"With Thick As A Brick, we took the idea of the concept album and had some fun with it. Now we thought it was time to do something a bit more serious and make an album that wasn't a spoof and wasn't meant to be fun. We ended up going to record the album at Chateau D'Herouville, in France, where people like Elton John and Cat Stevens had made records. Our original plan was not to make another concept album. The project started off as a collection of songs, including two that ended up going onto our next album, War Child: 'Bungle in the Jungle' and 'Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day).' A certain theme had begun to emerge among the songs - how the animal life is mirrored in the dog-eat-dog world of human society - but the project just wasn't working out. So we abandoned what we'd done and went back to England.
"Back home, I ended up almost completely rewriting all of the material we'd worked on in France, and this became 'A Passion Play'. The concept grew out of wondering about the possible choices one might face after death. It was a dark album, just as we had intended, but it was missing some of the fun and variety that was in Thick As A Brick. The critics savaged us. Chris Welch of Melody Maker [also this review] and Bob Hilburn at the Los Angeles Times wrote really negative reviews that everybody jumped on and reprinted or based their own reviews on. It really snowballed from there, and we got a fair old pasting for that one. On reflection, the album is a bit one-dimensional. It's certainly not one of my favorites, although it has become something of a cult album with some fans."
Ian Anderson, Guitar World, September 1999
Over the years, a number of people have had ideas about the meaning of the Play. However, these have almost all been of the type "well, this bit's about..." or "this line is a reference to...". The primary objective(s) of the Ministry's attempt is to discuss virtually every line, in the context of one cohesive story. This hopefully prevents such contradictions as 'the icy wastes' being considered a 'clear' reference to Dante's vision of Hell, when Ronnie hasn't even reached Hell!
The Play works on a number of levels. One is as a single, coherent story. Individual lines or phrases overlay secondary meanings, either supplementing the atmosphere of the main thread or going off at tangents, throwing out references and ideas which, although rewarding in their own right, bear little relation to the main narrative.
Two approaches to analysis of The Play are to treat it as a single, cohesive story, or a series of meaningful individual phrases, not necessarily contributing to an overall narrative. The two are not necessarily contradictory, but in practice do tend to be.
Partly to provide a manageable structure, and partly for dramatic effect, the analysis takes the form of a parallel-text playscript - lyrics on the left, the corresponding annotation to the right.
The four-Act structure is dictated by logical divisions. The Linwell Theatre programme also states it's a four-Act play, though that's not my main reason for adopting the structure. I regard the programme as supplementary to the album itself - perhaps more relevant than the 'Thick As A Brick' newspaper was to that album, but still primarily a promotional gimmick.
The programme gives a few basic set directions; these are indicated in grey in the annotations. Other stage directions are added where logic dictates, but they're only my own guesses, and are secondary to the interpretation.
Similarly, the programme indicates the key scene of each Act, but I've subdivided these further, suggesting how The Play might actually be staged. Any comments on this aspect of the interpretation would be welcomed.
Red text indicates track titles, as defined by the original 1973 DJ promo of the album. Further details are here.