Like most Tull fans I greeted the synth-driven and pop-inflected "Under Wraps" with dismay. Indeed, for years I subscribed to the Tull orthodoxy that splits the band's output into two periods:
1. before "Under Wraps" = classic Tull
2. everything after = patchy
But, the other day I read that Ian Anderson and the band always rated "Under Wraps" and toured it heavily; in fact, Anderson ruined his voice on its ambitious vocal parts. This made me curious to re-visit the old thing two decades on. I'm glad I did.
OK, let's clear the obvious hurdles. This album delights in then-novel but now-dated synthesizer technology. And it uses a drum machine. These truths are inescapable and must be met head on. The drum machine, well, even Ian Anderson makes no excuses for that in his new liner notes, and it IS annoying. The synth-pop sonic texture, however, is less jarring now than it was in 1984 - in fact, it comes across as suffused with Eighties nostalgia, a glamour the Eighties didn't actually possess while I was living through them but now possess in memory. Moreover, the synth music fits the Cold War paranoia and spooked futurism of the lyrics pretty well; as well, I'd argue, as the organic timbres of fiddle and mandolin suited "Heavy Horses / Songs From The Wood".
"Under Wraps" isn't exactly a concept album, in the way "Thick As a Brick" was, but it definitely explores a concept, or rather a set of interrelated concepts: espionage, globe-trotting internationalism and anxieties about soulless consumerism.
The album opener, "Lap of Luxury", showcases those doleful drum machines from the get-go. Lyrically and structurally, it echoes "Fallen on Hard Times" from the previous album, 1982's "The Broadsword and the Beast". Maybe this formed my early distaste, because Tull seem to be recycling old songs, without the charm or wit of the original. Nevertheless, in the current recession it's a song with a new resonance and it's not without a lyrical flourish or some energetic guitar heroics from Martin Barre, somewhere in the mix. Unfortunately, the eponymous "Under Wraps #1" won't convert the sceptics either, with its unsubtle clattering rhythm and fiddly keyboard twiddling.
Then, suddenly, the clouds part. "European Legacy" is MUCH better. So much better in fact, and so much more representative of the rest of the set, it should have been the album opener. The drums are subdued, the synth-wash is warm, the continental romance of the lyrics is engaging, the flute makes a welcome return: there's even a mandolin in there somewhere! The following track, the enigmatic "Later, That Same Evening", is even better, plotting a witty spy drama narrative with genuinely intelligent synths framing the vocals.... All of a sudden, it feels as if this album is finding its voice, as if you're starting to hear what Ian Anderson and his keyboard collaborator Peter-John Vettesse were so excited about.
The run of good songs continues with the heavy-metal styled "Saboteur" and the New Wave tinged "Moscow Free Radio". Both of these songs blend Tull's trademark acoustic pickings and crunchy electric guitar with thunderous electronic rhythms (on "Saboteur") and lifting pop choruses ("Moscow"), while sustaining and developing the album's Cold War perspective. By this point I'm thoroughly enjoying myself. "Astronomy" passes in a blur (it sounds like "Watching You, Watching Me" from "Broadsword"), but "Tundra" has a heavy Wagnerian power to it that Tull evoked on their big set piece songs from previous albums ("Seal Driver", "Black Sunday", "Dark Ages"). Again, the synths are working with the songs, not against them. "Nobody's Car" revisits the album's espionage conceit with catchy hooks that make you wonder how Tull would have fared if they, rather than Duran Duran, had been commissioned to perform the theme 1985's Bond outing "View to a Kill".
"Heat" is a passable enough synth-rock effort redeemed by its vocal enthusiasm (Ian Anderson will never sound like this again, but will morph into a Mark Knopfler clone in future recordings) but there's unexpected beauty in the acoustic rendition of "Under Wraps #2". Many fans regard this ditty as the only decent tune on the album, but the observant will notice that ALL the melodies on this album are complex, catchy and well-structured. They're just performed differently from usual. They're also shorter than usual, with only "Heat" surpassing 5m30s and most songs sticking rigidly to 3m30s conventions. Added to that, it's a long album, only minutes shy of a full hour. After "Under Wraps #2" it's hard to maintain concentration, though "Paparazzi" is punchy and oddly prescient and there's space shuttle pathos in "Apogee" that would be rewarding enough if the record ended here. Instead we have to sit through "Automotive Engineering" (noisy claptrap) and "General Crossing" (just plain old claptrap), sending the album out on a bathetic note.
You know, I daydream about Tull reconvening to re-record this underloved album, with a proper drummer and maybe ditching the first two and last two songs to create a satisfying 42 minutes of acerbic observation and romantic adventure. I'd urge old Tull-fans to revisit it too: there's good material here. Surely we're all grown up enough now to forgive those doughty long-haired rockers from the Seventies for, you know, moving on... At the same time Tull were experimenting with this album, Rush were going the same way with "Grace Under Pressure" and Yes had a smash hit with "90125", essentially ploughing the same prog-synth furrow. Yet, years later, I find more to enjoy in "Under Wraps"'s flaws than the crowd-pleasing MOR sensibilities of "Owner Of A Lonely Heart".
So you see, I'm rejecting the idea that "Under Wraps" was some sort of a watershed, the point where Tull "jumped the shark". Instead, I think it was their "Thick As A Brick" for the Eighties. A slighter record, yes - but then, it was a slighter decade wasn't it? Certainly, "Under Wraps" is not a record to deserve anyone's contempt. Not, this reviewer might add (ducking for cover), if they're a REAL Jethro Tull fan anyway....
on 9 April 2008
No drummer - just a drum machine on this album. Sounds more like Devo/Art of Noise/The Cars than Tull. Somehow I can't imagine Tull wearing mullets and shoulder pads and doing the Miami Vice thing.
More electronic than Tull's usual organic acoustic sound. Nevertheless the songs are as good as anything Tull have ever done.
But I guess the electronic style is a bit of a culture shock to many Tull fans. Still: credit to the band for trying something different. Even if at times it doesn't quite work.
After this album Tull went back to their more familiar style. And I'm glad they did.
on 29 October 2014
This is interesting. The things that strike me are that in most ways it sticks with typical Tull/Anderson arrangements with the interplay between guitar, flute and keyboards, the keyboards are mainly synths and there's nothing wrong with that and there's a drum machine which doesn't work so well. There's a aprticulalry ruinous use of the bass drum on Saboteur which is otherwise a decent track. Some of those "modern" effects don't always work (the vocooder on Later That Same Evening for instance) but then it's the weakest track from the original album. The synths are as we know quite prominent but I'm fine with that.
So to the songs. The weakest are the additions not on the original vinyl Astronomy, Tundra, Automotive Engineering and General Crossing the last two being clear cases of bonuses which deserved to left out. The first two aren't too bad though.The first three are fabulous. A decent pop song Lap of Luxury, an absolute classic typical Tull arrangement with Under Wraps and European Legacy which probably has Anderson's greatest flute riff. There's stuff to like in most of the rest of the tracks. Radio Free Moscow, Nobodys Car, Heat, Under Wraps 2, Paparazzi and Apogee are all very decent. Apogee is almost the stand out track on the whole album.
The thing I find is that however the Tull sound changes it's still the same because Anderson never forgets to do what he's always done well. And that's to be found in profusion here.
on 22 November 2015
It is funny how this album is criticise for being so different while bands are normally criticised for treading the same old furrow.
I fully accept that someone who likes early 1970s Tull may find this "challenging" but I have always like lots of the ideas and songs on it. I thought it made the fundamental ideas more relevant while Tull albums of the 1970s often sounded a bit tired and laborious at times. The excellent, sprightly Songs of The Wood was a notable exception to this opinion of mine.
With 30 years hindsight, I think the previous "solo" album "Walk into Light" stands up slightly better but I still rate most of the tracks including the title track, European Legacy, Saboteur, Later That Same Evening, Radio Free Moscow (nice keyboards and Mandolin), Nobody's Car, Heat (I still love the keyboards on this throughout), the acoustic version of the title track (a complete contrast and excellent for it), Apogee and Tundra.
I had the 4 "extras" on my original cassette version so they are familiar to me.
Funnily enough, I have never been that keen on the opening track and single: Lap of Luxury!
What I do remember feeling let down about was the sound of the keyboards on the first track of the follow-up album. Still, Budapest made up for them as well as did Farm on the Freeway.
on 1 July 2006
Out of all the Jethro tull albums in existence this has to be the most Un-Jethro Tull one of the lot. Yes I know it's all very clever keyboard related stuff, but it sits horifically uneasily within the back catalogue as a whole. I can remember thinking that 'A' was worrying, but Under Wraps seemed to throw the Jethro Tull rule book out of the window completely. If you are like me and into the more rustic and earthier side of Jethro Tull, then this is not the album for you. In fact the only really good thing that I can say about it is that it is a good album to provoke contoversy, in-depth conversations and debates amongst Tull fans the world over. That is I suppose a good thing as it gets people talking together. The track 'Under Wraps 2' does offer some acoustic and lyrical comfort though, but is far too short to rescue the album from its sore thumb and overblown eighties keyboards status. Never forget though, that despite what I've said, it's still a Jethro Tull album and all Jethro Tull fans should own a copy so as to show support. However, Whether or not you choose to have it on display to visitors is another matter.
on 17 January 2009
You know, Under Wraps is apparently a controversial album. So called Tull experts seem to hate it - so it can't be any good, right?
Heck... the stage show for this had Tull walking around the stage in space suits as I recall... oh good times.....
But let's get some things clear - any self-respecting Tull fan ought to be able to find a lot to like here, if only they could get over some hang ups. Tull might have gained "rustic charm", but they didn't always have it - they started with the Blues, delved in rock of the time, produced long extended discs such as Thick As a Brick and so on.... before settling into Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses... and going back to Blues with Catfish Rising.... and so on.
In other words, people really shouldn't get so stuck on what Tull are supposed to be, just LISTEN.
The main problem here is the lack of a "real" drummer, with the machines doing all the work instead. It sounds dated, and heavy handed, and adds nothing to the CD - hurts it even. But if that were the whole story, that would be the end of it, but it isn't....
The thing is - this album has some rather brilliant songs on it. The title track (both versions), Later That Same Evening, Radio Free Moscow, Tundra, European Legacy.... they're all classic Anderson songs, and are very much worthy of consideration as some of the best Tull worked on.
Sure, somewhere in the production of this one things got.... weird. But when the quality is as good as it is under the surface of all that electronics, surely this can be overlooked.
This album deserves much more credit and kudos than it gets. It isn't perfect, but few things are. Give it a chance (or five) and you might be surprised. I love it personally.
Though the reissue sounded a bit WORSE to my eyes, with an even greater emphasis on those damn drums....
on 20 May 2015
Haven't really listened to this for almost 30 years! I used to be in the don't like it camp, but have just listened to it again whilst ripping the cassette to cd-r, and am pleasantly surprised how good it sounds. Anderson's voice is in top form, and whilst keyboard heavy, there are still flashes of guitar and bass brilliance from Barre and Pegg. This ditches Tull as a group, and instead is Tull as Ian Anderson with helpers. This is a solo album in all but name. This is still not an easy album to find in the racks at hmv but is worth a punt.
on 25 January 2006
If you study websites devoted to Jethro Tull, you will find that many contributors consider Under Wraps to be the worst Tull album in existence. Certainly it's very different from everything else they've done, and something of a failed attempt at finding a new direction for the band. (As Anderson himself remarked in one of his live performances "Back in 1984, I think it was, we experimented with synthesisers and technology... and then decided it was better just to keep Dave.")
That said, Under Wraps has some intriguing lyrics, and several songs returning to that common Tull theme, the sea. If you own a comprehensive collection of their music, you should add this one. It may take some getting used to, but it's worth the effort. While it will never be up there with 'Broadsword', or 'Aqualung' you may well find you prefer it to the poorly-produced 'A'.
Give it a go!
As an owner of every Tull studio album I have to say I like most of Underwraps. Yes, the drum machines are occasionally annoying (mostly on the steady drone of Lap of Luxury) but can be quite effective on Saboteur for example. Under Wraps #1 and #2, European Leagacy, Later..., Radio Free Moscow and Heat are all really good songs which may be a bit synth heavy but still make use of a good range of instruments, rhythms and melodies. It may not live up to the 1970s material but I still think it's better than everything that's come after until the recent Ian Anderson solo albums. For me Tull were always at their best when their albums had a theme and this was the last Tull album to do this.
However, I like 'A' as well...
on 7 November 2010
The much maligned Jethro Tull album 'Under Wraps' from 1984 is a bit like Marmite, you either love it or hate it, there is no in-between. When I first heard it I couldn't believe my ears: Ian Anderson singing definetely, but the music didn't sound like the Tull I knew and loved, featuring synths, sequencers and who on drums? Barry Barlow? Gerry Conway?...no, a 'Drum Machine'...I could almost hear Tull fans crying into their real ale whilst their pipes slipped from the corner of their gaping mouths: oh dear !! We all thought Ian Anderson had exercised his fascination with modern technology on his solo album from the previous year 'Walk Into Light' or 'I've Got A Drum Machine And I'm Going To Use It' (Alternative Title!!) A passing mid-life manopausal thing surely...WRONG !! Oh dear again !! Well I bought it so I thought I might as well listen to it and give it a chance. But was it any good? Surprisingly, yes.
The album started with the radio friendly 'Lap Of Luxury', which was o.k, nothing special, not too bad. Then came 'Under Wraps #1', and the drum machine is in full swing here. I couldn't help thinking that these tracks would sound better with a 'real' drumer. The sprightly 'European Legacy' at least featured acoustic guitar and flute, but still has those clever synths from Mr Peter Veteesse (If Tull fans thought Eddie Jobson was flash, then they definetely weren't gonna like this guy). 'Later, That Same Evening' had a cold war feel about it, with clever lyrics and exceptional singing from Anderson (indeed this was the last album before Anderson began to suffer serious problems with his voice) The next track 'Saboteur' at last allowed guitarist Martin Barre to let rip, and it really rocked. 'Radio Free Moscow' followed, another tale of cold war espionage, it sounded like it would make a good single. 'Nobody's Car' continued the theme, but was a bit lame. Then we had the excellent 'Heat', a fast paced rocker with great musicianship from the boys , heck, even the Drum Machine was starting to rock !! Then, shock horror, came an 'acoustic track' (No, really !!) 'Under Wraps #2', a lovely track that proved less was more, and far superior to 'Under Wraps#1'. This sounded more like 70's Tull, but would be the only track on the album that would. The poppy 'Paparazzi' followed, and it was back to the sequencers and synths. The album closed with 'Apogee' which featured some brilliant lyrics from Anderson, about the crew of a spaceship going insane, and that was it.
Well, it took a long time to grow on me but it's now one of my favourite Tull albums, even though it doesn't sound like any of the others. The songwriting is excellent, really good lyrics, decent production, very clever drum sequencing and Anderson's voice was at it's peak: he would never be able to sing this well again.
Of course it would have sounded better with a real drummer, as bassist Dave Pegg has admitted, but this WAS the 80's, and Anderson wanted to try and at least have a go with the new technology, rather than get left behind. OK, it might not have been a big sucess, but fair play to Ian and Co. for at least having a go. On the next album (Crest of A Knave) Tull returned to a more traditional sound, but with 'Under Wraps' they had alienated alot of traditional Tull fans, including their manager, Terry Ellis, who was reluctant to even release it !!
Like I said, 'Under Wraps', it's a bit like Marmite; you either love it or you don't. I like Marmite, and I love 'Under Wraps'.