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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Jethro Tull

Under Wraps

Review by Greg Olma

Jethro Tull had a difficult time with the changing music scene.  In 1980, the band released A, an album that was supposed to be an Ian Anderson solo record.  Then they managed to do a good job of mixing their sound with some of the electronic elements of the 80s but unfortunately it seemed that The Broadsword And The Beast would be overlooked (but not by us true Tull fans).  When 1984 arrived with Under Wraps, many Tull fans were starting to jump ship.  I think this would have been given a better reception had it come under the banner of Ian Anderson like the previous year’s Walk Into Light.  The songwriting was down to only Ian Anderson and Peter-John Vettese, who were the same two folks that brought you Anderson’s solo record.  Like Walk Into Light, Under Wraps relied heavily on synthesizers and relegated the other instruments into the background.  Martin Barre is barely audible on this album and the programmed drums leave the whole record cold sounding.  That being said, there are some really cool tunes here.  Granted, I’m looking at this almost 30 years later but a good tune is a good tune.  Tracks like “European Legacy,” “Under Wraps #2” and “Apogee” make this a worthwhile listen.  Although this will never be thought of as a definitive Jethro Tull record, it is still an album that is worthy of being purchased.  Some discs grow better with age and Under Wraps is one that deserves revisiting.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Lap of Luxury

This was the single off of Under Wraps and things start off in typical 80s style.  The drums are synthesized and it has a bounce that many of the 80s hits contained.  Anderson’s flute makes an appearance but it is almost added as an afterthought.  If you like the 80s sound, then this is a good lead off track.

Under Wraps #1
If you thought the previous piece was very 80s sounding, then this title track takes things even further.  This could easily have been soundtrack music to one of the many films produced in the 80s.  The music and tempo are similar to the opening tune but somehow it doesn’t have that same “hit single” air about it.  It sounds more like an album track.
European Legacy

Now we get more of a traditional Jethro Tull sound, albeit with more of that 80s techno sound.  Aside from some of the synthesizer sounds and drum sound, this song could fit more comfortably on other Tull records.  This is one of the better pieces on the record and if the rest of the album sounded like this, Tull fans may not have cried “foul” as much.

Later, That Same Evening

I like this song more for the story than the actual music.  The 80s sound creeps back in in full force, especially in the middle bridge.  This is one of those cuts that I would like the band to re-do with a more organic Jethro Tull style.  I think that would make it a much better tune, but I’m looking at things in hindsight.  Back in the 80s, you had to have a certain sound and all bands (including Rush and Genesis) approached their music from a new angle.

Saboteur

Anderson follows a similar espionage theme as on the previous song.  As with the previous track, this one could be better with less synthesizers but for the time it worked (and to a certain level it still works).  If you’re a Tull purist, I can see how this new sound would have driven you nuts, but there is still a quality to the songwriting.

Radio Free Moscow
For some reason, this cut has a Dire Straits sound to it.  Vettese makes his presence felt throughout the track and you can tell he had a big hand in writing the material.  Just like “Under Wraps #1,” this could easily have been on a soundtrack for some 80s movie.  It also contains that “happy bouncy” sound that was all the rage during that time.  It was as if they had to write songs that to which people could dance.
Astronomy

Unfortunately, this song has absolutely no similarities to that great Blue Oyster Cult song of the same name.  Aside from Anderson’s vocals, I would not know this is a Jethro Tull song. That is probably why this cut along with three others here were left off the original vinyl release.  Although it is very un-Tull like, it is a good glimpse into what Anderson was doing.  This would have been a better Anderson solo track than being released on a proper Jethro Tull album.

Tundra

Here is another non-vinyl cut but this one has a bit more of that Tull sound.  As with the whole record, Vettese is all over this track which is kind of a plodding tune.  If you listen closely, you can hear that trademark flute in the background.  Unfortunately, it never makes it up front where it belongs.  I think that if people give this record a chance, they will notice that there are some good songs on it and “Tundra” is one of them.

Nobody’s Car

A more proper Jethro Tull sound is used on this piece.  We get a good amount of flute and Martin Barre’s guitar comes in nicely.  Even though it still has many of those 80s elements, there is still enough of the earlier Tull sound to please older fans.  “Nobody’s Car” is one of the heavier tunes on this fairly lighthearted record..

Heat

At over five minutes, this is the longest song on the record.  It starts off promising with some flute and some synthesizers but Vettese can’t help himself and proceeds to make the track a typical 80s pseudo-rock tune.  It is a faster cut and has more of racing element to it but in my opinion, it is a filler track with many parts of the track going nowhere.  One of the better parts is Barre’s mini solo three-quarters of the way through.

Under Wraps #2

This cut was tucked away on side two of the original vinyl and it is the most organic and most Jethro Tull of all the tracks on this album.  It’s an acoustic piece that really brings to mind the guys in the band sitting around and just playing unplugged music.  Clocking in at just a little more than two minutes, this song leaves almost as soon as it arrives.  If they had just fleshed out more music in this fashion, then this record would be more highly regarded.

Paparazzi

It is funny listening to a song that is almost 30 years old that deals with a subject matter that is even more relevant today than it was in 1984.  This mid paced tune does grow on you.   It’s not immediate and I remember thinking this songs was terrible back in the day but today, I’m listening with new ears and it’s actually a pretty good tune.  Although the song is repetitive, back in the 80s most songs consisted of that element.

Apogee

This song was the album closer on the original vinyl release and it starts off with voices from a control tower.  Like the previous track, this one grows on you.  It is has a start-stop tempo that was popular during that time but Anderson and company still manage to get some of their “sound” into the mix.  Barre’s guitar is heard here and there and although it is only a little more than five minutes long, the band still manages to make this kind of a proggy tune.  The song also ends with those same control tower voices kind of bookending a weird but enjoyable track.

Automotive Engineering

Aside from the 80s sounding instruments, this cut is very Jethro Tull like.  This is one of those tracks that were left off the original vinyl and for the life of me, I don’t know why.  It is a better tune than “Heat” and sounded slightly more like what fans may have expected.  It is repetitive but it has that classic flute in the mix (although it is a bit buried).  The song also seems to end but it fades back in with more repetition of the title.

General Crossing
Wow,  I have no idea what the band was thinking when it recorded this one.  If you could gather all the bad elements of the 80s and put them in one song, then you would have “General Crossing."  I’m glad that they put it on the end so it is easy enough to skip.
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