Release Date: Apr 7, 2017
Record label: Pink Flag
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The key to any band's longevity is consistency, both within a discography and within an individual record. Every album and every song needs to be tinged with a degree of effortlessness matched with constant evolution. In the case of British post-punk legends Wire, none of their records sound identical to anything else in their catalog, yet all of them exist within the same sonic universe.
On Silver/Lead, Wire celebrate their 40th anniversary by throwing some intentional kinks into their well-oiled machinery. Much of their music in the 2010s was as fast-paced as their release schedule, but on their 15th album, they're slower and stranger than they've been in years. Aside from the swift guitar pop of "In a Short Elevated Period," this album doesn't blaze like Change Becomes Us or Nocturnal Koreans; instead, it turns the energy of those albums inward on songs that shimmer like silver and have the heft of lead.
That goes for both their quality and the regularity of their release. The third era of Wire has up until recently stood in contrast to the first two eras in one particular way: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 came in three sequential years from 1977 to 1979, and The Ideal Copy, A Bell is a Cup..., IBTABA and Manscape were staggered annually from 1987 to 1990. When Wire were on, they were on fire.
Wire’s stubborn refusal to embrace the security of becoming a ‘heritage act’ is something that should really be admired. A British post-punk staple, the release of ‘Silver/Lead’ marks the 40th anniversary of the band’s first show, and serves as a timely reminder of the band’s ongoing relevance. It begins with the sounds of rich industrial noise rock through the excellent ‘Playing Harps For The Fishes’.
The Upshot: Still thwarting expectations and defying being pigeonholed, the granddaddies of British art punk craft a challenging, intoxicating wall of sound and substance. BY FRED MILLS Ah, those Wire guys--original members Colin Newman, Graham Lewis, Robert Grey (aka Gotobed), plus guitarist-since-2010 Matt Simms--never quite knew when to stop, having indulged numerous hiatuses that weren't true hiatuses (they would play on each other's side projects), created a musical collective (Pinkflag. com becoming the official URL) that operates more like a club house than a project, and announced the proverbial "new direction" numerous times while still maintaining a detectable through-line across 14 studio albums and more than a few live releases.
A fter mapping out post-punk with their first three albums in the 1970s, and taking various excursions since, Wire's 16th continues the Indian summer that began Change Becomes Us in 2013. They may not take the brave leaps into new territories they once did, but instead explore the detail in the terrain they themselves uncovered. Thus, repetitive rhythms nestle alongside walls of fuzz.
Two simultaneous and contradictory reactions accompany news of a new Wire album. You know exactly what to expect, and yet you have no idea what to expect. Over their 40-year career, the British post-punk group has developed and honed an unmistakable sound. But that sound has embodied many forms, templates, and ideas over the years. They have gone from razor-sharp, whiplash punk to machine-aided experimentalism to shimmering, immaculate indie pop—often within the same album.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Wire's debut, the post-punk landmark Pink Flag . Its combination of sharp minimalism and unorthodox approaches--especially in lyrics which drove at meaning while dodging it--formed a blueprint for a band who through many stops, rebirths, and realignments have remained hard to pin down. Even their latter-day, more straightforward records contain levels that take work to penetrate.
Wire emerged alongside the nascent punk movement in the late 70s, but they just as quickly gave up those cheap thrills in search of something more visceral and less ephemeral. Now, 40 years on from the groundbreaking Pink Flag, Wire are still wandering in the musical wilderness. They exude a perfectionism and commitment to craft that has resulted in consistently strong material for years (between hiatuses), but they always seem to be searching for a certain stylistic innovation that's going to unlock the door to a new musical revolution, the way their 1977 debut did.
Post-punk mainstays Wire were never likely to rest on their laurels. In the late '70s, they refused to play songs from their triptych of classic albums, mutating their live shows into confrontational performance art spectacles. This spirit didn't subside as its members reached middle age, resulting in a late-career hot streak stretching from 2003's Send to last year's Nocturnal Koreans. Unfortunately, Silver/Lead is a minor stumble in Wire's otherwise confident stride.
It's not that Silver/Lead is a bad record. It's not. But what is interesting about it— the atmospheric sounds and rhythms—are relegated to the background, if there at all, and then to only certain sections of songs. Otherwise the tunes are dominated by straight strummed chords that don't offer much for the listening experience.
In December, Wire's Pink Flag - post-punk's archetypal overture of refined enigma and neurosis - will celebrate its 40th anniversary. An opening gambit that brazenly contorted punk with art-rock cunning and obscurist, almost literary flair, it introduced a band who have, time and time and time again, re-established themselves as pioneers with zero intention of bowing to the whims of nostalgia or legacy. Almost half a century on from launching their reductionist sonic manifesto, album number 15 sees the London quartet at their most assured, yet contemplative since 2010's stellar Red Barked Tree.
"Don't come back in anger, start with belief. " If this typically aphoristic Wire lyric isn't an autobiographical maxim, maybe it should be, as its duality has a lot to do with the 40-year-old group's chameleon nature; this newest offering represents the solidification of one intriguing facet. From the start, Wire offered up a highly-charged answer to the quickly forming, rapidly changing and historically complex categorical conundrums vying for prominence in late 1970s "underground" music; punk and new wave were, for the four-piece, not sequential delineaters as much as inadequate descriptors for musical trails they were blazing and forsaking.
When I first heard the announcement of a new Wire record, I spun everything from Change Becomes Us through Nocturnal Koreans on a traffic-heavy, black and snowy drive back home. The setting couldn’t be more fitting. Change Becomes Us still holds up as a very good — sometimes great — Wire record, which makes sense when you consider that a handful of it are re-works of older songs.