It’s not often sequels are attempted in rock music, and it’s even less often that they are worthy successors to their classic originals – but Ian Anderson’s belated follow-up to Jethro Tull’s classic Thick as a Brick (cunningly titled Thick as a Brick 2, or TAAB2 for the perennial texters amongst us) is a delightful exception on both counts. Of course, although it’s a direct sequel, it follows a very different path to the first. As a quick refresher for those who don’t know these things by heart, the original album is a single track (divided into two parts, a hangover from the days when vinyl was king), based on the epic poem of the same name as written by the (fictional) 8-year old Gerald ‘Little Milton’ Bostock. The sequel’s lyrics do not derive from an imagined later work by Bostock, but are instead comprised of musings on various paths Bostock’s life may have taken (‘What-if’’s, maybes and might-have-beens’) in the forty intervening years (we’re told he is now 50, so there has been a bit of fudging of his precise age along the way –– somehow I’m slightly bothered by this, even though he isn’t real – may need to get my head examined if further distress should ensue from this trivial matter…).
As the original album had not been performed in full since the accompanying 1972 tour, and said tour had become the stuff of moderate legend, the announcement that it would be given the special anniversary treatment was greeted with enthusiasm by many, even if they were confused as to why Anderson would be performing it as a solo artist. Cynics would say that the decision not to tour under the Tull name is a cheap ploy aimed squarely at getting Mr Anderson a larger cut of the proceeds – well, that’s as maybe, but by distancing it from the band it has also allowed him to present it in a different manner to what might have otherwise been expected – particularly the addition of Ryan O’Donnell on ‘theatrics’ as well as handling a fair-sized chunk of the vocals, would have seemed out of keeping within the context of a Jethro Tull performance . It’s no secret that Anderson’s voice is not what it once was (neither’s mine though, and I’m only half his age, so what can you do?) but it was astonishing to hear O’Donnell sing parts of the first TAAB and sound uncannily like Anderson in his younger days. As the new album is all sung in Anderson’s ‘new’ voice, the shared vocals didn’t seem quite as necessary for the second half of the show, but it did provide consistency and it has to be said that the dishing out of lines to O’Donnell was clearly thoroughly thought through (try typing that ten times quickly while drunk…). It’s not as if Anderson was coasting either, he still sang plenty himself, and ably juggled guitar and flute right throughout both sets. Indeed, while O’Donnell and the other supporting musicians (particularly keyboardist John O'Hara) were exemplary, Anderson was still the undisputed star of the show throughout (not least during his on-screen appearances as Bostock’s psychiatrist or St. Cleves resident ‘Tufty’, inviting us to ‘an evening of progressive rock music…mustn’t call it ‘pop’!’ which opened the first and second halves of the show, respectively).
While I knew Thick as a Brick from radio, live performances and the 3 minutes that appears on The Very Best of Jethro Tull I only acquired the full album a few weeks before the release of the sequel, so unlike many, I’m sure, I was by and large equally familiar with both albums. When the tickets were released many months ago we were promised other ‘Jethro Tull classics’ and there was no mention of the sequel – however there didn’t seem to be anybody in the audience who was too bothered about the change of plans (though there’s bound to be the odd chancer threatening to take the promoter to trading standards); indeed the applause during the second half of the show was positive proof to the contrary, this wasn’t a crowd sat impatiently suffering through new material while awaiting ‘the hits’.
If you happen to be anywhere near the subsequent dates of the tour then you should definitely get yourselves a ticket; either way the album (both of them, in fact) come highly recommended. Sadly the packaging of the sequel is a bit of a disappointment compared to the intricate original (which it apes) - even the CD reissue, which is significantly cut-down from the original LP, boasts far more detail within its sleeve – including the lyrics. Albums being released without printed lyrics in this day and age is a particular bugbear of mine – if you’re generally a digital listener you might as well go straight for the (legal!) download, really. Packaging quibbles aside, this is a superb effort and essential listening for all Anderson, Tull and prog fans and seeing it performed live, in full, is the icing on apretty massive cake. (9/10 for both albums AND gig)