Wire Change Becomes Us(Pink Flag) Buy it from Insound
For fans of the seminal punk band, Wire, and their classic early albums like Pink Flag and Chairs Missing, it only takes seconds of opening track Doubles & Trebles to unleash a flood of warm, comforting nostalgia. Not that the song is comforting in the least; quite the opposite. It’s a tense, nervy tune with a portentous vocal declaring “resistance is futile”, and a hammer-like rhythm recalling another great opener, Practice Makes Perfect. I don’t really know what Wire has been up to since 1979, but this album is strong enough to make me wonder. It all sounds like old school Wire to me, which is not to say it’s dated; this band was way ahead of it’s time back in the late 70s, relentlessly playing with conventional song structure and length. The choruses (if that’s what you can call them) of Adore Your Island show that their experimental bent is alive and well, jarringly shifting tempo and keeping the key ambiguous. That freewheeling, rebellious spirit takes turns with a more lyrical side, as on Re-Invent the Second Wheel. Here they take an accessible melody and build it into a lush, wall-of-sound pop tune that belies their punk beginnings. But this melodic inclination has always been a key element in the mix, and for my money is the real reason to not just admire but love this band. If everything was just herky-jerky experimentation for experimentation’s sake, you could write them off as innovative if not listenable. Because they write interesting but still enjoyable songs, as they do consistently on Change Becomes Us, they make their music worth coming back to again and again.
One of their tropes is the side-stepping chromatic shift in the underlying harmony. For instance, Magic Bullet begins in E minor, with a 3rd of G, and shifts to C# minor, with a 5th of G#. This half step movement gives the song its eerie quality. A similar trick is at work on Doubles and Trebles, as the song flirts with the half step interval between E major and E minor, while also including an unlikely key shift to B flat (Diabolus in musica!) before returning to E, and of course the chromatic move upward to it’s 5th, B. I must admit I find this kind of playfulness fascinating, while others may be glazing over at my tedious explication.
One thing has definitely changed; the average song length. Wire was dedicated to finding the smallest possible package in which to deliver a musical or lyrical idea. Pink Flag had several songs come in under the one minute mark, and several others halt just over that limit. Sure, it’s unusual enough to see two songs on a record clock in under two minutes, but most of the songs go one for the more typical three and a half to five minutes. They have no trouble justifying the added length.
I don’t know enough about the intervening years for this band to call this a comeback. It certainly feels like one to me, and a strong one at that. Like an old friend, I’m glad just to cross paths with them again after so long and see they’re fit and doing well.2 May, 2013 - 04:33 — Alan Shulman