A Passion Play

Jethro Tull

Chrysalis Records, 1973


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Somewhere in your own music collection, you have one of these. It's an album which you purchased with the high hopes of being one you'd enjoy for years and years -- that is, until you removed the shrink-wrap and started to play it. Shocked and disgusted by what you heard, you filed the disc away deep into your collection, only to be pulled out again at your next garage sale.

The first time I ever heard A Passion Play, the 1973 debacle from Jethro Tull, I was so disappointed with my copy that I quickly filed the cassette away and never listened to it again. But, as we've been working on a Jethro Tull retrospective of late, I pulled it out to give it another chance some 12 years after I first bought it. After all, I thought, I hadn't liked Thick As A Brick when I first heard it, and my opinion on that album changed. Why couldn't the same be said for A Passion Play?

The sad fact is, it can't.

Taking a second stab at a concept album, Ian Anderson and company come up with a disjointed, uneven attempt at music which bounces around styles more than a superball. Add into this the extremely dumb idea of inserting a pseudo-children's story in the middle of the piece, and you have easily the worst release Jethro Tull had cranked out to this point.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Now, I do have to concede that, when I first bought this one, I had some higher hopes for it. I was familiar with one portion of the piece -- a selection now known as "Overseer Overture" -- from my exposure to M.U.: The Best Of Jethro Tull. It was different, I conceded, but it spurred my interest in hearing the whole album.

And I also have to concede that, aside from a rather slow-paced opening, the almost hymn-like qualities of the main musical theme proves to be nearly hypnotic. So far, one thinks, so good -- and maybe my harsh critique of this one from over a decade ago will soon dissolve.

Unfortunately for Anderson and crew, this is where the praise stops. A Passion Play quickly melts into a thrown-together mess featuring a story line so confusing that you need Cliff's Notes, a map and a GPS navigation system just to follow along, and musical themes which sound like they were developed just before hitting the "record" button in the control room.

And then, there is "The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles" -- a piece which was supposed to divide the two sides of the album, but turns into one tremendous landmine. In the off-chance that Ian Anderson is reading this humble review, I have but one question: WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING?!? Throwing this cow-pie into a musical creation already collapsing upon itself is the equivalent of driving on the Autobahn and slamming on the brakes -- or better yet, suddenly throwing the car in reverse. Bad move, amigo.

The sad fact is that A Passion Play, already suffering from underdevelopment musically to this point, never regains any of the tenuous footing it previously had following this A.A. Milne-meets-bad-acid trip. Even the two pieces that listeners may be familiar with (both courtesy of the early greatest hits packages) fail to re-light a fire musically.

A Passion Play has precious few moments of hope in the first five minutes of the work, but the second attempt at a Jethro Tull concept album quickly collapses like a house of cards in a hurricane. No Jethro Tull album I've heard in all of my years of listening to their music deserves to be crucified as much as this one.

Rating: D-

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© 2004 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Chrysalis Records, and is used for informational purposes only.