As a Tull fan since my schooldays (first getting into Thick As A Brick when I was around 13), I can never decide which is my favourite album of theirs. It's usually the one I'm listening to at the time (with the exception of the bland disposable syntho-pap of Under Wraps). The same rule holds good for A Passion Play ....... but only just. Whilst superficially similar to TAAB, and even half-reprising a couple of the themes of that masterpiece, APP is certainly not an easy album to get into.
I recently bought the enhanced CD, as my old vinyl copy had become so scratchy as to be almost unplayable. The clarity of sound, the bonus video of the Hare Who Lost his Spectacles and the sumptuous packaging, containing some quite illuminating notes penned recently by Ian Anderson, were absolutely first class.
On my long drive into work each day, I've been playing the CD several times (yes, even the Hare bit!). Last night I woke up with the music so stuck in my head that I couldn't sleep for hours. Yes! A quarter of a century on, I had got into APP all over again! Never mind the somewhat pretentious concept and the downright morbid motif, just listen to the virtuoso performance as themes merge and intertwine in magical fashion. Heavy, almost Black Sabbath-like guitar assaults you from the left, swirling flute and sax from the right, atmospheric keyboard sounds and pounding, mesmeric drums punctuate everything, whilst Ian Anderson's vocals have rarely conveyed such passion.
For a pleasant chill-out session I would certainly plump for almost any other Tull album (notably Songs From the Wood, TAAB or Heavy Horses), but for a profoundly moving and ultimately highly satisfying musical appreciation, there is little to compare with A Passion Play.
I couldn't quite bring myself to award the maximum 5 stars, simply because the intensity of this piece precludes too frequent listening, and the whimsical humour of "Hare" grates after a while (the CD does not permit the listener to skip that track). However this much-maligned album remains an essential purchase for anyone interested in this most cerebral of classic Brit rockers.