Around four decades ago, Ian Anderson of rock veterans Jethro Tull, came up with a concept album. It was the thing to do at the time primarily because — unlike today’s audiences and their attention spans akin to goldfish — listeners were able and willing to invest a certain amount of time on concept albums. So, Tull gave them Thick As a Brick, an epic poem supposedly written by an eight year-old called Gerald Bostock.
Thick As a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock? revisits the life and times of that mythical schoolboy who is, supposedly, now a 48-year-old with a lot on his mind. It’s an ambitious thing to do, not simply because the words ‘concept album’ will compel most teenagers to run in the opposite direction, but also because fans don’t take kindly to bands messing with a classic. Finally, there’s that tricky production issue — how does one revisit the prog-rock sound of a 40 year-old album without sounding like an idiot in 2012?
Well, he pulls it off, in a little over 50 minutes. ‘Take me on the ghost train,’ he sings on opener From A Pebble Thrown. ‘20p and there you are. Scary in the tunnel night, white knuckle fingers on the safety bar, which way to blue skies? Phantoms pop from cupboard doors, mocking, manic laughter shrieks, dark promises of blood and gore.’ It’s vintage Anderson, starting from where he left off in 1972 when he wrote: ‘Your sperm’s in the gutter, your love’s in the sink.’
As the album progresses, Anderson lets Gerald Bostock live the life of soldier, banker, homeless man and ordinary guy. Lattes make an appearance, as do mortgages and Starbucks muffins. This is an album that bears careful listening to, lyric sheet in hand. And yes, that legendary flute does make its presence felt too.