Down to the Wire with lav­ish ex­pan­sions.

Prog - - Echoes - Kris Needs

In the late 70s, Wire started ap­ply­ing pro­gres­sive rock quest­ing and arty oblique­ness to punk rock’s ba­sic chas­sis to place them­selves in the van­guard of the post-punk move­ment. They had started 1977 as a cor­us­cat­ing racket at Lon­don punk epi­cen­tre the Roxy, ap­pear­ing on the club’s live al­bum. Its pro­ducer Mike Thorne saw some­thing in Wire and af­ter they signed to EMI prog strong­hold Har­vest, he pro­duced that De­cem­ber’s Pink Flag.

The al­bum’s 21-track bar­rage of short, sharp shocks crackle like one fi­nal man­i­fes­ta­tion of punk’s min­i­mal on­slaught, buoyed by art-school lyrics and Buz­zcocks catch­i­ness on the Man­nequin sin­gle. Slower grinds like Reuters and the ti­tle track forge tem­plates for the emerg­ing post-punk move­ment.

Now act­ing as an Eno-like pres­ence, Thorne’s glacial synths and dra­matic key­boards brought prog and psy­che­delic flavours into Au­gust 1978’s tran­si­tional Chairs Miss­ing, which had been trail­ered on 45 by the lu­mi­nously melodic West Coast vo­cal har­monies of Out­door Miner, fol­lowed by the mis­chie­vously in­sid­i­ous I Am The Fly. While the gen­tle psy­che­delic swirls con­tin­ued on tracks like French Film

Blurred, the punky shout­ing had been re­placed by at­mo­spheric ex­plo­rations, as on Ma­rooned and Heart­beat, vo­cally veer­ing into jagged Magazine ter­ri­tory on I Feel Mys­te­ri­ous To­day.

Septem­ber 1979’s tow­er­ingly cin­e­matic 154 (named af­ter the number of gigs they’d played so far) is rou­tinely named as Wire’s mas­ter­piece by orig­i­nal fans, start­ing with the apoc­a­lyp­tic de­spair of Should Have Known Bet­ter. Bassist Gra­ham Lewis’s well-brought-up in­ton­ing now of­ten re­placed Colin New­man’s cock­ney-stylised vo­cals as the al­bum’s panoramic scope em­braced bleak Only Ones-like vul­ner­a­bil­ity, dreamy Syd Bar­rett sur­re­al­ism and a propen­sity for lu­cid ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, along with Thorne’s of­ten dom­i­nant syn­the­sis­ers. It strikes gold in the clang­ing black hole of The Other Room, oddly poignant A Touch­ing Dis­play and per­fectly formed con­fec­tion Map Ref. 41N 93W.

It had only been two years since that spiky first state­ment but although Wire were busy map­ping out punk’s pro­gres­sively hued af­ter­shock, their evo­lu­tion had be­come so rapid that it de­railed them into solo projects for sev­eral years.

Spear­headed by the RSD Nine Sevens sin­gles box, each re­mas­tered al­bum has been re­planted in a lav­ishly il­lus­trated 80-page hard­back book con­tain­ing fur­ther discs of sin­gles, de­mos, rar­i­ties and tor­ren­tially pro­lific demo ses­sions – well-de­served, con­sum­mate mon­u­ments to hon­our this most sem­i­nal band (and its per­haps over­looked pro­ducer) on the tan­gled man­tel­piece of cut­ting-edge late-70s Bri­tish mu­sic.



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