Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Jethro Tull's Passion Play
Pushing sixty, I've felt the need lately to revisit important things of my own past, out of nostalgia but more importantly to complete a circle, so to speak.

When I was sixteen (1973), I saw Jethro Tull in concert here in St. Louis at the old Kiel Auditorium. My parents were so protective, to be able to drive an hour over to St. Louis to see a concert wasn't going to happen, but in this case, my best buddy's parents drove us and our dates to see the show. I'm grateful to them! The concert was part of Tull's A Passion Play tour, a few weeks prior to that album's release. I write about that concert here.

Visiting a favorite music store this week, Euclid Records in Webster Groves, MO, I noticed a CD set, "A Passion Play: An Extended Performance" for sale. I purchased it and have been enjoying it. The set, released in July 2014, is in part a remix of the original Passion Play album.

I haven't listened to this album in years. Unlike Thick as a Brick, the LP of which I also purchased when it was released, I never bought its CD. That's not to say I didn't like it; it was one of my favorite albums in the 70s. But even at the time I thought it was more episodic than Thick as a Brick and lacked Brick's antic, satiric charm. The Play's lyrics, about a neither-good-nor-bad man's journey through the afterlife, are poetic and famously difficult.

On this set, the sound of the music is wonderful, especially compared to the comparatively dry sound of the LP that I'd heard so many times. The remix is so vivid, I appreciate the music itself even more and no longer think it's episodic. Ian Anderson wanted the soprano sax removed, but instead it has been made less prominent, especially in the opening section. About a minute of music in "The Foot of Our Stairs" (on the former Side 2) has been restored to its proper place after being cut, for reasons Anderson couldn't remember. Those lyrics, though as poetically ambiguous as the rest, are a good addition to the overall album.

(The brain is a remarkable thing. Though I hadn't listened to the album for years, I could immediately sing along with it in the car, and when I came to those restored eight lines from "Foot of the Stairs," I knew I'd never sung this before.)

The set also includes several songs that Tull recorded in 1972 but never released, except for two songs---"Only Solitaire" and "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day"---that appeared on 1974's War Child. That album's hit "Bungle in the Jungle" can be traced to these songs as well. It is fascinating to hear songs intended for the never-released LP (intended as a double-album follow-up to Thick as a Brick) and how they were reworked for both Passion Play and War Child. The songs that eventually became Passion Play, like "Critique Oblique," "rock" a little harder than the later versions. It's interesting to speculate, whether Tull might have carried out their original intention and followed the epic Thick as a Brick with an album of really exceptional songs rather than another epic, similar to the way The Who followed Tommy with Who's Next

I remember that the 1973 concert began with an opening film of a dead ballerina (the one who stares at us from the cover of Passion Play) as she rises to new life---the album's theme. In the concert, there was also a film of the story "The Hare That Lost His Spectacles." This set provides both of those films on DVD, as well as a print interview with the dancer herself and her experience working with the band.

We also have recollections from all the band (except for John Evan, which is a shame), an article about the abandoned album and its distressing circumstances, an article about the remix of both albums, plus photos from the '73 tour and a schedule of that tour. Anyone who saw Tull that year will revel in the memories. If you love Passion Play, you'll likely find your enjoyment of album (complex and dense though it is) enhanced by this excellent set.

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