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Jethro Tull - Under Wraps  CD (album) cover

UNDER WRAPS

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

2.21 | 346 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
2 stars Alright! Someone plug in the drum machines! It must be Under Wraps, the OTHER most misunderstood record in Tull's history. It doesn't deserve all the hate that's flung at it. Of course, it's also a really crumby record that no one should own or even like. But it is not, I repeat not, a sell out. Ian was WAY too stupid to ever actually sell out.

Coming off the medieval synth high of Broadsword, Ian figured, what the hell, we can go ALL electrono for this one! So he turned a lot of the reins over to Vettese, which was not a good idea at all. The result? An electro record with the progressive ideals of any of Tull's old junk, but without the sturdy backbone of either Broadsword or even A. It's still a concept album, it's still got sound effects and tracks that flow into each other, there's even a six minute track (which was, oddly enough, not bad). Under Wraps is just really...really...annoying.

Now, it is common knowledge that one of the first three tunes is the best (all penned by just Ian. Coincidence? I think not). "Lap of Luxury" is a fairly catchy number, even if it is laden with synths. "Under Wraps #1" is even catchier, with great vocal delivery. "European Legacy" is my favorite of the load, since it's the most "natural" sounding, what with the flute lines and Spanish guitar. But from there, it all goes downhill.

"Later That Same Evening?" It just sort of drones on for a while, and some of the encoded vocal effects are getting kind of irritating now. "Saboteur?" A repetitive, dorky, hyperactive electrono rocker. "Radio Free Moscow" plays some artsy tricks with the sfx, but at heart, it's just another dull plodder. "Astronomy" is another lame rocker, complete with hyper keyboard effects thrown in, but at least it closes with some classy Ian vocals.

Aside from some goofy pronunciation, "Tundra" is just as useless as the rest of 'em. It's another slow, tuneless track. "Nobody's Car" actually provides us with some flute (a Tull album with flute?!?) It's a little faster, and...hmm. Is anyone else starting to notice a pattern here?

Now, what stops me from rating this album any lower is the next two songs. The first, "Heat," is an okay rocker. It's pretty driving, with some scary vocals. It's almost headbangin'! Too bad there's a heavenly guitar solo in the middle (that not even David Gilmour at his most generic would touch) that spoils it. But next is an album favorite, the gentle, sad "Under Wraps #2." It's a "Cheap Day Return-esque" take on the first "Under Wraps." Some people complain that Ian just tossed in an acoustic version of the earlier song so that old fans would say, "Hey! He's still got it!" I say, so what? "Under Wraps" was one of the better songs, and "#2" is gorgeous. There's some actual emotion in it, that's what I care about.

But then we go right back to the same ole same ole with "Paparazzi." It might actually be the poppiest number on the record. Actually, scratch that, the vocals still make it too weird, and it's way too moody. Damned if I can remember anything else about it though.

"Apogee" is even more repetitive than usual, which is either something to be proud, or ashamed of. Wait, I get it now! It's about astronautics! Trippy astronautics! Ha-ha! Tull conquers space rock! Wish they'd made a better attempt at it.

"Automotive Engineering" at least provides us with some freaky vocals, and you get to hear Ian use an ethnic slur! Not bad, eh? Well, it's also the dorkiest number of them all, complete with blaring start 'n stop synths. Album closer "General Crossing" is pretty aimless, once again the only redeeming factor being Ian's amusing, off the wall, layered vocal delivery. Although, in this case, some might find them to be a little too weird and overbearing...

Alright. I've heard the record enough. But I still say there's nothing really popish about this thing; it's still too complex to be played on your local hits station. If you need to call it something, I guess you could call it baroque synth pop, since there are all those vocal harmonies Ian layers over himself and the keys. It's like if the Beach Boys had a Casio and a flute.

Of course, just because Ian retained his complex image doesn't mean the music is good. Most of it is samey, dull and unmemorable, although it's not quite without atmosphere. Some songs (say, "Under Wraps" or "Heat") actually create an air of spy theme paranoia that is sort of effective. But it's almost not worth looking, not when your lineup is so poor. Pete "Lord of the Synths/Drums" Vettese, the less said about him the better. I guess he actually was being restrained on Broadsword, here he really overdoes himself. He lacks Jobson's technique or Evan's discipline, or even David Palmer's command of the saxophone (we're assuming). Where'd they find him again? Devo?

But Martin and Dave aren't much better; Dave has almost totally adopted the "poppin' bass" style of play, and Marty's guitar is taking a turn for the 80's metallic. Bland 80's metallic. Luckily (or unluckily, depends on how you look at it), you can hardly hear them most of the time.

Ian is still okay though. The flute and acoustic never let me down, not that you can ever hear that either. His vocals are the best aspect of the album; they're all over the place, like some kind of Peter Gabriel wannabe. That's probably a really poor comparison, but, you know. I won't even begin to discuss his vocal tricks here, because there's so many of 'em. If the record deserves repeated listening for anything, it's that. And hey! I saw some saxes in the liner notes! Where's my sax?!?

I don't need to bash this record any more. I think I already did enough of that up there. Besides, it could have been worse; what if every song had had a spoken robot intro? So, if you have had the misfortune of buying this thing (and may Valhalla forgive you), just focus on the (few) catchy numbers, the (fewer) folksy ones, and Ian's crazy vocals. You'll make it. Probably.

(Well, wadaya know! Ian's still into video. The Under Wraps remaster comes with a bunch of extra tracks that make been inserted into the main mix, so if your album didn't have all the songs listed above...well, just consider yourself lucky. But with this thing you also get a music video! It's of the song "Lap of Luxury." Yeah. It's...well, it's amusing, Ian's camera mugging, and at least it's not "Automotive Engineering" or something, but I'd hardly call it an essential bit of prog rockin' cwazy Tullery. Ain't no Hare what Lost His Spectacles. I mean, if you adored Under Wraps, you'll appreciate it to be sure, but if you're still sane, it's not much of an incentive. No change.)

The Whistler | 2/5 |

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