There are certain bands that have always stood out on their own. Wire formed in 1976 and in the ensuing years released three of the era’s finest and most durable records in Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. After disbanding in 1980, a subsequent mid-eighties reformation saw them through to ’92 (their most prolific recording period to date) with another regeneration in 2000. This incarnation – despite the resignation of founding member Bruce Gilbert in 2004 – has been the longest lasting. Fourteen albums in then, we have this simply titled and remarkable release.
After releasing 2010’s fine Red Barked Tree as a three-piece, touring guitarist Matthew Simms became a full-time member from Change Becomes Us in 2013, here now seemingly as deeply enmeshed in the band’s sound as his predecessor. The guitars seem to spark one another off, with the most subtle of effects and directional changes igniting over the course of a song.
Colin Newman’s vocal seems airier than it has in years on a record that takes in motorik, trance-y beats and cyclical rhythmic passages that bounce between bass and guitar, where sublime melodic highs suddenly lift from the fabric of the songs, buoying bassist and lyricist Graham Lewis’ uncompromising and often personal subject matter.On opener ‘Blogging’ he spans millennia in a sardonic couplet, “Three king researchers/ Use Google star maps/ Bethlehem manger/ A high-rated app” The concept of ‘Burning Bridges’ is more insular, with Newman singing “Couldn’t face another day/ In need of love and care/ Broken, under repair” atop the tussling chord slashes and undulating fret runs of the guitars.
‘Joust & Jostle’ is true to its title, a sonic attack with the rhythm guitar seeming more languidly measured in comparison to the rush of Robert Grey’s drums, while on ‘Split Your Ends’ Newman falls into line with the repetition of the guitars. Those encircling motifs sound almost synth-like, with Newman repeating “mend your ways but split your…” until the final snapped “Ends!”
Although ‘In Manchester’ – a song that despite its conjuring of New Order has nothing to do with the city, in obliquely Wire-like fashion – gently soars, it is the lengthy mid-album ‘Sleep-Walking’ that heralds Wire’s first moment of true greatness, until now hinted at by a sudden surging guitar passage or a vocal inflection from Newman through the album’s front end. Politically charged (“The narrowest vision / Often has the widest appeal”), the slow, commanding rhythm section stands in contrast to the album’s punchier numbers, the bass and hi-hat pulsing in unison while Newman and Simms layer on the textures.
Lengthier still, with its loping repetitive drumbeat and constant harangue of guitars is ‘Harpooned’, ending the record on a dark note. Newman intones “I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m frightened as hell/ I heard voices echo way down in my shell/ I’m worried, I’m worried, I’m frightened as hell/ Walls closing in, I’m feeling unwell!”, and with the rhythm section’s hammer on anvil bludgeon and those ever-enveloping guitar swathes mounting, the oppressive tone is almost tangible.
The vocals take on their most expressive tone in Wire’s final throes as Newman eschews analytical indifference and barked polemic for almost indecipherable howling. As the trailing vocal and whine of guitar coalesce towards the coda, becoming a unified sound, it’s not Lewis’ loaded lyrics that see the album to its conclusion, nor the immediacy of Wire’s four instrumentalists firing off one another. It’s a lone tortured voice, subsumed by the overpowering march of the machines. Once again, Wire stand alone. If this record is anything to go by, their finest hour may yet be ahead of them.