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Music Review: Jethro Tull – Under Wraps

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It took Ian Anderson almost two years to issue Under Wraps and unfortunately the wait for Jethro Tull fans was not worth the results. It is one of the weakest and oddest entries in their large catalogue.

He tried to modernize the 80s style. It is filled with electronic wizardry plus a synthesizer sound pushed his signature flute playing into the back ground all too often. There is no drummer; rather Anderson programmed all the drum parts which just do not fit the Tull style. It gets worse. He allowed keyboardist Peter-John Vettese to co-write eight of the eleven tracks issued on the original vinyl release. This took the music in a direction which was very different from all their other releases.

When allowed, the instrumental playing is very good. Ian Anderson’s flute may be muted but every once in awhile it shines. Martin Barre still manages to produce a tasty solo now and then. Bass player David Pegg is the most consistent by virtue of his bass parts being needed for the music’s foundation and he produces admirably.

There is an underlying theme of espionage to the lyrics which is a far cry from the grand stories of A Passion Play and Thick As A Brick.They seem forced and never really form a whole.

The best of the lot are “Under Wraps #1 and #2” which have fewer keyboards and “Heat” which may be different from their classic material but contains a nice guitar solo.

On the down side songs such as “Lap Of Luxury,” “Saboteur,” “Paparazzi,” and “Apogee” are in synch with the eighties but not what one would expect from one of the unique groups in rock history.

Under Wraps did continue Ian Anderson’s penchant for changing the group’s sound. The mistake was the direction and not the effort. In some ways it would be interesting to see this album re-recorded using actual drums and with the synthesizers toned down.

Jethro Tull would move in a more hard rock direction as time passed making Under Wraps an out of place stop for the group. It remains an album only for fans who want everything.

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About David Bowling

  • JP

    I find both UW and Walk into Light to be endlessly listenable. PJV is a musical genius and highly proficient, the type of musician Ian Anderson seems to attract (check out his new guitarist Florian Ophale, another prodigy). There is nothing wrong with the music on UW; as one poster commented, the traditional structures are there if you listen for them. There is a lot of musical fun here to discover if you concentrate on the complex passages (listening through headphones is helpful). I also enjoy the lyrics, which are certainly oblique but perfectly suited to the espionage-tinged soundtrack. “Lap of Luxury” is entertainingly tongue-in-cheek, while some of the other songs “Radio Free Moscow,” “Later That Same Evening,” and “Apogee” have an almost wistful aspect that takes me back to Stormwatch and Heavy Horses. On the whole, I think this album is not quite as good as Walk into Light, but it’s still one of my Tull faves.

  • B9000

    Long time and I guess Loyal Tull fan, here. I agree with Trevor that Under Wraps and Walk Into Light were neat little excursions for Ian and Co.
    Saboteur has always been one of my favorite, if aberrant Tull tunes- noisy guitar riffage and relentless drumbeat. It’s very high energy.
    I saw this tour live in ’84 and it was memorable- the band was actually under wraps on stage and ripped themselves out of paper as I remember. An astronaut walked out on stage (in slow motion televised moonwalk style) with a space vacuum-stiffened American and then British flag, or vice versa!

    Ian also did a “magic box” stage trick, entering into it on one side, seemingly, and then reappearing on the other. And a quick turn by a topless stripper in pasties!

    I had a friend who used to think that Matt Johnson from THE THE was actually Ian under a pseudonym…

    If you listen to the Techno-Tull, you will still find familiar Tull Song structure, the old dart and weave, albeit with synth sounds and drums and Ian’s electronic clapper.

    If it had hit with the fans, who knows what turns Jethro Tull would have taken…interesting to speculate.

  • No one likes to have their tastes characterized as boring and predictable. Under Wraps was different for sure, but that fact in itself doesn’t mean the material on it was necessarily good. And just because one expresses a mainstream opinion doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong either. If you read the rest of Mr. Bowling’s Tull reviews, you see this review is but a part of a long retrospective and makes sense in context.

  • tootull

    Although Broadsword is my favourite ’80’s Tull. I’ve always loved Under Wraps and Ian Anderson’s Walk Into Light because they are different.

    Thank you for the Tull reviews. I have linked the reviews at Steve Hoffman music forum on the Jethro Tull appreciation thread.

    Cheers! Tull fan since Thick As A Brick tour ’72.

  • At my age I am a tad predictable and proud of it. There is good Tull and not so good. This one does not rank in their top ten or fifteen. As for Zappa, I have most of his early material. I am constantly changing opinions which may have been his point. Thanks for posting.

  • Trevor Stevens

    You know I have been a Tull fan for 40 years, having seen them over 60 times including pre and post Passion Play and Thick As A Brick shows, right up to this year. I have read with interest and great amusement your musings on the Tull catalogue, and at best I can say you are mainstream and predictable, and at worst that your views on music represent the lowest view that does not allow artists to stretch beyond the pidgin whole the media wants to create for them.

    No Under Wraps was not a “classic Tull” release, but it had balls and courage which is what makes it a good Tull album. They went beyond the usual stuff, and carried on from the previous three releases (if you include Walk In To Light).

    You need to let a band do what they feel they have to explore the boundaries of music; I for one do not want to hear variations on Aqualung or Songs From The Wood over and over.

    UW may have been demanding and not as smooth as some of the other releases, but I think it is a finer release than either Broadsword or A.

    I encourage you not to review the Zappa catalogue; it would twist your straight senses as you crave the mediocre and predictable.