AN ALBUM WITH CONTROVERSY
Honestly, I have had countless attempts to write a review about this concept album. Not because of the controversy between two poles that “hate it” or “love it” but due to the incapability to express my views that is fairly objective and comprehensive about this complex and serious album. As far as controversy issue, I have been on the latter pole, ie in the category of those who love the album. Big apology if this review of being too subjective, probably. What I can assure you is that whatever my view here is not exaggerating. But if you think so, I don’t blame you – it’s probably I appreciate prog musicians too much because I’m not a musician, but music is my soul. Music is emotion. I sleep with music, breathe with music, work with music .
Ian Anderson’s Perspective
“With Thick As A Brick, we took the idea of the concept album and had some fun with it. Now we thought it was time to do something a bit more serious and make an album that wasn’t a spoof and wasn’t meant to be fun. We ended up going to record the album at Chateau D’Herouville, in France, where people like Elton John and Cat Stevens had made records. Our original plan was not to make another concept album. The project started off as a collection of songs, including two that ended up going onto our next album, War Child: ‘Bungle in the Jungle’ and ‘Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day).’ A certain theme had begun to emerge among the songs – how the animal life is mirrored in the dog-eat-dog world of human society – but the project just wasn’t working out. So we abandoned what we’d done and went back to England.”
“Back home, I ended up almost completely rewriting all of the material we’d worked on in France, and this became A Passion Play. The concept grew out of wondering about the possible choices one might face after death. It was a dark album, just as we had intended, but it was missing some of the fun and variety that was in Thick As A Brick. The critics savaged us. Chris Welch of Melody Maker and Bob Hilburn at the Los Angeles Times wrote really negative reviews that everybody jumped on and reprinted or based their own reviews on. It really snowballed from there, and we got a fair old pasting for that one. On reflection, the album is a bit one-dimensional. It’s certainly not one of my favorites, although it has become something of a cult album with some fans.”
Ian Anderson, Guitar World, September 1999
Well, the above quote speaks clearly enough so that I don’t need to repeat. Chris Welch is a great reviewer and I learn a lot from his critics about rock music.
“A Passion Play part 1” – The album starts off with a relatively complex and less-melodic music (which would grow to a melodic one with many spins) combining multi instruments including woodwind and flute. This part is where most people would most likely reject listening to the remaining part; nothing so attractive about it. It once happened to me when I first listened to it for the first three to five spin. At approx min [3:26] Ian voice enters wonderfully with powerful accentuation : “Do you still see me even here? (The silver cord lies on the ground.)” augmented with great piano work. Acoustic guitar inserts into the music during this first verse lyrical part that ends with: “There was a rush along the Fulham Road into the Ever-passion Play.” And the music turns quiet.
Hammond organ solo continues the music and with the fading in of drum work the music turns into complex and fast tempo music with soprano sax as lead melody; and suddenly it breaks into silent passage where Ian continues with the second verse of lyrical part. The music then turns complex again in uplifting mood combined with low points with acoustic guitar work and with the drum brings the music into foxtrot, followed with third lyrical verse: “All along the icy wastes there are faces smiling in the gloom.” Oh man . I like this part. It’s a truly musical orgasm for me whenever I enjoy this part! Especially when Ian continues singing “Invest your life in the memory bank.. ” what a memorable part!
At approx min [11:43] Ian Anderson plays his flute brilliantly and dynamically followed with fast tempo music with great drumming. The music is complex, overall. And the fourth lyrical verse continues with : “Take the prize for instant pleasure, ..” with still complex arrangement. The music increases with energy when Ian sings “All of your best friends’ telephones .” and I really like this part. Piano and guitar play together with sax, Hammond and drums. The music then stops for a while and moves up again with piano as main rhythm section and guitar work followed with lyrical part that begins with: “Lover of the black and white it’s your first night.” In relatively fast tempo and high energy music. It slows down beautifully when it reaches unique vocal line: “The examining body examined her body.”. What a great break! The other great break is when Ian sings with acoustic guitar rhythm as background while other instruments stop playing for a while: “All of this and some of that’s the only way to skin the cat.” And the music returns back into high energy.
Another great treat for me is when the first play ends up with The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacleswhere Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond does wonderful narration starting at approx min. [21:34]. What a wonderful narration and accompanied with a Tom and Jerry type of music.
“A Passion Play – Part 2” starts with the ending of The Story of The Hare with a floating music continued with wonderful entrance of Ian’s voice that starts suddenly with “We sleep by the ever-bright hole in the door ..” lyrical part, accompanied with stunning acoustic guitar rhythm. The musical composition is different than the first part but the main style is still maintained, i.e. the use of alto sax, organ and guitar as main solo that are played in intertwining style. At approx min [31:55] the music moves up differently with a combination of organ and drum work. Keyboard and piano work also characterize the music. Part 2 music is overall much more complex that Part 1.
At approx minute [40:22] the music turns differently with the entrance of guitar combined with organ and flute works followed with a lyrical verse that starts with: “Hail! Son of kings .”. I thought that this ending part is a sort of disjointed portion of the whole epic because the style is totally different. But as I spin the CD more and more it feels to me that this can be considered as the epic’s encore. Fortunately, the ending part of this last portion brings back the music into melody line similar to Part 1 with this lyrical part: “There was a rush along the Fulham Road into the Ever-passion Play.” And it fades out .. Hmmm . what a peaceful feeling I got when the epic finishes. It’s a rewarding experience!
Big apology for the long review but overall I can not put this album less than five stars rating. It’s truly a masterpiece. I consider that this album is even better than the previous ground breaking “Thick As A Brick”. For me personally, A Passion Play is the best of all Jethro Tull’s albums. If you can not accept this album, please give it a chance for another 5, 10 or even 15 spins. I hope it’ll grow. Otherwise, keep on proggin’ ..!