5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
More of a Tull album than you might think.,
This review is from: Under Wraps (Audio CD)
If one approaches this album subjectively, and by subjectively I mean judging Jethro Tull solely by their work during the 1970s, then of course they're not going to like it. That was how I first approached "Under Wraps", so the first time I listened to this album, it disgusted me to the point where I came very close to sticking the CD under my car's rear tire, and then backing over it. I was outraged with the thought that Ian Anderson sold out like everyone else in the 80s.
It was not until I examined the career of Jethro Tull as a whole (60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s) that I was finally able to appreciate the album more. If one thinks about it, Ian Anderson just might be one of the few Renaissance Men of the music world. Even at the height of Tull's popularity, their sound ran the gamut from quasi-blues ("Stand Up"), symphonic hard rock ("Minstrel In the Gallery"), ambiguously progressive music in the same vein as bands like Yes, complete with meandering instrumentals ("Thick As a Brick," "A Passion Play"), fancifully baroque folk-rock ("Songs From the Wood"), and progressive hybrid jazz-rock ("Warchild"). Tull continued this throughout the 80s and 90s. Ian Anderson followed the winds of change while at the same time, crafting a sound that stood apart.
One of the things that most amuses me about this album is that despite the synthetic arrangements of electronic keyboard synthesizers, drum programming, and over-amped guitars, Anderson is still playing Tull's trademark instrument: his flute. Listening to the first song, "Lap of Luxury," a second time, I now find it amusing that after the groundwork laid down by the synthesizers, Anderson launches into a flute melody that actually fits the mechanical undertones of the song well. He uses the flute many times on this album, but it is always in an organized rythym, almost an attempt to deliberately make an organic instrument sound synthetic. As he has done many times throughout his career, Anderson takes whatever music is popular at the time, and does his own thing with it, making it stand out (but the true Tull fan in me still enjoys the one acoustic song, Under Wraps #2; I always get the feeling Anderson stuck that one on there just for the hardcore fans).
Then there are the lyrics to his songs. Anderson has said that "Under Wraps" was inspired by spy novels, which he usually reads to pass the time while the band is on the road. However, as with every other Tull album, his lyrics are still simultaneously visual and metaphorical. Songs like Saboteur ("By now you must be worried wondering/ Who is me and what lies behind my art?/ I'm only removing broken seashells from the beach"), Astronomy ("And now you stand assisting me/ I can touch what I can see, see, see/ I look in wonder, feel no shame/ See the consequences of the game/ Expand my universe, head for the Big Bang/ Reach for my switch and shout/ Gonna turn the big sky out"), and Nobody's Car ("Are you on routine assignment?/ Plastic shades on black-brown eyeholes/ I've read this book before, I even saw the film/ How did the ending go?/ In tourist city") can either mean one thing, or several. For me, this has always been a key ingredient in what makes Tull such a joy to listen to.
Also, Anderson's creative muse seemed to have taken a more cynical direction in the 1980s. Maybe he was fed up with the Cold War, and how the Arms Race seemed to make the threat of nuclear war all the more imminent; or perhaps he was fed up with England's economy, and the shift from agriculture to industry that was ruining the English countryside; or maybe he was fed up with Prime Minister Thatcher's politics. Whatever it was, the music of Jethro Tull in the 80s seemed to become an outlet for Anderson to vent his frustrations. Here, it was set against the backdrop of the Cold War, in the knife-in-a-dark-alley style. Looking at it from that light, the direction that the band took musically actually serves as the perfect compliment to the dark tales spun through Anderson's lyrics.
It really all depends on what type of Tull fan you are. If you look at their career as ending in 1979 with "Stormwatch," then chances are you won't like this. But if you look at Jethro Tull's career as spanning 30+ years, then you might want to give this a try. The cold, electronic sound might put you off at first, but if you're like me, you'll appreciate it more the second time you listen to it.