A Passion Play
Chrysalis CHR 1040
Released: August 1973
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 32
Certified Gold: 7/27/73
Fueled by the success of Thick as a Brick, Jethro Tull decided to have another go at making an album that featured one extended piece running the length of the album, rather than traditional rock songs.
To capitalize on the band's popularity, Chrysalis released Living in the Past, a compilation of Tull's early works, in late 1972. The title track became its first hit single, climbing to number 11, while the album reached number three.
A Passion Play, however, was the true follow-up to Thick as a Brick. Tull leader Ian Anderson says the album was a response to the success of Thick as a Brick. Yet the group was unable to recapture the magic that made Thick as a Brick a surprise hit.
"When we came to A Passion Play, we probably fell into the trap and made that slight error in judgment of coming up with something that took itself much too seriously," he says. "The follow-up concept album probably lacked the little element of humor and self-parody which was apparent on Thick as a Brick."
According to Anderson, the album was troubled from the start. The initial sessions, held at Chateau D'Herouville in France, located on the outskirts of Paris, were aborted after six weeks due to health and technical problems. "Unfortunately I don't think a week went by without somebody in the band being really seriously ill with some sort of gastrointestinal problem," he says. "The food and catering was not what we were used to."
The album, which lyrically offers a vague attack on religion coupled with the fairy-tale-like "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles," featured an elaborate musical soundtrack, with the Tull members once again taking on a number of different instruments, ranging from soprano saxophone to glockenspiel and marimba. Yet while Thick as a Brick won praise from some critics, A Passion Play was almost universally panned as excessive nonsense. "That certainly did the album a lot of harm," Anderson says, noting that while the album climbed to Number One in a mere five weeks, it quickly plummeted back down the charts.
"A Passion Play was a product of a move that was afoot to try to extend pop and rock music, if not to the limits, to push it into the area where it went as far as it could in terms of composition and musical complexity," Anderson says. Yet he admits that Jethro Tull "pushed things a little bit past the point where they weren't as accessible as they ought to have been." Nonetheless, Anderson says many of the Tull faithful hail A Passion Play as the band's finest album, even if it's a view that he doesn't personally share.
- Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Albums, 1996.
Apparently there is a stage play called "A Passion Play" being presented in England at the Linwell Theatre with a real author and a cast and program booklets and everything. I say "apparently" because, after listening to the music composed for the so-called play by Jethro Tull, I suspect the whole bloody thing might be a hoax. But then there is the possibility (shudder) that it may be real. And maybe Tull's words and music make sense in the context of the play, but on record they're so shapeless and sprawling that it's hard to tell if they're any good or not. The lyrics are written in the kind of affected stream-of-consciousness style that one associates with student poets and the "beat" writers of two decades past. My guess is that Tull did the words first and then tried to impose music on them.
I find Tull's much in general (and A Passion Play in particular) to be clever and sometimes interesting, but too often overlaid with artsy-craftsy jive. And the last thing my dear old grandmother said to me as she lay on her deathbed was, "At all costs, avoid jive." Right on, ma'am.
- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 11/73.
One of this summer's more widespread pastimes for record buyers will undoubtedly be to try deciphering what the Tull passion play is all about. The LP gives every sign of becoming the most mysteriously worded gold album since Sgt. Pepper. Format of the album is a single disk with no separate cuts. But basically the sound is little changed from Thick As A Brick and the songs can be easily lifted from the clever instrumental connecting sections. There's also a spoken fairy tale with musical fills that works a lot better than the usual such efforts. Double-fold jacket features more mystery: a dead ballerina and a fold-in program showing the group as the cast of a provincial British theater.
- Billboard, 1973.
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