I am eating crow. Dozens of bite-sized portions. My primary complaint with the Wire goes back to the basic X-Factor nature of the British music business: "We couldn’t play, but we wanted to give music a go anyhow. We gave this bloke our demo tape. He liked it so we got signed and started playing with all our favorite bands and we made album after album and got on the TV but we decided that touring was hard so we quit".
Three albums. 154 shows. I didn’t want to be impressed. The Baron set me straight.
The Baron wrote:It's all in the psychedelic jams.
I needed some assistance on this thread. Wire is too new to me, so I rang the expert.
The Baron wrote:So a very amazing thing to me about Wire is that they made two, pioneering, genre-defining records one after another, both of which define something complete and could stand as the first and last word.
The Baron wrote:None of "our people" seem to go to Wire as their first punk port of call, which never ceases to baffle me. Among the Year Zero Big Records, I'm not sure there IS any more punk of a record than Pink Flag. It discards so much, seemingly starting from scratch. A lot of fancy thinkers have fancy thinking things to say about Wire. And I sense that's one reason they're so distrusted. So while we can praise them for being original, sui generis, etc., that's not why I listen to Pink Flag in 2014. I listen to it because the songs beg to be played over and over again, and I never tire of them. There are so many great tunes on that record, and the whole piece works so well. If you just had "Three Girl Rhumba" --> "Ex Lion Tamer," it would justify its existence. But there's so much more. "Fragile?" "Mannequin?" Get the fuck out of here!
Also, I recall a lot of lesser guitar band records I like from the late 90s where I would give the band a lot of slack on their records. "Oh, you sit through these songs because they're building tension to really send that one song into something really special," and all the while, you have to know that the record is just mostly bullshit and the good song is a pleasant mediocrity. Pink Flag is a real LP and every bit of it is crucial. It never fails to excite the shit out of me and make me happy.
Here’s a perfect example of why Wire is great and everyone they influenced just can’t cut it.
It IS all about tension. In a lot ways, this is simply a classic rock band. But the guitarist plays an Ovation and they seem to dodge cliché like flying bottles. The singer’s deadpan singing is more Syd Barrett than Kraftwerk. “Another the Letter” is one of their many examples of a perfect song. On initial listen, you almost feel that you’ve dropped in on the song late. I can remember the first time I heard Chemical Brothers (it was one of their many variations on “Tomorrow Never Knows”) and it seemed to follow a formula: every 8-12 bars a new instrument or sound is introduced until they’ve reached the apex of sound saturation. Then they pull everything out for drama’s sake just so it can all crash in again. How many times have we heard that song? And why does it always last 8 minutes? Wire perfected this in little over one minute. Go ahead – listen to it again. This isn’t novelty. This thrills me to no end, as is.
The Baron wrote:Chairs Missing is probably even better than Pink Flag. Straightaway, they ditch Pink Flag (and you get the sense they could come up with, like, six Pink Flags), and move forward. As Pink Flag could be the great punk LP, Chairs Missing could be the great post-punk LP. It's just perfect, and still stands up today. Lots of post punk records are profoundly dated and life's too short to hang around in 1978 in most cases, but this is one of a handful that I have all the time for in the world. Anything else I say about Chairs Missing will sound even more profoundly wanky, so I'll stop.
Wire does strange things (they were signed to Harvest, after all). Some of their sound (initially) was the result of having a sympathetic producer. They use the studio environment quite effectively. Dropping in an overdub of a single clean guitar chord or playing percussion across the room on a metal door are likely Mike Thorne’s touches, but what amazes me about Wire comes down to three things. First of all, they have their own peculiar math. If you’re in a band writing songs, you tend to split things into even numbers – four bars of verse, two bars of pre-chorus, four of chorus, eight of bridge, etc. Human minds enjoy this sort of consistency. Wire can write a song with only three parts but deliver it as 9-12-3-9-3-19. This isn’t clever – it’s smart. Again - It’s all about tension. You’d almost think these songs were laboratory-built for maximum impact, but they fucking rock.
Second, they are humorous. Here’s one “hit” song:
No blind spots in the leopard's eyes
Can only help to jeopardize
The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries
An outdoor life for a silverfish
Eternal dust less ticklish
Than the clean room, a house guest's wish
He lies on his side, is he trying to hide?
In fact it's the earth, which he's known since birth
Face worker, a serpentine miner
A roof falls, an under liner
Of leaf structure, the egg timer
Everybody sing along! Though they deny it, there is a certain Syd Barrett whimsy that permeates most of Chairs Missing. This is not a bad thing. This ain’t hairshirt rock - there’s plenty of *wink wink nudge nudge*.
Third is of course the actually playing. The drums are as minimalist and Kraut-flavored as you’d expect from a linage that includes Can, The Ramones, and especially Eno. The guitars are HUGE and they fill every space Gotobed can leave unadorned. This is why I view Wire more as a classic band than an art school project gone overground. But the secret weapon is the bass. I never expected to hear bass lines so expressive in music that had been sold to me as so po-faced. When Wire reformed in the 80s, Graham Lewis’ bass lines were compared to Peter Hook. Er, you sure you got that the right way ‘round?
The Baron wrote:I think 154 is great too, it pushes the boat out further, but I'll admit that I have less patience for that. I respect the hell out of them for pushing onward and outward, and there is a lot to be discovered in 154 and the odds and sods from that era, but most of the time, I just listen to Pink Flag and Chairs Missing over and over and over again.
Do you actually like this band?
I do. But then I'm an Elastica fan.
The Baron wrote:Well, lots of people on BCB don't like them, for whatever reason. And they might have the dubious legacy of influencing the wrong people, but I don't think any other band from that time has two comparable records. I love the Buzzcocks, for instance. And they moved convincingly into a more post punk place, but none of it seems definitive to me.
You can always leave that question open and let people fight about it!