Cats Are On the Upgrade

Jethro Tull’s fifth studio album Thick as a Brick, was released in March ‘72, a year after Aqualung came out.  Many people thought that Aqualung was a concept album, as it contained characters and themes which continued from one song to the next, but Ian Anderson denied that and he said, “I will show you what a concept album is”, so he wrote this fun album that encroached on mocking the whole concept of a concept album.  Ian drew on his own childhood and early experiences for ideas for sections within the overall work and this album became one continuous track spread across two sides of an LP that turned into an epic poem by a fictional eight-year-old genius Gerald Bostock, filled with absurdity.  Ian wrote this very natural, organically evolving piece of music, that had sort of a Monty Python quality to it, that came from an idea in his head of this parody approach by creating this idea that this album would become the mother of all concept albums, which he wanted it to be.  It presented the preposterous notion that an eight-year-old boy had won a prize for writing this saga in a poetry competition.  The young boy sees two career paths for himself, either soldier or artist and he chooses to become a soldier.  The prize was rescinded after a panel of psychologists determined the poet was unbalanced, as the poem revealed an extremely troublesome attitude toward life, his God and country, so the governing body disqualified him on moral grounds.

Some people viewed it as it was a real story, thinking that it was actually written by a schoolboy and Ian turned these thoughts into an album.  The album became what this youth might be able to accomplish and essentially, it’s a possible future of what might happen.  A single ‘Thick As A Brick’ was released in April 1972, by editing and skimming the best parts of the album, reducing a three-quarter-hour masterwork into a 3 minute song, but it failed to make the charts on either side of the Atlantic.  This was an odd thing for Jethro Tull to do as this continuous long song featuring Side 1 being Thick as a Brick part 1 ran 22:31, and Side 2 was part 2 which clocks in at 21:05, thus this never had any chance of ever getting played on the radio.  As far as concept albums go, it is awesome, unless you can’t stand the flute.  The album did make it to #5 in the UK, and in the US, it topped the Billboard chart for two weeks.  It remains Jethro Tull’s second-biggest seller in America, and critics and fans generally adored it.

Anderson composed this album believing that progressive rock had become a touch too arrogant, and that they needed to be pulled back down to earth.  “Thick as a brick” is a phrase that means stubbornly dumb, slow to understand just not getting it, remarkable stupid, possibly dimwitted, as if your head is so thick that no new thoughts can ever make their way into it.  I love this line, “And you wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick”, as it has this condescending tone to it, like there are a lot of people out there who think that they are smarter than they actually are.

See there, a man was born and we pronounce him fit for peace
There’s a load lifted from his shoulders with the discovery of his disease
We’ll take the child from him, put it to the test
Teach it to be a wise man, how to fool the rest

We will be geared to the average rather than the exceptional
God is an overwhelming responsibility
Oh, fluffy duck
We walked through the maternity ward and saw two hundred and eighteen babies wearing nylons
It says here that cats are on the upgrade (upgrade?)
Hipgrave, downgrades are rare, it’s got that fat and old cat

In the clear white circles of morning wonder, I take my place with the lord of the hills
And the blue-eyed soldiers stand slightly discoloured
In neat little rows sporting canvas frills

With their jockstraps pinching, they slouch to attention
Whilst queueing for sarnies at the office canteen
Saying “how’s your granny?” and good old Ernie
Coughed up a tenner on a premium bond win

The legends worded in
The ancient tribal hymn
Lie cradled in the seagull’s call
And all the promises they made are ground beneath the sadist’s fall

The poet and the wise man stand behind the gun, behind the gun
And signal for the crack of dawn, light the sun, light the sun
Do you believe in the day?
Do you believe in the day?

The dawn creation of the kings has begun, has begun
Soft Venus, lovely maiden brings the ageless one, the ageless one
Do you believe in the day?
Do you believe in the day?

The fading hero has returned to the night, to the night
And fully pregnant with the day, with the day, wise men endorse the poet’s sight
Do you believe in the day?
Do you believe in the day?

Let me tell you the tales of your life
Of your love and the cut of the knife
The tireless oppression, the wisdom instilled
The desire to kill or be killed
Well, let me sing of the losers who lie
In the street as the last bus goes by
The pavements are empty, the gutters run red while the fool toasts his god in the sky

So come all ye young men who are building castles!
Kindly state the time of the year
And join your voices in a hellish chorus
Mark the precise nature of your fear

Let me help you pick up your dead
As the sins of the father are fed
With the blood of the fools and the thoughts of the wise
And from the pan under your bed
Well, let me make you a present of song
As the wise man breaks wind and is gone
While the fool with the hour-glass is cooking his goose and the nursery rhyme winds along

So come all ye young men who are building castles
Kindly state the time of the year
And join your voices in a hellish chorus
Mark the precise nature of your fear
See the summer lightning casts its bolts upon you
And the hour of judgement draweth near
Would you be the fool stood in his suit of armour or the wiser man who rushes clear?

So, come on ye childhood heroes!
Won’t your rise up from the pages of your comic-books, your super-crooks
And show us all the way?
Well, make your will and testament
Won’t you join your local government?
We’ll have Superman for president
Let Robin save the day

So where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?
And where were all the sportsmen who always pulled you through?
They’re all resting down in Cornwall writing up their memoirs
For a paper-back edition of the Boy Scout Manual

So you ride yourselves over the fields
And you make all your animal deals
And your wise men don’t know how it feels
To be thick as a brick, yeah

Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Sunday Writing Prompt hosted by Michael where he asks us to respond to the phrase “In the thick of it”.

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