Jethro Tull's front-man, Ian Anderson, has achieved what may be a first in the annals of rock: a sequel to an earlier recording.
With Tull's classic "Thick as a Brick" currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, Anderson has released "Thick as a Brick 2" - to which the band's rabid fans may object that A) it isn't really a Tull album, and B) it's nothing like its predecessor. Well, I'm one of those fans, and neither of these factors bothered me.
"TAAB2" is no masterpiece like "Aqualung" or "Songs from the Wood;" but if nothing else, this muscular entry will at least prevent 1999's dismal "J-Tull Dot Com" from being Jethro Tull's final studio release.
True, "TAAB2" isn't officially a Tull recording, but rather the fifth in a solid series of Anderson solo works.
Online, many Tull-heads lament the absence here of long-time guitarist Martin Barre; I could find no information on why he didn't participate, but truthfully he is not much missed - though young Florian Opahle isn't quite edgy or aggressive enough to take up the slack.
As with other Tull releases from the past 20 years, the writing on "TAAB2" is flatter, tamer and less inspired than earlier Tull landmarks such as "Minstrel in the Gallery" and "Passion Play."
But there's a fairly wide stylistic array, from jaunty to raucous to reflective, plus Tull's usual panoply of instruments - including flute, glockenspiel, tuba, flugelhorn and lots of nice accordion.
Several strong tunes here recall Tull's glory days - the smart-alecky "Give Till It Hurts," the rocking "Shunt and Shuffle" and the stately "Change of Horses."
Nonetheless, "TAAB2" will raise outcries from Tull fans because it's so different from its namesake. That 1972 album was one continuous 44-minute suite, with repeated musical and lyrical motifs tying it together.
"TAAB2" comprises 17 distinctly different tracks, with little organic unity - except in the lyrics.
The first album purported to be a lengthy poem written by nine-year-old prodigy Gerald Bostock (though of course it was really Anderson's work); the follow-up examines various possibilities for Bostock's subsequent life after, as he puts it, "some four hundred thousand hours have come and gone."
In doing so, Anderson gives a telling overview of the past four decades: Middle-Eastern wars, working-class struggles, homosexuality, banking scandals and religious corruption.
I found these new lyrics more unified and compelling than the somewhat impenetrable poem on the first album - though it's worth noting one major change: Anderson's early work made a clear division between religious hypocrisy and true piety; "TAAB2" abandons this distinction, and now it seems all religious fervor is suspect.
Despite that disappointment and some tepid composition, "TAAB2" is about what you'd expect from a 64-year-old dynamo who was once on the absolute cutting edge of rock.