Started as an impish parody of the genre, Thick as a Brick has grown to be much more than the title of Jethro Tull’s 1972 single-song prog-rock opus. It’s become a kind of life-long meditation for songwriter Ian Anderson. He returned to the theme for the 2011 solo album Thick as a Brick 2, combined the two albums into a mammoth stage show, and then explored still another of its angles on Homo Erraticus, released earlier this year.
Thick as a Brick: Live in Iceland, set for release on August 26, 2014 via Eagle Rock, illustrates just why. Of course, performing the two albums back to back — first the original project and then the follow up — helps connects the dots throughout Anderson’s lengthy and involving musical narrative. But it also highlights the complexities lying just beneath the surface for main character Gerald Bostock, a figure who at first might seem to be nothing but this caricature of an overactive prepubescent imagination.
Instead, Anderson uses this new project (offered in DVD, Blu-ray and CD formats) to help peel back layer after layer, revealing a figure caught within the larger forces of late-20th century England. He wants to believe in the grandeur of history, in the might of a military tasked with greatness, in his own kind of manifest destiny. But those days were, by then, most assuredly gone. In a way, we watch — we feel — them die all over again during Thick as a Brick: Live in Iceland.
And you thought this was supposed to be funny? It is, of course, in its way. Anderson’s grand intellect is just as sharp in the sequel as it was in the original, even as he lays out five possible fates for our young protagonist — again over a continuously evolving piece of musical landscape.
What’s missing, on the other hand, is the rest of the old band — something made obvious in the official artists designation of “Jethro Tull’s’ Ian Anderson.” But, to be truthful, there is little time for the kind of improvisational flourishes they were known for here, as much of the content has been structured to the finest click.
With the exception of Ryan O’Donnell, who steps in to help our flute-playing frontman achieve some of the early vocal calisthenics that are now beyond his range, Anderson’s new collaborators do little to distinguish themselves as anything other than the sidemen they no doubt are. Besides, the star of this show — whatever the album cover says — will always be Gerald Bostock, anyway.