Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thick As a Brick

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction nominees for 2015 have been heralded as examples of the diverse styles within rock, but two subgenres that aren't represented on this year's ballot are British progressive rock and British folk rock, and Jethro Tull had a foot in each of them.  
Millions of Tull fans have been demanding that Ian Anderson and his crew be inducted, and although Kiss frontman Paul Stanley said on the occasion of Kiss's induction that the Hall of Fame should respect the tastes of the people who actually buy the records, don't expect Tull fans to be accorded such respect. Although Jethro Tull garnered some critical acclaim in their heyday, too many critics have written them off as the epitome of unchallenging, contrived seventies classic rock.  Writing in their 1991 book "The Worst Rock and Roll Records of All Time," in which they selected Tull's Aqualung as the eleventh worst album ever, Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell dismissed Tull's fourth album as an "awkward collage of fifteenth-hand theology, light-metal theatrics, and ill-informed rural nostalgia," and that enough people were "taken in" by Anderson's approach to the subjects of organized religion and social injustice to make Aqualung "an enormous hit among pretentious thirteen-year-olds of all ages."  
A select sampling of Rock Hall board members (*cough cough*, Dave Marsh, *cough cough*) may very well agree with that, and, as I alluded earlier this year, Anderson didn't do himself any favors with rock scribes by spearheading concept albums of forty-odd-minute songs divided over two sides of LPs (1972's Thick as a Brick, 1973's A Passion Play) - the very sort of LPs that rock critics said were the reason punk had to happen.  Yeah, he said he was aiming to make parodies of prog concept albums, but no one bought that.  Prog concept albums (the bad ones, anyway) have a tendency to parody themselves, particularly when a progressive rock band goes overboard and makes a really pretentious work - witness Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans.  (Thick As a Brick, which I've heard in its entirety, is actually very listenable, and it does have some well-crafted music, but it can get a little tiresome in spots.  More on that later.)  Jethro Tull did make several good records overall, including, in my opinion anyway, Aqualung, and they should be in the Hall of Fame for Anderson's humor and Martin Barre's guitar expertise alone, but their dubious receipt of the 1988 Best Heavy Metal Album Grammy made them a laughingstock in the rock press for the next twenty-five years and change. 
And then there's British folk rock in general. When Paul Stanley accused the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of not honoring enough acts based on popularity and record sales, I had a problem understanding what he was talking about. This is the same institution that beatified Madonna in 2008 but can't find room for even critically acclaimed British folk rock bands that didn't come anywhere close to Jethro Tull's success in the U.S.  And, once again, all the Limey folkies who made important records in the sixties and seventies are shut out for 2015.  That means no Pentangle, no Fairport Convention, no Richard and Linda Thompson, no solo Richard Thompson, and no Lindisfarne on the ballot.  If Tull can't get in, what hope is there for any of these acts?  But this year, at least, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has a treasure trove of worthy artists to choose from, and while N.W.A.'s induction is inevitable (white male rock critics have to pretend not to hate rap in order to keep their coolness and their jobs), I suspect that the final list of inductees for 2015 won't disappoint us.   

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