Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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Thick As A Brick

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper copy of Thick As A Brick has the best side one we have ever heard! This copy is operating at A WHOLE NOTHER LEVEL.

Side one has HUGE, room-filling, hi-definition sound, with levels of Tubey Magic one would simply never expect to hear coming from a run-of-the-mill domestic Reprise pressing such as this. But here they are; there’s no denying the transparency, size and rock and roll energy of this mind-boggling side one. It’s truly a Demo Disc of the highest order.

We cannot avoid awarding freakishly good sound such as this our rule-breaking Four Plus grade, limited to those rarefied pressings that take the sound of familiar records beyond what we’ve heard before.

It’s got all the ROCK ENERGY and whomp of the best domestics coupled with the transparency, clarity, extended top end and Tubey Magic of the best Brits (see notes below about the Brits, no longer competitive it seems with the best domestics).

This Copy

A big step up over every other one we played on side one. I would have to say that this copy would easily rank as one of the five best Rock Demo Discs ever made. This is the sound of COMPLEX ANALOG at its best. There is no CD and never will be a CD with sound like this.

To say this is a sonic and musical masterpiece practically without equal in rock music is no overstatement in our book. But you have to have a copy like this for that statement to be true. This copy had us right in the studio with Jethro Tull. It was nothing short of breathtaking. I will be thinking about this record for a long time, long after it has gone to a good home. You don’t easily forget this kind of sound.

This pressing gets you the DYNAMICS, ENERGY and PRESENCE of the best copies we have ever played. The sound is jumping out of the speakers, tonally correct and fully extended from top to bottom, and just plain BIGGER and BOLDER than we heard on other copies.

What We Never Expected to Hear

My notes say “best ever / clearest with smooth, natural vocals / high-rez but relaxed and alive”, terms that you might want to keep in mind when playing this side one. This is the sound we did not expect to hear, and did not hear on any other copy, and to be honest have really never heard before.

There is always some amount of strain and grain detectable on a complex, multi-track recording when played at the seriously loud levels we prefer to do our shootouts at. Until, that is, for some mysterious reason that strain and grain, however subtle, goes away. That’s what happened here. The “This Must Be the Sound of the Master Tape” freedom from distortion and coloration took us completely by surprise. We had no idea it could get this good.

If you’ve got the system to can play an album of this size and power, play side one. You will hear exactly what we mean.

Side Two

A++, this side had great ROCK weight and energy, but was held back by some problems that are quite common to this record — sound that was slightly recessed and veiled. But the smooth vocals, huge space and big bottom end make this side one of the best we’ve heard, easily earning a Super Hot Stamper grade.

Tull’s BEST Sound Bar None!

Thick As A Brick is quite possibly the BEST SOUNDING ALBUM Tull ever recorded. It’s dynamic; has really solid, deep punchy bass; transparency and sweetness in the midrange; Tubey-Magical acoustic guitars and flutes; in other words, the record has EVERYTHING that we go crazy for here at Better Records.

We play quite a few original British and domestic copies of this record when we do these shootouts and let me tell you, the sound and the music are so good I can’t get enough of it. Until about 2007 this was the undiscovered gem (by me, anyway) in the Tull catalog. The pressings I had heard up until then were nothing special, and of course the average pressing of this album is exactly that: no great shakes. But with the advent of better record cleaning fluids and much better tables, phono stages and the like, some copies of Thick As A Brick have shown themselves to be AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUNDING. Even the All Music Guide could hear how well-engineered it was.

We Love the Complexity

When you can hear it right, the music really comes to life and starts to work its magic. All the variations on the themes separate themselves out. Each of the sections, rather than sounding repetitive or monotonous, instead develop in ways both clever and engaging. The more times you listen to it the more nuances and subtleties you find hidden in the complexity of the music. (Just the number of time-signature changes on either side is enough to boggle the mind. Of course, if you listen very carefully you can hear that most of them are accompanied by edits, but it’s fun to listen for those too!) Simply put, the more you play it the more you understand it and the more you like it.

We used to think that the better Brits could hold their own against our top domestic pressings, as this older commentary explains.

Which One Is Better, British or Domestic?

They both are! We were all set to write how much better sounding the Hot Stamper original Reprise pressings were than any of our original British imports, but we had to stop the presses when we heard one of the Brit copies put to shame all the others, even holding its own against the best Reprise LPs.

The British sound was exactly what you would expect — more tubey magical than the best domestics, with more breath in the flutes and harmonic overtones on the guitars. The midrange and top end sweetness was off the charts.

As is usually the case there clearly were tradeoffs. The best domestics had punchier bass and just plain rocked harder when the music got going. The sound was solid and alive. For those of us with big speakers who like to listen loud, the domestics had the goods. But the best Brits showed us aspects to the sound that the domestics couldn’t bring out as fully.

We no longer believe the above to be true. The best domestics give you everything you want from Thick As A Brick. There are no trade-offs at this level.

Big Speakers

We hope that if you buy this record you have a BIG pair of dynamic speakers. This demanding and energetic music simply cannot be reproduced otherwise. We want this AMAZING DEMO DISC QUALITY recording to go to a good home, where the sound can be appreciated with its full glory and power intact.

A Top Test Disc

From 2009 to 2010 this was our go-to record for testing and tweaking the system. Although we now use an amazing copy of Bob and Ray (the big band version of The Song of the Volga Boatmen therein has to be the toughest test we know of bar none), we could easily go back to using TAAB. It’s absolutely ruthless when it comes to the slightest hint of artificiality in the sound of the system. Since the biggest problem every audiophile is always fighting is artificiality (and more often than not losing, if I may be that cynical about most audiophile systems, our customers’ systems excluded of course ), TAAB is one of the best recordings one could ever hope to test and tune with. We have a whole section for these kinds of recordings under the heading Home Audio Exercises, seen on the left.

TRACK LISTING

Side Two

Thick As A Brick

AMG 4 1/2 Star Rave Review

Jethro Tull’s first LP-length epic is a masterpiece in the annals of progressive rock, and one of the few works of its kind that still holds up decades later. Mixing hard rock and English folk music with classical influences, set to stream-of-consciousness lyrics so dense with imagery that one might spend weeks pondering their meaning — assuming one feels the need to do so — the group created a dazzling tour de force, at once playful, profound, and challenging, without overwhelming the listener. The original LP was the best-sounding, best-engineered record Tull had ever released, easily capturing the shifting dynamics between the soft all-acoustic passages and the electric rock crescendos surrounding them.

Rolling Stone Review from 1972

“Although not in the shops yet, I was able to acquire a ‘white label’ pressing of the current Jethro Tull winner Thick As A Brick from their London agents, Chrysalis Artists… The group consists of Ian Anderson, Martin Barre, John Evan, Jeffery Hammond-Hammond and Barriemore Barlow. Written around a poem by St. Cleve child prodigy Gerald Bostock, their music spins a delicate web of sensitive sounds: sometimes lilting, sometimes soaring to form a brilliant backdrop for the meaningful lyrics and improvisational techniques…

“One doubts at times the validity of what appears to be an expanding theme throughout the two continuous sides of this record but the result is at worst entertaining and at least aesthetically palatable.”

Ian Anderson (a.k.a. Julian Stone-Mason B.A.) has not only slyly reviewed his own album, he’s also supplied the newspaper which contains it. Like so much flounder, Thick As A Brick comes wrapped in the St. Cleve’s Chronicle, an apocryphal yet typical daily of Anderson’s design. Played across the front page is the Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock scandal (the epithet refers to the author of Paradise Lost, not the soul singer). Eight-year-old Gerald is adjudged unfit to accept first prize from The Society For Literary Advancement And Gestation (SLAG) by virtue of the questionable contents of his epic poem Thick As A Brick.

Gerald is one of Ian Anderson’s incarnations and ruses. Besides lyricist and impersonator, Anderson is also composer, arranger, singer, flutist, acoustic guitarist, violinist, saxophonist, trumpeter, satirist and overall composer. His adeptness at most of these functions, in particular, his ability to balance and fuse them, has created one of rock’s most sophisticated and ground-breaking products.

Most of the Chronicle’s features display a dry, fatuous, very English sense of humor. Under the “Deaths” column, there is the late Charles Stiff; and stories have titles along the lines of “Mongrel Dog Soils Actor’s Foot” and “Non-Rabbit Missing.” Characters in, say, a page two story will turn up again on page five in equally ludicrous circumstances. It is all very clever, yet at first seemingly irrelevant.

Page seven carries the words to Thick As A Brick. The writing is very dense and enigmatic, and the unidentified shifts in narrative voice compound the difficulty. The poem, as best I can make out, is a sweeping social critique, as pessimistic about poets, painters and the generally virtuous as it is condemnatory of politicians and other figures of authority. And what more perfectly encompasses or embodies the world Anderson aims to criticize than a daily newspaper? The paper in turn encompasses the poem. Furthermore, there are names in the poem which refer back to items in the newspaper. The poem “reviews” the newspaper, just as Stone-Mason reviewed the record. The entire package operates with the allusiveness of a Nabakov novel.

For all its intricacy, the “theme” or poetry of Thick As A Brick is its least important aspect. Anderson’s language (in Aqualung as well) is often wordy and ponderous, and its bitter condescension and breadth of denunciation can be unpleasant. What marks this album as a significant departure from other Jethro Tull work, and rock in general, is the organization of all its music into one continuous track. Albums like Sgt. Pepper or Tommy were complete entities in themselves, but still chose to use songs as their basic components. While sections of Thick As A Brick are melodically distinct, they all inherently relate to each other. What connecting there is is uncontrived and is often the occasion for some of the album’s boldest playing. The lyrics, clever and dense as they are, are chiefly valuable as a premise for the music. The album’s opening is sprightly, with Ian’s flute poking in and out; a more introspective, minor key digression follows, then a stalking bass line, accompanied by horns and John Evan’s excited Rick Wakeman-like organ. The relentless and mechanical gives way to something very stately and regal, as English as, yet less folksy than the opening passage. The piano plays arpeggios; Anderson overlays a jazzy flute. Some overdubbed guitar yammerings follow.

Anderson takes to the violin and creates a whirling, macabre setting for the combative son’s announcement, “I’ve come down from the upper/ class to mend your rotten ways.” As the other son begins to speak, the music becomes milder, then sunnier. A bell-like organ rings out behind a jig, performed in almost telegraphic rhythm. This, and its reprise on side two, is the album’s most attractive section. An ominous heraldic organ shatters the calm, and the side ends with the electric guitar shrieking helplessly, like a wounded bird.

Side two reintroduces side one’s second statement. It merges into an energetic though hollow, unemphatic drum solo; then some free jazz, over which a set of lyrics is recited. A rather fine English folk melody emerges. Anderson’s voice becomes more severe, a classical guitar is introduced, and the music takes an Iberian turn. A harpsichord plays as a guitar repeats the riff from George Harrison’s “Wah Wah.” The writing becomes very linear, with rapid harmonic shifts. This alternates with a vaulting melodic figure. Then a sudden whoosh, and we return to the closing theme of side one, now strongly reinforced by the organ, only to be momentarily interrupted by some expansive strings. As almost a postscript, the initial theme is recalled, and with it the sentiment, “And/ your wise men don’t know how it/ feels to be thick as a brick.”

The members of Jethro Tull were hand-picked by Anderson (several are old school chums); no one, save Ian, remains from the original band. The playing, not surprisingly, is tight as a drum. Martin Barre’s guitar and John Evan’s keyboards especially shine, and Ian’s singing is no longer abrasive. Whether or not Thick As A Brick is an isolated experiment, it is nice to know that someone in rock has ambitions beyond the four or five minute conventional track, and has the intelligence to carry out his intentions, in all their intricacy, with considerable grace.

– Ben Gerson, Rolling Stone, 6/22/72.