vinyl rituals of my high school years -- carving out a dedicated 40-minute block of time to listen to something from beginning to end, sitting back on my bed, soaking up the music and the liner notes and album packaging (I can't say I really followed the bizarre newspaper included with the LP or the fictitious universe they created, but the mere idea of it was intriguing).  In this digital era, I've left vinyl behind (sorry, I don't buy this "it sounds warmer" BS, and I don't have the time for the whole ritual); but it was a big part of my life for many years, and I do miss the tactile, fully immersive aspect of adventurous albums and their accoutrements, which Thick had in spades.

I ended up picking up one more Tull LP -- the similarly dense but less entertaining Passion Play -- which, alongside my initial ventures into the ELP catalog, pretty much ended my high school flirtation with prog and sent me running full time into the open arms of post-punk college radio.

Anyway, if you're up for it, here's a live performance of the album's first few sections: