I'm really into music (both listening/collecting and writing/performing), and I've read quite a few band and musician biographies, as well as books on particular genres (especially progressive rock). One thing I've noticed is that music seems to get rather little attention in books about rock music! (They tend to focus on the band members as people, the scene, clothes, commercial success and the business aspects of the band, and - for the more mainstream bands - drugs, groupies, etc.)
Thus, it's very exciting that Smolko has written a book about two of the great masterpieces of progressive rock that really gets into the music. The author really digs into what makes Thick as a Brick tick as a single, 40+ minute piece of music - the mix of repeated and varied ideas in both music and lyrics, as well as the reuse and variation of musical themes and ideas. (I haven't gotten to the Passion Play chapters yet, but the TAAB part is enlightening). For someone with little understanding of musical theory, a lot of it will be over your head, but if you're really into the music there should still be plenty of interest. For someone with a working knowledge of music and interest in this style, this book is a rare and fantastic insight that really shows you what a genius Ian Anderson is, and how this music really has a depth behind it to justify how great it sounds!
A previous reviewer comments that he doesn't think Ian Anderson was planning the piece as formally as Smolko implies, but the beauty of Smolko's writing is that he doesn't give the impression that he's trying to attribute ideas to Anderson that aren't there - in fact, there are plenty of old and new quotes from Ian Anderson in the book helping to clarify the writing process - pointing out that Anderson didn't have a formal, set plan but was going by feel. Yet, the musical analysis of how musical themes were reused and adapted shows that Anderson had an inherent understanding of and feel for the kind of composition used by classical composers that was applied to Tull's music, although he didn't have a formal musical education. It was rather interesting to get an insight into the music writing techniques of one of the greatest and most original musicians of our era. I have read several books and seen documentaries on Tull, but this one still had much to offer.
One thing that would've been nice is a more detailed analysis of the lyrics and their meanings, with input from Ian Anderson (who is, after all, still alive and well and able to explain this stuff so we don't have to guess!), but maybe Ian prefers to keep the lyrical meaning open to interpretation? Nonetheless, the analysis of these two albums as music and works of art is plenty value enough for this book.
Hopefully Ian Anderson (who seems to be drifting back towards progressive rock music with his recent Thick As A Brick II and upcoming new album in 2014) reads this and remembers some of his old tricks. (For instance - in the afterword about TAAB2 - Smolko mentions that it's much more vocal oriented, while TAAB and Passion Play had a LOT of instrumental sections. Considering Ian's decreased vocal abilities, while he can still write and play wonderfully, wouldn't newer works benefit by a higher ratio of music to singing.)