Post-punks’ seminal first three LPs revisited.
The ultimate outsiders’ first three albums reissued in all their post-punk glory.
WIRE PINK FLAG ★★★★★ CHAIRS MISSING ★★★★★ 154 ★★★★★ PINK FLAG, OUT 18 MAY
As he recalls in the sleevenotes that accompany these reissues, the writer Jon Savage first saw Wire in the spring of 1977, and wrote a review for the music weekly Sounds. “They shortcircuit the audience totally, playing about 20 numbers, most around one minute long,” he said. “The audience doesn’t know when one has finished and another is beginning.” Such was Wire’s initial shock treatment, but what followed those first experimental bursts was the unfolding of a whole new musical world. By the autumn of that year, punk’s initial promise of a musical revolution had started to become swamped by the return of what Savage maligns as “four man rock’n’roll with all the old druggy arrogance and dull machismo”, which made Wire’s debut album Pink Flag all the more timely. In keeping with the band’s art-school roots, its 21 tracks deconstructed the basic class-of-’ 76 ingredients of cranked-up guitars and short, sharp songwriting, to the point that songs such as Mr Suit and Straight Line almost sound like satires, while Reuters and the taut, inexplicably funny Three Girl Rhumba are effectively the definitive first stirrings of what would come to be known as post-punk. The follow-up, 1978’ s Chairs Missing, added more colours – not least on Outdoor Miner, whose 105 glorious seconds (stretched on the single version to nearly three minutes) make up one of the most perfect manifestations of artful pop music ever recorded by anyone. On 154, released in 1979, the music became even more ambitious. The 15th is a lush, gleaming highpoint that suggests that Wire could have conceivably broken into the mainstream, though the cavernous sound and ornate words on A Touching Display and The Other Window are the work of prickly outsiders. The question of where they might have gone next hangs over all of its 13 tracks, but divergent ideas and personal tensions led
A group way ahead of its time, whose influence wove itself into no end of music.
to 154 being Wire’s last studio album until 1987. All three albums are newly available in their original form, but new special editions – available only on CD – come with voluminous collections of extra tracks. The Chairs Missing material is sometimes revelatory: among other highlights, an early try-out of I Am The Fly is more tentative and human than the finished version, sounding more like a sigh of muted despair than the shout of defiance it later became. Without the grandiosity of the finished album, demos of the songs from 154 sound much more like the music that preceded it, and thereby join the dots to an album that in its finished incarnation suggested a sudden jump into new territory. What runs through everything is a sense of a group way ahead of its time, whose influence wove itself into no end of music, from The Jam and Joy Division, to the more interesting aspects of the Britpop period. 154 was a big touchstone for Manic Street Preachers when they recorded The Holy Bible; circa 2004-5, bands such as Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party and The Futureheads reawakened their influence – proof that Wire were now as almost as central a part of the English rock canon as any number of bigger names. The afterlife of this music, then, was huge and long-lasting, though if you properly immerse yourself in it, that thought might take second place to something every bit as important: the fact these are simply some of the most exciting, creative, fascinating albums you’ll ever hear. Listen To: Three Girl Rhumba | Outdoor Miner | I Am The Fly | The 15th
Wire in 1978 (from left, Graham Lewis, Colin Newman, Bruce Gilbert, Robert Grey): “Exciting, creative, fascinating.”