Forty years after the groundbreaking progressive rock classic Thick as a Brick, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull brings us Thick as A Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock? Is he Too Old to Rock n’ Roll? Hardly. This album is all the proof you need.
The new record brings us up to speed with Gerald Bostock, the eight-year old child prodigy who wrote the lyrics to the original album. Fans will remember the scandal that rocked the St. Cleve Chronicle: Gerald lied about his age and was actually ten when he wrote it. Even the old newspaper has been updated here, complete with tales of missing dogs and pie recipes.
What’s Gerald been doing all these years? Did he become a banker or soldier? Vagrant? Preacher or soldier? It turns out he was all these things and quite a bit more. Anderson brings into focus all the possible paths Bostock might have taken through four decades—all the paths any life could take. What could have been a gimmicky follow-up or cash-in by a lesser artist is in Anderson’s hands a companion that stands up well against the original. He’s written a record that does justice to Tull’s vast catalog.
Thick as a Brick 2 runs in a similar vein to the original album–which famously had one long track. This time Anderson has helpfully included titles to the various sections of the record, including a hilarious segment in which Gerald becomes a preacher who tasks his flock to ‘Give ‘Til it Hurts,’ singing, “Together we can fleece our willing congregation.” Fun moments like these are tempered by the overall serious feel of the album; Gerald the homeless man is rather less amusing. After suffering sexual abuse from a headmaster, Gerald informs his unsympathetic parents, who promptly disown him. When Anderson sings: “Parents listened, didn’t get it. Poof and Jesse, daddy said,” it’s one of the more somber moments he’s recorded. Gerald wanders alone through Camden Market, reminding one a bit of that other homeless vagrant, Aqualung.
An angry interlude comes in the form of Gerald the banker, a coked-up crook. “Banker Bets, Banker Wins” is an immediate standout on an album filled with great songs, a bruising, riff-heavy number with the signature Tull sound. Anderson sings: “Banker bets, cheque’s in the post: not worth the ink it’s written in.” CNBC even weighed in on the song, seemingly bemused that an old rock star would have the nerve to attack the industry. So you know he’s doing something right.
There are musical themes to savor in this dense song-cycle, recurring riffs and melodies that weave through the songs. The familiar motif from the original pops up now and again, like an old friend reminding us of some forgotten weekend from younger days. Like much of the band’s best work, there is a mix of rock and folk, heavy electric riffs along with baroque pieces that wouldn’t be out of place on a late 70s Tull album. The overall feel is quite a bit more somber than the original Thick as a Brick, which was a satire of progressive rock pretension. Here Anderson is looking at possible paths through life, some far darker than others. Gerald the ordinary man might be the most believable: “No grand, fanciful fantasies but level-headed middle ground…same old words, another day, all the while life slips away.” Like Prufrock, this Gerald measures out his life in coffee-spoons. It’s a wistful and sad moment, but Anderson doesn’t veer into sentimentality. Would Gerald be better off a soldier or banker? The everyman hero? It’s a worthy question, and one Anderson takes seriously.
The one down side of this album is that it’s missing Martin Barre, the gifted guitarist who did so much of Tull’s best work. Florian Ophale is great in his own right, but longtime listeners will miss Barre’s unmistakable sound. The album also features bassist David Goodier and multi-instrumentalist John O’Hara from the current Tull lineup, and percussionist Scott Hammond. Anderson has played with a vast number of musicians over the years, and this group does an admirable job with the Tull sound. In the end, Jethro Tull was always Anderson’s band, and this album may not be perfect, but it’s a fine return to form.
(Chrysalis Records, 2012)