It’s important to address a few points right away with this one before anyone rolls their eyes in instant judgment. Yes, Still Thick As A Brick is clearly a Jethro Tull-inspired release. Yes, it’s a pastiche of the original Thick As A Brick in appearance, and yes, it’s operating within that general domain of sound. However, it is not a cover or remake of the original, nor is it a sequel, nor is it supposed to be considered a replacement (assuming that could even be possible for such a classic). Labours of love such as these are rarely created in naive attempts to better their predecessors. Instead, international outfit Reflection Club have crafted a standalone work that takes Tull’s 1972 prog concept opus and uses it as a blueprint for their own story and their own album to stand alongside the original… with surprisingly strong results.
Most of us have that ‘buyer’s remorse’ album on our shelf – the band that someone recommended because ‘they sound so much like that other band you love’ – but upon listening, we find we’d much rather just listen to that other band we love. This is not that scenario. Some might consider this a long-lost Tull album, or ‘Tull junior’ or ‘son of Thick As A Brick‘, or even, as I’ve heard in some circles, ‘What 2012’s Thick As A Brick 2 should have been’ – and nobody would be right or wrong. Without sounding too nebulous, this album is somehow all of those things and none of them, and that’s what makes it such an intriguing listen.
Despite the packaging and presentation, this is actually less a specific tribute to Thick As A Brick than it is a warm homage to the Tull output of the 1970s. Of course, there are obvious musical and lyrical Brick references, but little flashes here and there remind us of some other favourite moments – I smiled at one section highly reminiscent of Wond’ring Aloud, for instance. But the album never devolves into mindless ‘Spot the reference’ games, as its own music is too strong to need such crutches. More importantly, and unlike the more mimetic ‘clone’ bands out there, Reflection Club take numerous opportunities to forge their own paths and steer the music down different avenues that Tull didn’t always explore in full, like the odd jazzy bit for example. Sprinklings of sitar, bagpipes and violin also inject distinct flavours to the more typical and familiar rock instrumentation.
The songwriting from band leader and multi-instrumentalist Lutz Meinert is the strongest aspect of Still Thick As A Brick. It’s no small task to compose a work of such complexity and epic scope and have it succeed – particularly as an underdog viewed through the lens of some Tull fans in 2021 who might understandably over-scrutinize right out of the gate. There are gorgeous melodies, skillful arrangements and memorable lyrics throughout, and while instrumental prowess and technique might not reach the heights of players like Barrie Barlow and John Evan, there’s little need for concern with songs as robust as these. Transitions between the eleven main sections are seamless as they build with appropriate momentum and settle gently into their softer acoustic sections with a hint of sweetness to the vocals.
It will come as no surprise that Paul Forrest fronts tribute act The Jethro Tull Experience, as he delivers a strong and convincing Ian Anderson (look him up on YouTube actually performing with Tull in 2008 and prepare your soon to be plummeting jaw). He seems naturally blessed with that vocal tone and knows full well how to utilize it without sounding strained, and it’s a pleasure to hear him voicing original material where he gets to be himself a tad more. He provides acoustic guitar and some flute here, too, though main flute is handled by Ulla Harmuth. Rounding out the Club is Nils Conrad on electric guitar, who shines when given the chance, but is perhaps used too sparingly.
The elaborate 73-page book that houses the discs is an absolute delight that must be seen and read to be believed. The incredibly detailed pages within are a hybrid of truth and fiction that expand on the original Thick As A Brick‘s faux newspaper: absurdist humour, advertisements, interviews, stories, lyrics, colour photos and liner notes. It’s all tied together under the guise of an issue of a music magazine called The Rellington Stone with lyrics allegedly penned by one George Boston (hmm…) – and it’s not always clear where reality and fantasy begin or end. This impressive inclusion adds another dimension to the overall experience of the album.
The DVD is included in the CD version as well as the limited vinyl release, and features 5.1 surround mixes as well as a rather engaging slideshow that plays concurrent with the music. Unlike most visual accompaniments, these aren’t the same dozen images in an endless loop, and make for an entertaining watch for those of us who like such experiences. It really is a whole other dimension when one is immersed in surround sound with visuals like these. Background music, this ain’t.
For those of us who are major Tull-heads, it’s a comfort and a pleasure to have an album of such quality to add to our listening repertoire. This risky release could have been a major disappointment, but I am happy to report that it is precisely the opposite: a surprisingly excellent slab of Tull-inspired material that’s likable straight away and grows more so with successive listens. Much like the album(s) it gleaned its inspiration from, Still Thick As A Brick grabs hold of your attention and is over before you know it. This could easily wind up (no pun) as a top 10 album of the year. Fantastic!