Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson: Thick As a Brick 2

Ian Anderson, who has cycled through sidemen the way his more hedonistic compatriots once speed-dialed through dealers, has yet another cast of characters for this recording.

Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

Thick As a Brick 2

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2012-04-03
UK Release Date: 2012-04-02
Label website
Artist website

However unwittingly, Ian Anderson wrote his artistic epitaph all the way back in 1976. "Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die!", the hit from the album of the same name, used music as a metaphor (or vice versa) where he, understandably, wondered if -- or when -- a musician might be reasonably expected to retire. The answer, of course, has always been straightforward: when the musician feels like it. Whether written off by critics, ignored by trend makers or still selling out arenas, only the artist can decide when it's finally time to walk away.

For an iconoclastic prog rocker who is currently enjoying his 44th year as leader of Jethro Tull, it's at once ironic and appropriate that his first single, from 1969, is entitled "Living in the Past". The next sentence is inevitable: whether or not Anderson is figuratively wallowing in the brighter glow of glory days long gone, he soldiers on. As it happened, he was -- and is -- not yet too old to rock and roll. (That sentence was inevitable as well.) Jethro Tull continued to make remarkable music throughout the '70s and was steady if not always impressive during the '80s. Things slowed down dramatically in the '90s and no new material has surfaced in almost a decade. Nevertheless, Anderson has been an indefatigable performer, leading his ever-evolving line-ups on tour pretty much without pause. If his voice was effectively shot many moons ago, the crowds still turned up for the shows.

Was he supposed to fade away or quietly tend to his salmon farms? We tend to mock our elder statesmen when they get lazy or lose inspiration. (This begs the uneasy question: is rock and roll almost exclusively a young musician's game? With few exceptions in terms of both quality and consistency, the answer is a resounding yes.) And so: what is there to say about someone who continues to make music past retirement age? Fair play and cheers to anyone who is willing and able to stay in the game. All of which is to say it was surprising, but not disheartening to hear a new album was in the works. On the other hand, revisiting -- and updating -- a progressive milestone and masterpiece? Hmmm.

Ian Anderson, who has cycled through sidemen the way his more hedonistic compatriots once speed-dialed through dealers, has yet another cast of characters for this recording. The gentlemen from the '72 line-up have been gone for ages. The one exception, throughout, has been Martin Barre, lead guitarist from the second album on. Distressingly, if revealingly, Barre is nowhere to be heard on these proceedings, which are intriguingly (if revealingly) entitled Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson: TAAB2 (Thick As a Brick 2). Hmmm.

Expectations were moderate, to put it mildly. Simply, if harshly put, the notion of this entire enterprise seemed like a recipe for fiasco, an exercise equal parts ill-advised nostalgia, indulgence and obvious lack of inspiration. Recent years have not been kind to either Anderson's voice or, judging from the scarcity of new works, his muse. In the great old days, these were the two sharpest arrows in his quiver.

And yet, here he is, pressing on because he can; because he needs to. The verdict? It's not terrible. It's not even bad, actually. And yet, it is difficult to determine if it's really very good. It is not remotely an embarrassment which, given the stakes and circumstances, is not an inconsiderable achievement. Of course there will be fans prepared to protest Anderson's audacity: how dare he meddle with the legacy of a dearly-loved album, etc. Those unforgiving, unimaginative folks are advised to give this one a miss, though they may in fact be missing out on material that is interesting and more than occasionally quite satisfactory.

Martin Barre is sorely missed (on principle if nothing else) but in fairness, his young replacement Florian Ophale acquits himself more than adequately. The rest of the band, including drummer Scott Hammond, bassist David Goodier and keyboardist John O’Hara may not make anyone forget the ’72 crew, but -- again, in fairness -- few outfits (then, now) could.

The impetus of this endeavor is a doubling-down of sorts, revisiting a gambit employed for the original. Thick As a Brick, as the elaborate faux-newspaper packaging declared, featured lyrics from an eight year old wunderkind called Gerald Bostock. Now, 40 years on, Anderson imagines the various paths this fictional character's life may have taken. As such, careers ranging from banker to soldier to preacher are explored, with varying levels of effectiveness.

The lyrics are mostly okay, but seldom encroach on the rarefied air Anderson occupied for the initial decades of his career. The music is, frankly, better than any reasonable fan could hope for. At least the instruments are all being played by human beings and there is a merciful minimum of studio tinkering and technological trickery (thanks in no small part to mixing engineer -- and prog rock MVP -- Steven Wilson). The vocals? There is no way around it, the vocals are weak. At this point Anderson utilizes a strategy of necessity, half-speaking in a sing-song style. Unfortunately there are also sections of deadpan narrative delivered in an unembellished speaking voice. These moments are aesthetically disappointing, more so for their unoriginality and the last resort of sorts that they signify than anything else. Overall, there is sufficient variety, in terms of the pacing and the sounds, to result in a discernible, sporadically pleasant flow. The packaging is neither as clever nor as impressive as the original, but the old version didn't come with a bonus DVD featuring interviews, a making-of feature and lyric readings (this one does).

The key question remains: is it memorable? Will it be returned to with any regularity? Check back in a month, or a year, or a few decades. Grading on the curve, it seems unsporting to be excessively harsh. This project could never replace or even compare favorably with the first one, but not many albums could. To this listener (and long-time fan) the results are much more lively and worthwhile than anything Anderson has done since the early '90s. That he had the tenacity to pull this off without resorting to self-satire puts him in a better light than most of his peers who are safely enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and/or debasing themselves during the Super Bowl.

Bottom line: the effort does little to affect the impact of the '72 release. Or any of the albums that preceded or followed it. It puts the clearest perspective possible on the question only the most ardent fans bother to ask (and, as such, serves as a curious kind of public service): what would happen if Ian Anderson had stuck around for another 40 years after he created Thick As a Brick? Answer: this is what would have happened.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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