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Jethro Tull - Under Wraps CD (album) cover

UNDER WRAPS

Jethro Tull

 

Prog Folk

2.24 | 525 ratings

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thief
1 stars "Under Wraps" is a poster child of rock band losing its way in the 1980s. Everyone and their dog seem to hate this release as it's universally regarded The Worst Tull record ever. And it's not even close, by any measure. Reasons mentioned most often: - album is drowned in obsolete synthesizers, - Vettese co-wrote most songs, - Vettese also programmed unimaginitive drum machines, - the band was crossing the line of tawdry pop music.

Well aware of its lapses, I decided to give "Under Wraps" another shot today, mostly because I prefer writing about tacky albums BEFORE I sit down to all time classics. And here's how I wasted two hours:

"Lap of Luxury", the opening track, demonstrates formula used regularly throughout the album. Slightly fuzzed/distorted guitars sit in the background, electro beats are elevated, swaths of synths attack listener with all kinds of quirks. Anderson vocals sound misplaced and ill-suited - his voice isn't versatile enough to cover synthpop ground convincingly. What's worse, vocal tracks are often multiplied, the outcome being cringeworthy most of the time. I'm afraid synth gimmicks - some of them - are the best thing in this song. "Under Wraps #1" tries the same route, but with slightly better rhythm section and almost catchy chorus - call it a (minor) winner.

"European Legacy" raises the bar though with memorable intro and nice melodies. Song flows very nicely, the flute is used tastefully, synthesizers aren't overwhelming. I'd love to hear an unplugged rendition of this one - it has a high ceiling. Unfortunately synthpop rears its ugly head again in "Later That Same Evening". Very disjointed and unfocused song with soapy esthetics. "Saboteur" is another Miami Vice soundtrack outtake, full of quirks and outdated F/X. There is a Barre solo hidden somewhere, but not a gamechanger.

"Radio Free Moscow" captivates the zeitgeist perfectly. Shallow cold war related lyrics, ugly guitar tone straight from The Police albums, Anderson trying his best to sound youthful and positive. But there is something good happening in the chorus, I found myself humming it for the rest of the day. I think it's the best attempt at getting Billboard attention, for what it's worth.

The rest of the album lies somewhere between trife and sickening, bar two exceptions. Silly espionage lyrics ("Nobody's Car"), tons of postmodern, urban kitsch ("Heat"), loads of uninspired and lazy melodies ("Apogee"). By the time you reach "Paparazzi" you're almost guaranteed to shake your head with disbelief, but trust me: this one won't change it a bit. On top of that, I'm reviewing CD edition, the price tag being another 15 minutes of hastily concocted idiocies ("Astronomy", "Automotive Engineering" and terrible "General Crossing").

But I left out two decent tunes on purpose. CD edition contains "Tundra", rare example of thoughtful synthesizers use. I really dig the melody, fat basslines (bass pedals reminiscent of Rush circa 1980) and sneaky atmosphere. What a shame we didn't have more of that. And then we have "Under Wraps #2", a pretty cheerful tune led with acoustic guitar and double bass! Just like the old times; this would make its way to "The Broadsword and the Best" comfortably*.

* "Dave Pegg has been quoted as saying that the tracks cut from the sessions for Broadsword and the Beast would have made a better album"

I'm afraid "Under Wraps" deserves most of the bad rep it gets. It's not that I hate synthpop - I give Depeche Mode and New Order occasional spin - but you have to be darn good at it to make it work 30+ years later. And I doubt "Under Wraps" was any better the day it was released. Ian's vocals fit terribly, synthesizers are gimmicky at best, Barre's guitar chops either non-existent or distasteful (no love for 80s flangey tones). But most of all: good compositions are SCARCE. Aside from highlights mentioned earlier (Under Wraps #1 & #2, European Legacy, Tundra), Jethro Tull denies us memorable tunes or progressive changes. Sure, you might find some songs less repellent than others (say, Radio Free Moscow), but it's certainly not enough to warrant even a two-star rating.

I've listened to "Under Wraps" twice in a row today, and now I want two days break from music.

thief | 1/5 |

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