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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Jethro Tull: A Passion Play: An Extended Performance (Chrysalis)

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Among the score or more of wildly creative rock bands to emerge from Britain in the late ‘60s, Jethro Tull was among the most diverse in direction. Early albums included blues and proto-heavy metal, jazz, British folk and the brain-searing distortions of psychedelia. And then, in the early ‘70s, Tull began to Think Big with sprawling concept albums.

The lavish four-disc reissue of A Passion Play (1973) includes an extensive 80-page book with comments from band members. Even composer-front man Ian Anderson is willing to concede that some of his opus on the afterlife fell a bit short. I sort of knew that at age 14, when I purchased the original gatefold LP and poured over its contents as if it was a canonical text: even then, I felt that the parts didn’t entirely hold together.

And yet, all is not lost with A Passion Play. Some sections still sound like a good example of progressive rock, some of the lyrics are clever and meaningful—but then, there are segments that sag or refuse to flow. The second disc is comprised of previously unreleased material from the first stab at conceiving A Passion Play and includes some interesting tracks, including an early attempt at one of Tull’s best songs, “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day.” The Dolby digital remixes on discs three and four are of interest only to ardent audiophiles.

A Passion Play’s place in the chronicle of Jethro Tull? Let’s just say that most fans were relieved when Anderson returned to writing succinct songs on Tull’s next album, War Child (1974).