on 1 July 2014
I can't remember being so keen on a forthcoming Jethro Tull release in all my days. APP has always been one of my fave Tull albums, being from the period when I consider the band were at the peak of their powers. I never understood why the album was often praised but with reservations. I never found it a difficult listen nor one that took time to get to grips with.
Steven Wilson has done an unbelievable job with these remixes thus far. The music has in my opinion been taken further than Mobile Fidelity ever did with this stuff. There is real clarity and separation in the mix and this enables the listener to experience this fantastic music with fresh ears.
I have looked forward to this release as much for the Chateau D'Herouville sessions as the main attraction, as I probably listen to this stuff as frequently as I do A Passion Play. There are some real gems amongst Chateau D'Herouville which I will never understand being buried for as long as they did. If anybody reading this review has not heard this stuff then I urge you to buy this release if only for this stuff, some of which is Tull at their best.
It's so nice to finally have a crystal clear version of Sailor, as many of us have been hearing a rather poor quality grab of this tune for some time. A great song which has finally been fully unearthed and dusted down with Mr Wilson's magic touch.
Steven Wilson opted to omit the 1993 flute overdubs from the D'Herouville material and in areas this is to the benefit of the music. It certainly allows one to listen to the 'authentic' sessions. However there are moments where I half wish he would have retained Ian Anderson's 1993 input, where I think it enhances the music. Critique Oblique is an example. It is a minor gripe though.
All in all it is a thing of audio beauty and in my opinion worth multiples of its retail price. As I do not have a 5.1 setup, my review is of the stereo side of this package, but as Steven Wilson rather specialises in 5.1 mixes and hires music I have complete faith that this part of the package more than pulls it's weight. One day when I'm rich I will add to my setup the gear which will allow me to appreciate the DVD-a disks!
on 5 February 2010
Almost 20 years have passed since I last listened to this. When it was first released my flatmate and I listened to it obsessively to the point that it enetered our consciousness. I had truly forgotten about its titanic presence in the pantheon of rock, and as a previous reviewer suggests, it is a piece of genius up there with Handel's Messiah, etc. which will come to have its rightful place in time.
Well, thanks to finally embracing MP3 technology in my mid fifties, 'Passion Play' is back in my head and I can't shake it out - nor do I want to! I've just come back from a bike ride and wasn't connecting with the landscape. Those haunting lyrics; 'All along the icy wastes, their faces smiling in the gloom; roll up, roll down feeling unwound, step into the viewing room!'really are quite disturbing. Of course, all the words of 'the Hare' come flooding back and put a smile on my face - a wonderful interlude, but for me one truly magic moment is the symphonic burst at the end of the 'Hare' which takes us back to that ominous pulse and swirling layers of flute which carries us onward.
This is the best of Tull - the weave of opera, obtuse yet such poetic lyrics, the undercurrent of mocking menace, the signature flute and the craftsmanship of the band. As with Schubert or Van Gogh, its day will surely come
on 5 July 2014
I've always loved A Passion Play, so I'll just have to let it quietly pass that Ian Anderson himself thinks I should only be permitted day release from a mental institution.
The remastered stereo and 5.1 mixes here of both A Passion Play itself and the Château d'Hérouville sessions are quite simply glorious. APP is loud, crystal clear, sparkling, and full of depth and colour, not to mention two great new verses in 'The Foot of Our Stairs'. Ian Anderson suggests in the notes to this handsome package that on reflection APP was maybe all a bit one dimensional. That's a baffling observation. If anything, APP is the most complex and musically colourful of all Jethro Tull albums. Thick as a Brick is arguably more one dimensional by comparison -- and I love TAAB.
The CdH sessions, while much rawer but also with much greater depth of sound and no overdubs as per previous releases, reveal more fully than ever before the great album that might have been.
In retrospect, it makes sense, to me at least, to see 1973 as a year in which Jethro Tull suffered a lot of bad luck: the living conditions at the Château were awful, not the recordings; the subsequent abandoning of those recordings and the hurried recording of APP leading to the live performance of a complex, demanding piece before its release without, crucially, time for fans and critics alike to adjust and absorb. The bad reviews and the rest followed, as most of you know.
Ultimately, that was a great shame, because, taken together, APP and CdH speak to me of a band at its most daring, brave, experimental, risk-taking best. Ideas were just flowing in Tull at this time. No, they didn't all work and, no doubt, many of the CdH recording would have undergone considerable refinement has they been pushed further. With some better luck in 1973, things might have been different, not so reined in, thereafter.
But APP itself? I'm not sure I even buy the line any longer about it being brilliant but flawed. Listening to it a number of times over the past few days in these crisp new stereo and 5.1 mixes, I think I might finally conclude it is simply brilliant. There is simply not one section of it, one moment, one single phrase that I don't like. What's that you say? Oh, The Hare...? Well, if you don't get it, you don't, and fair enough.
I think I've decided to leave instructions that when the time comes for hush along my very own Fulham Road, A Passion Play will be played in full at my funeral. That'll sort the goats from the sheep and decide who benefits from my will.
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.
on 11 November 2013
The controversy surrounding this album is one of the most puzzling in the history of popular music. So, 40 years after its release, it is perhaps time to lay some of the misconceptions to rest. First, it is a complete myth that 'A Passion Play' divided opinion amongst Tull fans when it was released in 1973. In fact, the vast majority of Tull fans loved it. It went straight to Number One in the US album chart, and was highly successful in the UK as well. Most Tull fans regarded it as a magnificent successor to 'Thick as a Brick', although I can certainly remember debating which of the two was better. The second myth is that it was universally reviled by music critics. It is true that it went down badly with some elements of the rock press who found themselves intellectually challenged by progressive rock's experimentation with longer, more ambitious musical forms. But some critics showered praise on the album - including Derek Jewell, who was the Sunday Times' popular music critic as well as the author of a distinguished biography of Duke Ellington. People with that kind of pedigree usually know what they are talking about. The main difference between 'A Passion Play' and TAAB is that it is a flawed masterpiece, whereas TAAB is virtually perfect as an extended form rock composition. Against this, however, some sections of 'A Passion Play' are absolutely stunning - the first 10 minutes for example, or the acoustic section at the beginning of Part 2 ('Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs').
With a new version digitally re-mastered by Steve Wilson in the offing, Ian Anderson is currently giving interviews in which he seems to be actively marketing the re-mix while simultaneously dismissing the artistic merits of the original - a somewhat contradictory position for an individual of Anderson's stature to take about his own work. It is difficult to believe that this is how he really feels about an album most Tull fans regard as one of his most brilliant creations. You don't have to listen to 'A Passion Play' for very long to realise that you're listening to something very special indeed. It's unique music - melodically accessible and haunting, but also complex, dissonant and full of unusual chromatic progressions. It draws on rock, jazz and folk influences, but somehow manages to transcend all these familiar musical categories to create something quite extraordinary and unprecedented. It can't really be compared with anything else, although the aggressive driving sound of the more sinister sections in both Parts 1 and 2 recall the atmosphere of Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring' and Khachaturian's famous 'Sabre Dance'. And the lyrics are some of the best Anderson has ever written. To anyone with an attention span exceeding five minutes, it's fairly clear that this album is an artistic triumph, rather than an exercise in pretension.
Another myth about the album is that it is lyrically obscure. It isn't. The lyrical imagery is very powerful, but completely intelligible. Like TAAB, it's a simple rites of passage story set to music - in this case the theme being the premature death of a young man and his subsequent journey through the afterlife and eventual voluntary return to earthly existence, whereas TAAB was about the transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood.
I don't profess to understand why Anderson is so dismissive of 'A Passion Play' when it so clearly represents a continuation of the creative peak Tull reached with TAAB a year earlier. It is certainly a much darker album, as befits its lyrical theme, and it has noticeable flaws, primarily the unsubtle organ and synthesiser link passages in Part 2. But leaving aside these minor shortcomings, this album is clearly one of the best albums Tull ever made, and certainly one of the greatest examples of the progressive rock genre. I suspect that Anderson just finds it hard to accept that this was where his artistic creativity peaked - and that it coincided with a critical backlash. He's entitled to his own opinion, of course, but trying to marginalise the album is a different matter and an attempt to re-write history. Anderson once claimed (perhaps tongue in cheek?) that only a handful of fans have listened to the album all the way through from beginning to end. How would he know that - has he asked them all individually? It's slightly insulting to your fans to make that kind of comment when millions of people have taken the trouble to buy your album, listen to it, and reach their own conclusions. A lot of progressive rock fans also enjoy classical and jazz music, and are totally comfortable with the idea of listening to a piece of music 40 minutes long. It's patronising to suggest otherwise.
The simple truth about 'A Passion Play' is that it is a complex, ambitious, but largely successful extended form composition that was way ahead of its time when released. The likelihood of Anderson (or anyone else for that matter) writing anything as rewarding as this again is virtually zero. The history of popular music is littered with examples of similarly ambitious projects that proved too much for the critics at the time of release (Ellington's longer suites being the most obvious example). However, as an album 'A Passion Play' has stood the test of time extremely well, and it sounds as good and fresh today as it did 40 years ago.
Postscript: unfortunately, Amazon's practice of publishing all reviews of this album under a single heading makes it impossible for anyone who has reviewed previous editions to comment on the 2014 re-mix, so I will have to add my comments by way of a postscript. The new re-mix is interesting, and most dedicated Tull fans will want to own it, but it is not as good as the 2012 TAAB re-mix which really sparkled. The approach is different - Ian Anderson and Steve Wilson seem to have started from the premise that the original mix of APP had definite flaws which required fixing. Unfortunately, in attempting to do this, some of the magic of the earlier version has been lost. It sounds like a conscious attempt to re-arrange the music to rectify perceived shortcomings, rather than a celebration of the original album's virtues. The additional music in Part Two, omitted from the 1973 release, is worth having but not exactly essential. Moreover, the inclusion of a lyric sheet for the Chateau d'Isaster Tapes (CD2) merely highlights what many of us already knew, namely that this material is distinctly inferior to both TAAB and APP, which probably explains why the band decided to abandon it. Musically, it is interesting and sometimes excellent, but the lyrical theme of nature's cruelty was explored better in 'Warchild', whilst the related theme of humanity's passion for life is covered more poetically in APP. So this material too is not exactly essential. APP remains one of the very best examples of the 1970s progressive rock genre, so it's probably best to regard this version as just another performance (i.e. interpretation) of the piece rather than a definitive enhancement of the original release, in the same way that one would when comparing different performances of a great classical symphony.
A Passion Play is one of those real `love it or hate it' albums that can get really bitter critiques and really impassioned defenses at the same time. The record is essentially a very long and interesting song, a song about death and the afterlife from several different perspectives with a mixture of humor, clever observation and inventive lyrics.
This was the band's sixth studio album and had the unenviable task of following up the pair of unstoppable classic albums Aqualung and Thick As A Brick. Historically the album has not only been seen as inferior to both, but altogether as a step too far. It can be seen as too pretentious, overambitious and the sound of a band disappearing up their own backsides. If you have ever disliked an album because it was too pretentious, then stay away!
I am in the camp that sees it as a masterpiece. The album is a bastion of superb musicianship, powerful creativity and features some of singer Ian Anderson's finest ever vocal performances. The piece is split into two tracks, into four movements, into sixteen sections. Some CD versions will let you skip between the sixteen individual sections while some will feature only the two tracks to replicate the two sides of the original vinyl. There are recurring themes, from funereal piano sections, to the hard rock riffs of `Critique Oblique,' and `The Memory Bank,' to the ghostly twinkling of `Forest Dance' and `Life Beats.'
The standard of musicianship, performance and complexity is unmatched by anything else in the bands career except the similarly structured Thick As A Brick record (possibly the best album of all time) and this is a record you can really fall deeply in love with, absorbing every little nuance and detail.
The album expands even further if you listen to their next album `War Child' and their `Night Cap' collection, which shows all the various directions the band could have taken with the material they had written at the time, possibly making a film like Pink Floyd's The Wall, the inclusion of many now omitted Animal themes etc.
Overall; The idea of one, incredibly dense, heavy and solo filled song may seem a little too intimidating and the inclusion of sax parts may not fit with your ideal vision of the Tull sound. If not, this may not be the album for you. If however you like the heavier parts of the Tull sound and are up for a challenging but rewarding grower of an album that unveils more and more creativity with each listen, then pick up a copy of A Passion Play.
on 8 March 2015
To me, this is the best album Tull, or possibly ANY band has ever recorded. If it wasn't for the silliness of "The Hare..." it would be perfect. I understand why they added that, and, taken on its own it's quite entertaining especially when seen with the accompanying video clip. But it really detracts from what is a stunningly complex and quite serious piece of music - it should have been a B side or outtake.
But, with that said, the music here is just so incredible that it's STILL to my mind the best Tull ever recorded. The lyrics are deep and reward exploration on sites like Cup Of Wonder.com and I'm quite sure I've found some references no one else has ever mentioned 40 years later (Aleister Crowley anyone? Apparently Ian was a fan which I only found out after noticing some things in the lyrics here....). Ditto the stunningly complex music which rewards multiple (multiple!) repeated listening sessions.
The new box set with 5.1 is excellent value for money as usual. No half-baked "live outtakes" or half-assed "alternate mixes" where you can't even tell the difference from the originals. What you get here is a stunning new surround sound mix along with properly recorded bonus tracks that could have been an album in their own right and even a new section of the original main album that I'd never heard before. On top of that the booklet is a great read and...come on, for under £20 even someone like me who has the fairly recent remastered CD (and the Nightcap set) will find this a wonderful package.
The Benefit, TAAB and Warchild packages are just as good value for money, it's just a shame they didn't make Aqualung in this format (although I did stump up for the big collector's edition and I love it but it should have been available without the vinyl and the huge price tag).
Ian Anderson is a musical genius and his continuing respect for the fans with releases like this which add truly worthwhile new extras for us should be applauded. I'm looking forward to the 5.1 version of Minstrel In The Gallery but, for now, you should buy this and maybe even take a day off work to sit around doing nothing but listening and exploring the lyrics and stuff in the booklet and on the internet. They don't make them like this any more!
Steven A. McKay, author of Wolf's Head: Volume 1 (The Forest Lord)
on 8 March 2001
...I fully agree with Peter Knowles' review. This is (IMHO) one of the most under-appreciated albums ever made, with amazing production. The feel, composition and musicianship are stunning throughout - and it never gets boring. The first listen can be a bit of a challenge to those used to Tulls' more 'conventional' works, but stick with it and it becomes SO rewarding to listen to! BUY IT!!!!
on 1 July 2014
I would guess that most fans considering this purchase will already be intimately acquainted with this album. I myself are amongst the 'hard core' that have rated this as my favourite Tull album. Sad maybe, but remember APP reached No.1 in the US. I would heartedly recommend it to all who love the album already, or want to re-experience it. The sound engineering by Steven Wilson is superb as always. He has managed to remix and rejuvenate the sound brilliantly without losing any of the character of the original mix. This is demonstrated on both the CD and DVD 5.1 mixes. The music has been organised into individual tracks (similar to the MFSL remaster). However, the album plays gapplessly as its intended to be a song cycle I assume. This gives one a chance to skip the 'Hare has lost ..........' in case you find it tedious after 1,000 plays! There is even an extra verse on the 'Foot of Our stairs' track which has been inexplicably missed on previous releases. This is another example of the care and attention that has gone into this release along with the 80 booklet giving further incite from Steven Wilson, the ballerina and the infamous 'Crime of Passion' review.
Great care has also been taken to review the Chateau d'Herouville sessions. Although much of the work has been recycled into APP and subsequent albums, the sessions still work as great contribution to the Jethro Tull body of the work. Here they are presented as remixed pieces in CD as well as 5.1 surround and should not be seen as just early version 'fillers' that you find on many deluxe offerings from other artists. Jethro Tull have more respect for their fan base than that.
I hope that this release sparks a re-evaluation of APP within the 'prog rock' genre and renews interest in a sometimes maligned Album. Keep the Jethro Tull re-releases coming. I will certainly pre-order with confidence if this is the quality of work I can expect.
on 6 July 2014
A passion play sounds and just feels much better in this brilliant box set. 2 CDs. disc 1 a passion play remixed by Steven Wilson and another 2nd CD of sessions from the aborted 1972 France sessions which are also superb. The DVDs of these albums also included have 5.1 mixes that are very enjoyable. The sound on all these discs is simply stunning. For a recording from the early 1970s to sound this fresh is a revelation. The booklet is also fantastic and has a lot of info on the sessions etc. just what fans will enjoy!
Overall I am very happy with this box set of yet another great Jethro Tull remix that is so well produced by the engineering wizard Steven Wilson.