I have always considered A Passion Play to be the yin to the yang of Thick As A Brick.Musically I tend to prefer Thick As A Brick.It was more tongue in cheek as Ian Anderson was in a relaxed and whimsical mood. As such, he managed to produce a lot of excellent progressive rock within the one 43 minute song. A Passion Play builds on the concept and the style but finds Anderson in a more serious mood. It is more progressive rock, but at times falls victim to excess. Sort of like Monty Python meets cirque du soleil.
Jethro Tull’s lineup stayed intact but added a few more instruments which were central to the sound. Ian Anderson plays a lot of saxophone in addition to his usual flute. Keyboardist John Evan added synthesizers to the Tull sound for the first time which gave the music a new flexibility. Guitarist Martin Barre, drummer Barriemore Barlow, and bass player Jeffrey Hammond all shine in places.
The album is again built around one extended piece but this time around it is divided into 16 sections. The original vinyl release had the tracks run together so it was basically an album to be listened too as a whole. Some CDs have banded the sections which allow the listener to pick and choose and is one of the rare instances I prefer the CD.
A main complaint is the talking parts which connect some of the sections. If they were meant as comedic relief they fall flat and for the most part are pointless.
On the other hand there is a lot of superb early seventies progressive rock contained among the albums 48 minutes of music. Jethro Tull brought their non-traditional sound to this developing music style which enhanced and expanded it and A Passion Play is an excellent example of this technique.
It also has a melodic nature and is certainly not predictable which is positive in this case. I’m not sure I completely understand all the lyrics but this was normal for this period of Ian Anderson’s career.
In the final analysis A Passion Play has a number of highs and lows and evokes strong emotion. It is not an album which graces my stereo system very often but every once in awhile when I am really in the mood it is worth a listen.
Article first published as on Blogcritics.org