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The Music of Thick as a Brick: Other Features

This chapter continues the study of Thick as a Brick’s music, focusing on its stylistic diversity, instrumental passages, instrumentation, and harmony. As with many large-scale progressive rock songs, Thick as a Brick is a stylistically diverse and restless piece of music, with unrelenting shifts in musical style, meter, key area, tempo, texture, dynamics, instrumentation, and mood. The listener’s interest is maintained throughout the piece because there is always some new and unexpected turn in the music that continually propels it forward. Speaking of certain songs on the Aqualung album, Anderson said: “Even within the context of an individual song I still like the idea that you can have perhaps a loud riff to start the thing off, and then it goes into a gentle acoustic passage, and then it does some other big stuff and then it changes tempo and feel and goes off into something else, round the houses, a couple of guitar solos, whatever, and back to something else. I like that in music.”1 Yet the stylistic diversity on Thick as a Brick is not the type that is found on Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s Freak Out! (1966) or the Beatles’ White Album (1968), where the songs overtly adopt or parody several different styles of music (dance hall, doo-wop, surf music, psychedelia, novelty songs, sound collage, etc.). Albums such as these are like musical quilts in which separate squares made from different fabrics are patched together with the seams showing. Thick as a Brick is an organic and blended album, as if it were a tapestry woven on a loom. It contains stylistic changes, yet they are smoothed over with a wealth of transitional material. Using the metaphor of a chef, Anderson says: “You have to find things that complement each other, you have to find the right flavors, the
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J et h ro T u l l’s T h ick a s a Br ick a n d A Pa ssion Pl ay

right colors, the right textures and you have to put those things together and blend them and coax them into something that is a satisfying and pleasing mixture. That’s what making eclectic music is all about.”2 A major reason why Thick as a Brick succeeds as a large-scale composition is that it takes the listener on a journey. Peter Gabriel speaks of the Genesis song “Stagnation” from their second album, Trespass (1970), as being a “journey song,” which “went through a series of landscapes.” He continues: “I think some of my favorite pieces of music are when I, as a listener, get taken into different worlds made out of sound.”3 This is characteristic of early 1970s rock music, especially progressive rock. The music of Yes is evocative in this manner, and this quality is accentuated by Roger Dean’s cover art, which portrays fantastical imaginary landscapes. Although not associated with progressive rock, pianist Keith Jarrett pursued this idea in his improvisatory solo piano concerts and even wrote in the liner notes of his massive set The Sun Bear Concerts (1976), “think of your ears as eyes.” Both Thick as a Brick and A Passion Play have this same quality and are journeys through diverse styles of music. In an interview from 2000, Anderson said:
I like singing songs that put people in a landscape. I have a picture in my head for each song that I write, and it’s a framed, still image. My early training as a painter and drafter, I think, produced in me a way of writing music and lyrics that illustrate visual ideas. I try to bring some maturity to the thing I’ve been doing for most of my career, writing songs that tell people a story, not in the temporal sense, but a story they make up to fit the picture I suggest to them. It’s like sending people a postcard. 4

Along with the music, certain sections of the lyrics of Thick as a Brick contain striking imagery, creating a picture in the mind’s eye as one listens. Vocals 3, 9, and 11 are evocative in this way, with their depictions of “people in a landscape.” While many styles of music can be heard in Thick as a Brick, the principal styles in the piece are rock and folk. This practice of shifting between rock and folk styles is a distinctive element in Jethro Tull’s music and was first employed on their second album, Stand Up. At this early stage, most of their songs were in either a rock or folk style and rarely contained both styles within the same song. By their fourth album, Aqualung, the band was deftly shifting between the two styles within songs,