Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wire- here they are again...

Jim DeRogatis said that the words 'seminal' were used so much with the band the Velvet Underground that they should just change their name to 'The Seminal Velvet Underground.' While he was obviously joking about scribes' laziness, there is a reason why cliches exist- sometimes, they're just true.

If you're going to throw around the word 'seminal,' one of the other post-Brit invasion rock bands that deserves the tag is an arty foursome that simply called themselves Wire. Anyone with even a minor interest in punk, new wave or indie rock not only has to be aware of them but has to KNOW them.

When they came up in the first stream of London punk, playing at the Roxy, some of the purists hated them because their set sounded so polished. They tried to defend themselves (as if they needed to) by saying that they had played the material so much that it was rout. Even if most of the 'peers' had backgrounds that were just as (if not more) arty as theirs, they (the other bands) thought to cravenly hide it. Wire's problem (if you wanna call it that) was that they were part of the original punk scene and, looking to go beyond it, part of the post-punk movement too at the same time.

Even their debut, 1977's Pink Flag, with its 4/4 beat ramalama, featured their wonderfully quizzical lyrics. Like Steely Dan, they figured out that leaving out details of their little stories, narratives and (since most of the songs were so short) vignettes made them all the more intriguing. By the time of their second album, 1978's Chairs Missing, the music (written almost exclusively by singer Colin Newman) was matching the words, becoming more and more gnarled and spooky but unmistakably punk in its own way. If they didn't come across as yobbos flipping off the PM, Queen or establishment, they certainly had enough disgust and anger (though they turned it inward sometimes) but also a certain fretfulness that a lot of early punk wasn't brave enough to admit. By time of 1979's 158 (the number of gigs they'd done by then, a sign that they were tiring), they had come full circle to their art roots and previewing what was in store for their solo years. After a UK-only live album of new material, they dissolved, but only for the first time. And hell, let's face it- you should know all of this stuff already, right?

Though these three albums have been reissued before (thanks to Enigma), their recent reissue on the band's own Pink Flag records does indeed have clearer sound and as they're proud to boast: "The re-mastered albums are all returned to the original vinyl release running order (no inappropriate extra “bonus” tracks) therefore honouring the conceptual clarity of the original statements." Purists that they are, the band probably doesn't realize that those "annoying" bonus tracks were wonderful treats in an of themselves (i.e. singles like "Options R," "A Question of Degree"). Also, though you now get neat photos, notes and exact breakdowns of who wrote what, the lyrics should have been there too- their loopiness was always fun to contemplate- for that, you have to spring for the 1977-1979 box set (which also includes a Roxy show from '77 and a CBGB's show from '78).

But anyway you cut it, you should just have these records, period. No excuses. Even if you don't have them, you've been listening to them in some form or another as their progeny have replayed them again and again.

Wire themselves were always conflicted about their past. When they regrouped in the mid-80's, they hired a cover band as an opening act- Ex-Lion Tamers featuring DeRogatis on drums and vocals- refusing to do their own songs, claiming "we don't know them." Though many old fans slogged their then-new material, they eventually caught up with their still chilly atmospheres which were becoming more and more techno influenced. After they dissolved again in the 90's (culminating with the incredibly underrated The First Letter), they came back yet again around the beginning of the new millennium, releasing a series of EP's that sounded like old times (at least in momentum) and then finally at live shows covering their own oldies. As of last year, the band is kaput again but since no one thought that Wire II or Wire III was a possibility, don't be surprised if we don't see Wire Mach IV at some point.

Find all the early Wire fun at the Pink Flag website.


Blogger Sid Smith said...

Hi there Jason,
I was startled how fresh and original all of these albums were after listening to the reissues. Startling stuff despite the years - and you're right about the extent to which they've been recycled by a host of others. Fast and furious for sure but more prog than punk to these ears! Great stuff whatever.

2:07 PM  

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