Release Date: Apr 21, 2015
Record label: Pink Flag
Wire is not a band that could ever be accused of resting on their laurels. Over the last 40 years they’ve constantly sought to move forward, experiment and refuse to be bound to their past. So whilst the band has released some of the most astonishing and groundbreaking post-punk albums in Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154, the band choose to continue to move on.
It’s fitting that the titles of almost all the songs on Wire’s latest album are verbs. These 11 tracks represent a very active work by the iconic post-punk band. Their previous two full-lengths—2010’s Red Barked Tree and 2013’s Change Becomes Us—were representations of the group finding its collective feet again after the departure of founding guitarist Bruce Gilbert and the arrival of Matt Simms.
Self-titled albums, especially those that aren't debuts, usually imply some sort of definitive statement. That's not necessarily the case with Wire, which feels more like an update than a manifesto thanks to its restraint. On first listen, it's not as bold as Change Becomes Us, which isn't surprising since those were songs the group abandoned three decades before.
The most consistently appealing graduates of the class of ‘77, by dint of their constant evolution, Wire have reined in some of their experimental urges for their 14th album. Behind Colin Newman’s mannered vocals and the motorik rhythms, there’s a real pop sensibility at play, the likes of Blogging (the lyrics of which – “Amazon wishlist”, “sell it on eBay” – suffer slightly from sounding like a trying-too-hard 2005 attempt to appear contemporary; thankfully, they stop short of namechecking MySpace) and Split Your Ends showcasing a gentle side to the band that has sometimes been underplayed since their 1999 reunion. Then just when you think you’ve got them pigeonholed, along comes the eight-minute Harpooned, all relentlessly heavy guitar and ominous atmosphere, making it a companion piece to 1978’s still remarkable Mercy.
Wire have never felt the need to follow conventional pathways during their long, storied career. From recruiting a Wire cover band to open for them and play their hits so they could focus on unfamiliar material to taking extended hiatuses between albums, they remain a hugely influential yet largely underrated band. So there's probably a little wryness behind the decision to wait until their 14th studio album to finally go with an eponymous title, as it certainly isn't because they are running out of ideas.Wire is a well-paced album, with two distinct, albeit similar, halves.
Towards the end of last year, Wire reissued their live album Document and Eyewitness. It contained a recording of a tumultuous 1980 gig at London’s Electric Ballroom, where Wire debuted experimental new material in front of a crowd who first bayed for songs they knew, then took to throwing bottles. The man who originally released it, Rough Trade’s Geoff Travis, said the band were “mad” to put it out, and perhaps Wire were madder still to reissue it in 2014.
Self-titled albums carry a lot of unseen weight. For young bands, naming your debut after yourself is a bold announcement of your arrival. For veteran rock bands, an eponymous album is often interpreted as a reconsolidation of their strengths after they’ve “gone astray”, returning with a newfound sense of purpose after going “back to their roots”.
In the discography included with England’s Dreaming, Jon Savage’s 1991 study of UK punk’s origins, the entry for Wire simply reads, "the jokers in the pack." Nearly 40 years into their career, Wire remain unpredictable, going through aesthetic phases, reincarnations, breakups, and re-assemblings while dealing with final departures and new members. Yet in spite of it all, they’re still themselves, somehow. With no clear model for being elder statesman in rock, there’s room to do whatever one wants.
Rare is the band that sounds completely contemporary by sticking to what it’s been doing for almost 40 years. But that’s the position in which Wire finds itself now, 14 records deep into its stubbornly inventive career. From its earliest days cutting against the punk rock grain in the ’70s, Wire’s angular, highbrow post-punk jams have always been generously ahead of the curve.
There is something slightly odd about a band's 14th studio album, 38 years on from their debut release, being self-titled. It is almost certainly unintentional, but there's a neatness about the link between that and this, perhaps, being the first time they haven't felt so ahead of the curve..
Wire started as they meant to go on. Their landmark debut, Pink Flag, favoured angular, cerebral songs (mostly lasting less than 90 seconds) instead of anarchy-related Class Of ’77 rhetoric and was released by major label EMI’s prog offshoot Harvest, rather than one of the myriad independent imprints established in the wake of punk. They’ve since made a string of expectation-confounding LPs; survived a hiatus lasting for most of the 90s; and endured the departure of founder member Bruce Gilbert after 2003’s critically acclaimed comeback Send.
It’s amazing that these punk minimalists waited for decades to do a self-titled album but that’s just part of their irony and art. For their 14th album (their first one of new material with guitarist Matthew Simms), we get to hear a kinder, gentler version of Wire but don’t let that fool you- wimpy or empty they ain’t. Compared to the fury of their post-millennium comeback (the Read & Burn EP’s, the Send album) and with the loss of founder/guitarist Bruce Gilbert, their last few albums were missing some of the avant leanings and hard-nosed spirit of their early albums and even some of their dancey ’80s records too.
I'm aware that the urban dictionary defines 'farage' as "to masturbate in an angry or confused way using unconventional stimuli," and that the estimable Mark Thomas has been popularising it as a word meaning "the liquid found at the bottom of a bin. " But I'd like to propose a third definition of farage as a noun; a conflation perhaps of 'barrage' and 'farrago,' meaning a tangle of wrong-headed thinking, or a swamp of imaginary fears and faulty logic. A dismal mess, compounded by lack of empathy, clouded vision and self-pity, and fed by a constant, bewildering assault of narrow-minded opinions, bullying prejudices and hate-mongering invective as you lash out blindly at the weakest, easiest target, searching for somebody to blame for the farcical predicament you find yourself in.
Like fellow post-punk innovators Gary Numan and Gang Of Four, Wire greatly dislikes mining the dusty corners of its back catalog for inspiration. However, for 2013’s Change Becomes Us, the legendary U.K. act unearthed and bulked up a series of musical ideas it performed live circa 1979-1980. The results of this rare backward look were ferocious and defiant: hollowed-out confrontations full of tart rhythms, noisy punk snarls, and placid psychedelia glazed by icy keyboards.