Wire’s last album, 2013’s Change Becomes Us, found them in a rather unusual position – with one foot in the future, and another in the past. Unlike most bands of their age, the latter position was considerably more unusual than the former. It found them dealing with unfinished business, by tackling material that was lost in their first split in 1980. Of course, most of it bore no resemblance whatsoever to those songs (if that’s the right word) that had emerged on 1981’s spectacularly perverse Document & Eyewitness (deservedly reissued last year). Even when Wire are looking back, they can’t help but move forward.
Wire may not reinvent the wheel but it does find the band maintaining the forward motion they have so doggedly pursued at any cost. From a casual listen, it does bear many of the hallmarks of their recent records (particularly 2011’s Red Barked Tree and the aforementioned Change) but the contrasts between light and shade seem greater than ever. While no strangers to the chiaroscuro, there’s an inversion on this record – it’s tough, yes, and far from empty-headed, but there’s a certain determined breeziness, to the extent that the darkest and heaviest moments stand apart, where once the contrast would have been polarised (e.g. ‘Map Ref. 41°N 93°W’ on the brilliantly foreboding 154).
Special mention should go to bassist Graham Lewis’s lyrics which are largely cryptic but frequently hilarious; right from the get got, ‘Blogging’ has a couplet to die for: “Blogging like Jesus/Tweet like a Pope”. Even if his physical voice is mostly absent (which is a bit of a shame, really), Lewis’s ‘voice’ is very much present, loud and clear.
The band sounds in fine fettle, mostly displaying a lightness of touch and a prolificacy of ideas that more than amply sets them apart from any hoary old punk has-been that would pine for ‘12XU’. They sound more like My Bloody Valentine (and I mean MBV as envelope-pusher, not a shoegaze also-ran MBV-wannabe band) these days than any of the other bands that played the Roxy in 1977, and all the better for it. But they do sound like Wire, which also means not sounding like Wire, not completely at least. Is this the ‘definitive’ Wire album (it is their fourteenth album, yet the first eponymous record, after all)? Well, yes and no. It isn’t the ‘ultimate’ Wire album, because that can never exist - they’re too busy working on the next thing to bother about it. Maybe, after the backwards half-glance of Change, it’s a simple reassertion of their ‘Wire-ness’ – moving ever onward, stringently unconcerned with the past.
‘Wire’ is out now on pinkflag in LP, CD and digital formats.