Wire - Wire (Popfrenzy Records)
This is Wire’s most across-the-board album. It’s lush, glorious, dirty, savage, sublime, clever in a street-smart way, jagged in a crying-jag way, it builds and grows and gathers you up and crushes and … and ‘Wire’ is just way, way too good for a band who’ve been touring and recording since 77. Five bottles. At least. So don’t bother reading any further, right, order it here. Then, when the bastard arrives, PLAY LOUD.
See, I come from an era where BOF meant Boring Old Fart, and that meant, not so much anyone over 30 (although that was often the case) but anyone shoving out lazy LPs, with maybe two or three half-decent songs on them. Ill-considered, slothful slush. If you can’t recall offenders from those days, I can bet you can name offenders from today.
“Wire” is way, way too good for old fuckers. If a band in their 20’s presented this to any major record company they’d be signed to a 20-year deal with the Fuck You Up and Rip You Off International label in no time flat.
Wire have reinvented their music, fed off their own ignition, their own universe-creating big bang, their conclusions and their journey (sorry, I hate that buzz-feed term, but it’s true in this case), and realised - once again - that they must return.
Their press release states: “Big money offers have been made to Wire to become part of the Heritage Rock industry, to get the original line-up back together and play only ‘70s music. These have all been unequivocally turned down.”
Nice to see that some bands tell those All Tomorrow’s Parties people “No”, isn’t it?
Anyway, Wire’s past is not hallowed to them, it’s an expression of their inner make-up, which is why in Wire’s music you occasionally hear a sort of twisted, funhouse-mirror echo of their earlier work. As I say, their past is the present and future, because it’s where they started and how they developed and how they are.
I hope that clarifies things.
Because, as I may have said, this is easily Wire’s most commercial record. People who have never heard of Wire are going to love it. They’ll sing along at stadiums. Wire fans, the forums reveal, were initially ambivalent … but BFD, people never really seem to know where they stand with Wire. Take just one example: the endless (and pointless) debate whether Wire are a rock band or a pop band.
Have a listen to the first Roxy Music LP. Hardly pop, is it? Or ‘rock’. Moreso in its original context. From the off, “Wire” is probably their bluntest, least allusive record. And it’s strong, gutsy pop all the way through. Both Roxy and Wire displayed a great deal of grim humour. Both displayed a shiny facade which concealed the monstrous.
I was txtng a friend today about Boris, and he said he regretted not seeing them, but commented that some of their LPs struck him as self-indulgent. I don’t know. I think self-indulgence is when a record company touts tedious, wanking shit (ELP spring to mind); Boris have an audience who are always going to be curious about what they get up to, so their more racketty stuff strikes me not as “experimental” but an exploration, a sonic adventure … and since Boris’ CDs (38 of them, apparently) are hardly advertised on buses in Australia’s city centres, I think the tag “self-indulgent” isn’t really accurate.
Wire, meanwhile, once released an LP of versions of their crowd favourite “Drill”. I really must get that; “Drill” is a superb, juggerbeast of a song.
The last song on this LP, “Wire”, is “Harpooned”. I’ve seen Wire do this live (melting every filling within a hundred metres); they currently end their sets with it, altering “Harpooned” all the time. I’ll get through the tracks on “Wire” in good time, but I would cheerfully shell out for an album featuring assorted versions of “Harpooned” because every version is going to be different. An exploration. And Wire fans know this; that’s why Wire’s online shop (Greedbag) has stuff which most major labels wouldn’t let out. “Legal bootlegs”, Wire call them.
I just want to belabour something, which you only really notice if you’ve seen both Boris and Wire live. Neither band go out and thrash, or “rock out”. Yet they make the most savage sounds. And have beguilingly beautiful songs, with often savage lyrics… both bands layer their concerns over the most deceptively simple structures. And the care, and precision, and concentration, which both Boris and Wire exhibit onstage … has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
Without being funny, both Boris and Wire make art. But it’s the kind of art you can dance to, sing along to, or put on the headphones at max when you’re a bit flat (we all have a handful of hallowed records we do this to, in addition to the usual Stooges/ Velvets mix, I also have one Wire LP I do this to, and no, I’m not telling).
There is, of course, no real “influence” connection that I know of between Boris and Wire. Yet … they seem to overlap in certain areas. Wouldn’t you kill for a 12” of Boris covering Wire, and Wire covering Boris..?
So, if all you know of Wire is those ubiquitous first three albums, or even if you’ve only vaguely heard the name, I strongly suggest you snaffle this one. There are echoes, as I’ve indicated, of Wire’s early work, but …it’s not as if they’re quoting themselves. Just … repositioning the sculptures …
So. “Wire”, the LP. The first side is kinda dreamy, brutal Britpoppy, and the second more … punishing. Some reviewers have commented that some of the first side “sounds a bit like Oasis” but, nah. Have you ever noticed how much Oasis sound like other bands? Imagine Oasis with a lot more talent, better lyrics, and who have never heard of The B**tles. So, there’s a little overlap here.
England likes to think it’s civilised (no-one who has attended - or been a bystander in the distance of a football derby in the ‘70s, ‘80s and, erm … yeah. Okay. Any English football derby… ) but England wear its civilisation like grease-paint. Beneath the mask, England is barbaric. And that, apart from the self-knowledge of the way things work, is Wire. And in particular, “Wire”.
Needless to say, after I finally put down The Dark Clouds’ “After The Sun”, I put on ‘Wire’. And it has also been on repeat ever since. So, because I want you to get this, and crack it up as I did, I’ll dispense with as many of the superlatives as I can.
“Blogging”: I drove out this morning at 7am, ‘Dogging’ cranking up, dodged a traffic accident complete with fireys and ambos, went up a traffic island, narrowly missed a glower of schoolboys and managed to control the vehicle. And … yeah. Sadly, true story.
Using a religious set of imagery, Wire nail the self-importance and cod-sacred aspect of the ‘Innernet’.
“Shepherds are wanted/To mesmerise sheep/ Taste-makers prosper/ Profits are reaped”
Apart from the relentless thuggery of the rhythm, Colin’s voice is mesmeric - now, I know his voice is always mesmeric, but this time … it’s quite an extraordinary thing. Like you’re witnessing a shift in the stars, almost.
The needle is broken/ The camel has died
One thing I notice about several tracks here is the deliberate use of that swiping sound as fingers scrape up the strings. This in itself is not new, but the contrapuntal use here is … perfect.
“Shifting” could be taken at face value as a love song. But it could equally be aimed at the UK Labour Party. Or, in fact, many aspects of politics. I really want to leave it there, because “Shifting” just aches with lost passion … “I gave you one more chance” is a killer line, you could imagine anyone from Barry Manilow to Katy Perry to Julian Cope to Tom Waits singing this. It’s a gloriously realised piece.
“Burning Bridges” is one of those songs the critics have been squeaking about resembling Oasis, which it doesn’t. It resembles Wire at their most moving; it’s another rare love song … come on, so few people write lyrics so painfully true as this…
By the quick sands of despair/In the desert of unfair
You found me drowning there
Caught my glance of do not care/You took me to your bed
Laid your hands upon my head
Said, ‘Sleep now have no fear
You are safe for I am here
Universal, no? Elegance, thy name is Wire.
“In Manchester” is yet another fucking song the critics reckon etc etc. It is a Britpop-like song, of course, clearly more incidentally so than from any intent. What I said about what lies beneath the English …
I don't yet know how my story will end/Dead or in prison?
Completely around the bend
A strong punch was essential, dust-heads exploded
So far so good. Several songs to sing along to. Bloody enjoyable. Haven’t mounted the pavement or anything (or anyone else) yet, thankfully.
Now “High” is definitely haiku-like. Enigmatic of course, but the clues are there. Again, another soaring, sexy, glorious throbathon. I won’t spoil it - but it tells a story and lets you figure it out.
“Sleep-walking” is the last track on side one. And it’s a little ripper, hammering like a drunk on a pub door on Good Friday. Obviously political - and this, I must add, is kind of unusual. Not the political aspect, but that it’s obviously so. And, although “Sleep-walking” is kind of kissing cousins to The Pop Group’s “Citizen Zombie”, both songs work in a much broader sense… there’s a killer echo of one of their earlier songs here, but as I say, things like this are … incidental to Wire’s main purpose.
The narrowest vision/Often has the widest appeal
A lack of decision/Leaves us open for a steal
Left out, abandoned/We're less than ideal
“Sleep-walking” builds and grows like some sort of sickness, gripping you harder and nastier in the vitals, refusing to let up. Malarial, almost. You leave side one feeling … well, a bit stunned.
“Joust and Jostle” is the “poppiest” song on here and is, quite simply, classic Wire. And yeah, like many others here, after one listen you’re singing along like a middle-aged man rediscovering his inner teenager. It’s dead positive, too…
The way ahead is hard and long
We cross our hearts and hope to die
In love with hope we start to fly!
“Swallow” … starts off like a ballad, beckoning us in like the rubes we are … mocking us like a madam;
Testosterone plus and gym built strong
The meat is off. Gravity blonde
It’s about belief, of course. Among other things. Wire suck you in and make you drown in your own beliefs. The beauty of this is, really, Wire are far more subversive than anyone seems to notice. And the music is just … yeah. Takes you there.
“Split Your Ends” borrows from all those classic ‘FM poodle rock’ beginnings… and then Newman romances us yet again…
An impeding stammer…Words alone matter
…then the seductive chorus …
As dawn breaks, mend your ways but split your ends…
Look, I can think of about 30 bands who might be considered similar to Wire, but couldn’t come close in 20 years of trying. How we try but can’t. How we communicate, how we don’t, how our lives resemble Grimm’s Household Tales… Jesus, all we need is the trail of breadcrumbs…
“Octopus:. Well, I mentioned this in an interview with Colin Newman, so I won’t repeat myself. Just:
There's always someone who thinks they've got a plan
Someone with a whip-hand who thinks they are a man
Sound familiar? Why am I emphasising the lyrics? Because they’re brilliant, they don’t always come with the cd, and they’re critical to understanding this band. Remember the title of one of Wire’s Mute LPs, “A Bell is a Cup (Until it is Struck)”? Perception you can sing and dance to. Or be battered to death to. Beneath this fabulous, glossy patina is, as I think I’ve mentioned, a full-frontal Neanderthalesque panto … all we can do is boo and hiss … but we’re still howling for more.
“Harpooned”, well. Closes side two and leaves you rather the worse for wear.
I set fire to the kitchen
The damage was bad!
I sat down by the fountain
Went quietly mad…
It’s bloody huge. And I’m going to leave this here. Wire are currently on tour in the USA, with dates in the UK to follow. The best thing you could do to get them back to Australia is to buy their CDs, and contact them. Tell them to come back and fuck us up.
I'm worried, I'm worried, there's cause for concern
I lit the touch paper and it started to burn…
Sing along and dance like a bastard as the world dissolves into atoms.
As I said, five bottles and big bang ignition.