By Iain Blair
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - One thing that never really dies is a truly progressive rock album. A case in point is Jethro Tull's "Thick As A Brick," originally released in 1972, before disco, punk and rap.
Back then, "Brick" was significant for its 44-minute song created around the idea it was an epic poem written by a boy. Now, Jethro Tull's singer, flautist and frontman Ian Anderson is commemorating the album's 40th anniversary with a followup to the original, "Thick As a Brick 2," and a tour.
As a sign that "Brick" still continues to lure fans, the new record recently entered U.S. charts at No.55, Anderson's highest debut in 25 years. The Jethro Tull frontman, now 64-years-old, recently spoke with Reuters about his new album, tour and the ever-changing music scene.
Q: Is it true you were asked many times to do a follow-up to "Thick As A Brick" but always avoided it?
A: "Yes, my attitude has always been unwaveringly ‘no,' as I don't want to go back in some nostalgic way to rekindle the music. But last year I started to think about what might have become of the fictitious child poet, Gerald Bostock, who wrote the lyrics for the original album, and what might have happened to the St. Cleve Chronicle, the 16-page newspaper which formed the packaging. And that inspired this whole idea of what might have happened to Gerald 40 years later. So I wrote down a number of possibilities, and saw that instead of just exploring one, it gave me a chance to examine a number of those life-changing moments that happen to us all."
Q: How personal are the lyrics?
A: "It always contains elements of personal experience and some elements of other people's experiences. So, it's bringing together a number of issues that aren't just about looking back, but are also relevant to younger people who're going to have to start making decisions in their own lives."
Q: Musically and stylistically the new album really picks up where "Thick As A Brick" left off. Did you feel any pressure to go for a more contemporary sound?
A: "No, in terms of instrumentation I deliberately wanted to stay with the instruments that were then, and are now, the archetypal ones of rock - the Les Paul guitar, which is like a Stradivarius, the Fender Jazz bass, the Hammond organ, the flute. These are the tools of my trade, so I wanted to keep the same sonic palette I had on the original album and stay away from conspicuous synthesizers and digital instruments. And artistically and musically it's fun to make a few references - a nod and a wink - to earlier musical ideas and motifs. Beethoven and Mozart did it for a living, and so do I. It gives context and continuity."
Q: How's the new tour going so far?
A: "Great. We're doing the UK first, and we're doing 'Brick' 1 and 2 played live, with a 20-minute intermission, for the first time ever."
Q: What's been the biggest surprise?
A: (Laughs) "That we can all actually remember it. If we were reading it from a score with a conductor to prompt and help you like classical musicians, it'd be far easier. But we have to memorize and play it all and virtually no one has more than a few bars where they're not playing. So it's very intense. But enjoyably intense. It's certainly not Tantric sex. It's full-on and it seems like the show's over in a flash."
Q: You've never stopped touring, either with Tull or by yourself. You must love it?
A: "I met an American astronaut recently who was about to return to a five-month mission on the International Space Station, and she responded the way I feel about touring - 'I don't want to come back,' she said.
"It's the same thing. You've trained all your life to do it, and she knew this was her last mission, and she was filled with a profound sense of sadness and loss. And that's how I feel as I get into my last years of being a touring musician."
Q: "The music industry's changed so much since you began in the ‘60s. What's your take on it today?"
A: "It's much more competitive and over-subscribed in terms of participants and wannabe-participants. But we also have a lot more choice and it fits the age. We eat fast food and snack, and it's the same with music. I don't think we sit down and listen to music the way we used to. We tend to snack on it while we're multi-tasking and on the move. So we hear more music than ever before. I'm not sure that we actually listen to it. But the access is unparalleled in terms of ease and cheapness."
(Reporting by Iain Blair; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)