~ Under Wraps ~



An introduction to "Under Wraps"

In September 1984, after nine months of recording at Anderson's home studio, Jethro Tull released their most controversial album since "A Passion Play": "Under Wraps". Working with new electronic means like samplers, sequencers and high-tech synthesizers used by Ian for the first time on his solo album "Walk Into Light", was taken much further than one would have dared to imagine, to an extent where the flute seems to be completely out of place! Which - for a Tull album - is rather peculiar!

Working on an album in the relaxed atmosphere of a private studio affected the outcome. It offered the band members - Anderson, Barre and Vettese - the time and opportunity to experiment with new forms and 'soundscapes', exchange musical ideas, and work more intensively together in the recording process then had ever been the case before.

The contributions of Martin Barre en Peter Vettese led to a very innovative and powerful album brimmed with original musical ideas. The album was recorded with the aid of a Linn drum machine, instead of a proper drummer which might be the main reason why there is no "live feel" to it.
Most of the songs have a "spy" theme - as Barbara Espinoza states in her book "Driving In Diverse": "contrived espionage and intrigue abound" (1999, p. 89). I for one assume this not to be coïncidal. Ian loves to read spy novels while on the road, especially books written by John Le Carré. So why wouldn't he try to adapt this 'spy novel' format into a set of songs? More important however is, that we should take in account that Ian as an artist writes music and lyrics that often contain his comments on society. When it comes to this album, we should realize that the international political situation in the early eighties might have been the context for this album. To put it more specific: the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet army in 1979, the meddling of the Soviets with the internal affairs of that country and the political reaction of the Western world (remember Reagan's Star Wars programme) caused the last big spasm of the Cold War. In addition to these events there were several so called "spy scandals" in the early eighties, such as defecting agents on both sides and double agents revealing "their" secrets.

Like "A Passion Play" eleven years before, this album also divided the Tull-followers into two groups: either they loved it for its inventivity and its energy or they hated it for sounding too artificial and not sounding anything like "their Tull". ( I for one belonged to the last lot and refused to buy the album until 1999 ....... and then had to change my views and consider it - musically speaking - as one of the most intelligent albums the band ever recorded). However, both for Martin Barre and Ian Anderson as well, this is one of the Tull-albums they rate highly and still listen to for fun.

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The "Under Wraps" tour programme (1984).
By kind permission of Pete McHugh (
Electrocutas - The Jethro Tull Archive).

After the completion of "Under Wraps" Doane Perry was invited to join the band as percussionist for the upcoming tour. Most of the "Under Wraps" songs proved to be very hard to sing on stage. This constant straining of Ian's voice and the use of "heavy electronics" made this situation worse: he suffered more and more from throat problems like laryngitis and muscular spasms. Reaching the upper key notes became hazardous, eventually to such an extent that the Australian leg of the tour had to be cancelled after five gigs! In fact, Ian never overcame this problem, in spite of a period of rest and medical treatment. Personally I think these problems were mainly due to the fact that Ian never was professionally trained as a singer: lack of technique in combination with the excessive touring of the previous fifteen years eventually damaged his vocal chords and throat muscles. From 1985 on he saw himself urged - sorry but true - to adjust the songs he wrote to his vocal limitations.
* Jan Voorbij

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Jethro Tull in the "Under Wraps" days:
Ian Anderson, Peter Vettese, Martin Barre, Dave Pegg and Doane Perry (1984)


Under Wraps # 1

European Legacy

  • Our thinking, feeling and acting is to a large extent determinated by the context of our descent, our childhood, the way we were brought up, the country or region we live in, and the people that make out our family and friends in our formative years: "European Legacy". All these elements are building stones for our personal and/or group identity. For over a century scientists have been debating the question to what extent our social and physical environment determine what kind of personality we eventually acquire. In psychology this debate is known as the "nature/nurture"or "nature/culture" discussion. In terms of philosophy this view on humanity is known as 'positivism', and it was very popular in the 19th century. Marxism is one of the best known examples of posivist philosophies (It considers both human acting and thinking to be determined by their economical situation in society). It seems to me that this psychological phenomenon is the main subject of the song. The narrator uses four images to show how our legacy affects us and our identity.

  • The line "Visitors who took a hand a thousand years ago" is referring to the many tribes from Ireland, Scandinavia and Western Europe that invaded Britain over the centuries, esp. during periods when the nations of the British isles were divided and fighting eachother: "who took a hand". Since our narrator speaks of invaders from a thousand years ago, he specifically means the invading Vikings ( "The Danes"), and the armies of William of Normandy, who invaded and conquered Britain in 1066. The "faint reminders" is a reference to the round houses or "brochs", which is peculiar for they were built by tribes that inhabited Scotland, Hebrides and Orkneys between 600 and 100 B.C.! ( See for more information the Broadsword annotations).
    Both groups eventually
    "washed up a new identity": in other words, they became Britains over time, but their ancestors took their legacy with them when crossing the Channel and the North Sea: "The channel's wide, but it's their European legacy". Note the double meaning in the line "washed up a new identity": 1. These invaders washed up: they came from all directions and landed on different places and in different times on Britains shores and 2. once they settled there succesfully their descendants developed a new identity.
    * Jan Voorbij

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* The Under Wraps logo was also applied on the album cover of
"Live At Hammersmith"(1984)

Later, That Same Evening

  • The second one of the songs with a "spy" theme. The construction of the lyrics and the imagery applied make the song almost film-like - as if one if watching a spy movie. This technique of visualisation and putting stories into a romantic setting can be traced in most of this album's songs.

  • "Hard - it was hard to keep my mind on what she had to sell": is reference to industrial or military espionage, esp. the illegal selling and purchasing of classified documents, plans, drawings, photographs, etc.
    * Jan Voorbij

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  • Another aspect of the "spy" theme is dealt with here: the hitman or hired killer, who eliminates people for money ("pass the hat and pass the knife"). However, Ian portrays him here as a psychopathic murderer - a split personality perhaps - who is convinced that his act is not a crime ("No, no, me no saboteur") - although he is aware of the effects ("deepest regrets I humbly offer you as I cut into your life.") - , because it serves some necessary and "greater", "sacred" goal ("I anticipate a cleansing opportunity to take the horns by the bull" - note the wordplay in this saying btw!) and thus considers it to be rightful ( "I'm only removing broken sea-shells from the beach"). The elimination of physically and mentally handicapped and retarded people, jews, gypsies and gay people by the nazis spring to mind: they used a similar argument for their crimes .....

  • The first five stanza's are dark and brooding and the tension is built up carefully. We can see the killer moving in closer and closer ("Following the trace you leave unwittingly"), stalking his victim, penetrating his or her private life and home ("happy in your domesticity"..."misfortune, like a sparrow hawk hangs over you"), evoking feelings of being treatened ("By now you must be worried, wondering who is me and what lies behind my art"), committing his crime efficiently ("with clean precision"). Finally there might be a similar person very close to us: "there's at least one of me inside your ranks in your factory or school".

  • There is a peculiar twist in the last part of the song, that is not completely clear to me: the sixth stanza consists of a critical implicit comment on history and historiography:
    "History forever writing, pages to be cut or painted grey, or, celebrated like Jesus in his temple rage...".
    Every society in any era will manipulate history to satisfy its own needs or ambitions desired. Here it seems that Ian wants to say that societies are selective when it comes to the appreciation of agression and violence. Jesus' act in the temple is "celebrated", while other acts are condemned. Or is it the principal person here considering his act as necessary as Jesus might have considered his and therefore deserves a place in the history books?
    * Jan Voorbij

  • "Walking on cold corners of the maze.
    Following the trace you leave unwittingly."

    The image of the maze originally comes from Greek myth: Theseus followed a golden thread, given to him by Ariadne, in order to find his way out of the maze after killing the Minotaur which lay hidden at the centre.  The notion of the hunter and the hunted is thus implicit in these lines.

  • Andy Jackson looks at this song from a different perspective:
    The word "saboteur" implies someone who commits an act of wilful destruction, often from within the organization or society to which they belong. There is usually some ideological or economic reason for this act. The end result is always an unbalancing of the status quo, a spanner in the works.
    I take a metaphorical view of this song. For me it's about the role of the creative artist within society, or what Colin Wilson has described as 'the Outsider': the individual who has sacrificed a plush, comfortable life for the isolating journey towards Art. The painted ducks reflect a safe middle-class existence -- as they did on 'One White Duck', where they were regarded with similar cynicism and disgust.

  • The artist, as Outsider, is dangerous for the sole reason that he or she cares very little about society's ordered structure, it's hierarchical career moves, it's policy of politely sweeping personal demons under the carpet. During the old-style Communist regimes of Russia and Poland, the individuals most targeted
    for silencing were the poets and novelists.  It was their words alone which had the ability to sabotage the endless propaganda. In both examples, the artist is not bound by whatever social or moral system happens to be in operation.
    "Happy in your domesticity (it don't come free)" -- what then is the price?  I would suggest that the price is passion, to some degree: the passion to create something better, the passion to dig deeper than the comfortable surface of life.  This of course is the artist's role. To cut into the fabric of things, to lay bare whatever hypocrisies may be in fashion.

  • "Who is me and what lies behind my art" -- again we return to the question of identity that runs through so many Tull songs, and what that 'art' amounts to.  Again, the question of motive or of personal morality is raised: a question with no answer, since the artist takes no sides . . . and, indeed, is not even playing the
    same game.
    The narrator in this song recognises that, despite society's increasing conformity, there is still 'one of me inside your ranks' -- another Outsider who is also within, preparing to raise their own voice in their own way.
    "To take the horns by the bull" -- this echoes the phrase in 'Crazed Institution' ('just a little touch of make-up; just a little touch of bull'), another song in which the artist is examined in relation to the surface glitter of rock and roll, and which, also, depicts the artist as a Christ-figure.

    "celebrated like Jesus in his temple rage" -- this event is unique in the Bible in that it portrays Jesus as a man of human passion and not simply as a moving symbol of peace, mercy, love, etc. The only other comparable passage I can think of is Matthew 10:34 -- "I come not to bring peace, but a sword".
    The significance for the artist is clear -- a purposeful destruction of hypocrisy, a rage against the gods of commerce in defence of what you might call the Spirit.  In this one act of passion, Jesus made it clear that he was a saboteur, a new spanner in the works. The Outsider who changed the system from within.

    In short - it only takes one vision to knock a hole in reality. The artist or visionary, as solitary a free agent as the hit-man, will be the one most likely to pull the metaphorical trigger.
    * Andy Jackson

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Last modified: November 28 - 2000

© Jan Voorbij (1998-2009)