They returned to England and Anderson rewrote, quickly recorded, and released A Passion Play (1973), another single-track concept album, with allegorical lyrics focusing on the afterlife. Like Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play contained instrumentation rather uncommon in rock music. The album also featured an eccentric interlude, "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles", which was co-written (along with Anderson and Evan) and narrated by bassist Hammond. A Passion Play sold well but received generally poor reviews, including a particularly damning review of its live performance by Chris Welch of Melody Maker.
Even as the band's popularity with critics began to wane around this time, their popularity with the public remained strong, as evidenced by high sales of their follow-up album, 1974's War Child. Originally intended to be a companion piece for a film, it reached number two on the US Billboard charts and received some critical acclaim, and produced the radio mainstays "Bungle in the Jungle" (#12 on the US singles chart) and "Skating Away (On the Thin Ice of the New Day)". It also included a short acoustic song, "Only Solitaire", widely thought to be aimed at L.A. Times rock music critic Robert Hilburn, who had written a harsh review of the A Passion Play concerts at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. However, Anderson said the song was written before Hilburn's review and was aimed at music critics in general. The War Child tour also featured a female string quartet playing along with the group on the new material.
In 1975, the band released Minstrel in the Gallery, an album which resembled Aqualung (1971) in that it contrasted softer, acoustic-guitar-based pieces with lengthier, more bombastic works headlined by Barre's electric guitar. Written and recorded during Anderson's divorce from his first wife Jennie Franks, the album is characterised by a markedly more introspective tone than their previous album, and critics gave it mixed reviews.