Release Date: Mar 26, 2013
Record label: Pink Flag
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Post-Punk
Only Wire would attempt to make their fourth album after their tenth. At the beginning of their career, between 1977 and 1979, the great British art punk quartet released three perfect albums, Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, each wildly different from the other. Then they splintered, though a bunch of post-154 songs-in-process came to light later, in the dodgy live recordings that made up the bizarre, messy Document and Eyewitness (1981) and 1996's Turns and Strokes.
When Wire disentangled themselves from the Harvest label back in 1979, plans to re-sign elsewhere foundered, and the band splintered as individuals pursued solo interests and more experimental musical tangents. They had, however, written and performed new Wire material, some of which they’d performed at London’s Notre Dame Hall in 1979, as captured on their 1981 posthumous live compilation Document And Eyewitness. Having reformed a couple of times in the decades since, Wire have revisited that material written between 1979-80 and recorded fresh versions for Change Becomes Us.
For fans of the seminal punk band, Wire, and their classic early albums like Pink Flag and Chairs Missing, it only takes seconds of opening track Doubles & Trebles to unleash a flood of warm, comforting nostalgia. Not that the song is comforting in the least; quite the opposite. It’s a tense, nervy tune with a portentous vocal declaring “resistance is futile”, and a hammer-like rhythm recalling another great opener, Practice Makes Perfect.
No truer words can describe Wire than the title of its latest full-length Change Becomes Us. That’s because if there’s been a constant to Wire’s on-off-on, over 35-year career, it’s that the punk avatars have continually reinvented themselves. And it’s a particularly appropriate name for an album that fleshes out doodles that they first tinkered with at the end of their late ‘70s golden age, as this latest incarnation of the band uses all the accumulated knowledge and skill at hand to shape old unreleased material and what Wire Kremlinologists have noticed as fragments from the chaotic Document and Eyewitness live record into actual songs.
Wire have never had the wider credit they’ve deserved. Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, released a year apart from each other during 1977-1979, are three of the best post-punk albums of the period: they have a confident swagger, are occasionally brimming with angular tension and menace yet, more often than not, full of humour (I Am The Fly) and built around sophisticated and brilliantly crafted melodies. Another The Letter, from Chairs Missing, only lasts just over a minute – at this point, Wire usually opted for short over going long – yet demands so many repeated listens because it’s impossible to comprehend its frenetic energy straight away: it’s evidence to what can be achieved within a small space of time.
As with many things, Wire were ahead of their time when they reunited several years before other post-punk and indie favorites decided to get back together during the 2000s and 2010s. They were already a going concern when they began playing lesser-known material that had previously only appeared on the live albums Document and Eyewitness and Turns and Strokes during the Red Barked Tree tour. Inspired, Wire headed into the studio with touring guitarist Matt Simms to rework and flesh out these songs, which were seen as some of their most challenging music.
For their 13th studio album, Wire take a break from creating music that transcends space and time to revisit their post-punk roots. Change Becomes Us is a treat for long-time fans; it's a 13-track collection of songs only ever performed live in 1979 and 1980, directly after the third in their trinity of definitive albums (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154), before they temporarily disbanded due to creative differences. The material featured here had only ever existed as one-off, skeletal demos written to be performed live at a time when the band were at their creative peak.
Anyone who has seen Wire live will notice that they aren’t ones to ‘play the hits’, if ‘hits’ can be used as a term to describe the band’s frenetic, menacing post-punk; they are a band who have consistently pushed themselves forwards, moving beyond punk in the midst of its first wave, making music described as ‘barely listenable’ by 1981 and showing little regard for their own previous styles or incarnations. It is surprising then that their new record, Change Becomes Us, sees the band take a particular interest in their early years. And, considering the utter brilliance of their early output, this can only be a good thing.
There’s never been anything easy about Wire. The English veterans have always preferred an angular, studious approach to punk rock’s traditionally lowbrow aesthetic, so getting into the band has forever demanded some flexibility and patient ears. But those listeners who have dutifully rocked the headphones and put in the necessary time and energy have been rewarded handsomely.
Post-punk stalwarts Wire have revisited their own under-developed (and previously unreleased) songs from 35 years ago. Can you see the problems with this idea? It’s a curious approach for a band that’s usually relentlessly evolving, and some of the Londoners’ choices here, such as the unchecked bombast of ‘Adore Your Island’, are bold but incorrect. Their enduring weirdness occasionally wins out, as on ‘Re-Invent Your Second Wheel’, which marries oddball chillout with a chorus of inscrutable acronyms, and it’s hard not to be won over by their belligerence.
For their next trick, Wire attempt time travel – either that or they're looking to pip Kevin Shields and co to the record for the slowest realisation of an album, with a near 35-year gap between initial violent creation and the finished product on this, the band's 12th release. Taken from unfinished sketches that were kicked about on the circuit in 1979-80, Wire aficionados will recognise many of these from the 1981 live album Document And Eyewitness. But more than a remake, it's an exercise in artistic frugality as a means of renewal.