LP: Wire by Wire
2015 Pinkflag PF22LP
Favorite Track: Sleep-Walking
Wire is one of my favorite bands. I would not have suspected that when I first heard them on a MOJO magazine CD compilation about post-punk music. The song was “Kidney Bingos”–far from the energetic and noisy punk of the Ramones, Refused, and Devo I was listening to as a Freshman in college. I would later hear “12XU” on the No Thanks CD box set, but it wouldn’t be until I started record collecting and bought Pink Flag on a whim that I would truly experience Wire. This formative experience taught me to buy any and all Wire albums as possible. Last week, Wire put out its fourteenth album, the self-titled Wire, and it is every bit as strong as the unique work in the 70’s and their calm brooding of the 80’s. And, as expected with Wire, the minimalist stark album cover is another winner in a long line of excellent album covers.
While listening to Wire and drink a French Pinot Noir, I came up with the silly idea to rank all the Wire albums I own from Least Favorite But Still Awesome to The Best of the Best…and then pair each album with a bottle of wine. Totally absurd, I realize, but so what? Try going to a concert and not buying a drink.
I own the following Wire albums: Pink Flag LP, Chairs Missing LP, 154 LP, The Ideal Copy LP, A Bell is a Cup…Until It’s Struck LP, Red Barked Tree LP, Change Becomes Us LP, Wire LP, Map Ref. 41N93W single, and the Snakedrill single. I am only going to rank the full-length albums, but will quickly say a little about the two singles I own (and pine for Dot Dash which I keep hoping will show up on eBay). I was lucky to buy Map Ref. The shop owner of Black Plastic showed me a stack of recently sold 45s before he even showed them to his employees. I snatched it immediately. Map Ref has always been one of my favorite Wire songs and it was really special to hear it live when I saw them in Chicago. The B-side should have been on 154. Of their single album covers, Map Ref is one of the best with the green map set against the straight lines of the plane wing and the shaded squiggles of cloud cover. Snakedrill I bought in Yellow Springs, OH and is probably the least listened to album by Wire I own. That is not to say I don’t like it, I just haven’t busted it out in a while. I also forgot to listen to everything before I started this blog post. Oops! I love the big bold font of the cover with the inverted man praying.
Now for the rankings:
The Ideal Copy: This 1987 album was the first return for Wire after the hectic punk explosion of the late 70’s. The band had settled into their unique sound after three albums of exploring punk, post-punk and industrial-electronic soundscapes. If the infrastructure of a building or an automobile could make music, that is the Ideal Copy. At alternate times, the album feels like the band is being purposefully difficult and not pushing the envelope enough. A solid intermediate experience that always has new surprises when I listen to it again, but is not in queue as often as Pink Flag or Chairs Missing. Not recommended for new Wire listeners. Standout track for the moment: The Point of Collapse.
Wine pairing: Dancing Bull Zinfandel — A long album that feels a bit heavy at times needs a strong flavorful red complete with blackberries and pepper. A meal might be required too.
Wire: It seems unfair to rank this new album so low on the list because it is really, really good. And it may move up as I listen to it more; I have only listened to it three times. But its biggest weakness is a lack of diversity of song structures. This works to its advantage on the A-side where the first song “Blogging” made me pay attention to the lyrics as opposed to the music, then each song drifts by in perfect long car ride fashion until the icy despondent “Sleep-Walking” which kicks you awake from the slumber. The B-side tries a similar technique but “Harpooned” isn’t as powerful as “Sleep-Walking”. The last three releases of Wire feel like a trilogy and this one is Return of the Jedi. Great but comes with Ewoks. Standout tracks for the moment: Blogging and Sleep-Walking.
Wine pairing: Menois a Trois Midnight — To counteract the homogeneous songs, this red blend pours a dark purple but tastes light.
A Bell is a Cup…Until it’s Struck: Wire and pop music seem opposite ends of the pole, however, this weird marriage works exceedingly well on this album that I am thunderstruck for words. Although nearly everyone starts with Pink Flag, this may be an alternative starting point. I am glad that Wire did not continue to mellow out and play pop music after this, but I love this oddity. My least favorite album cover of theirs though. Standout track for the moment: Kidney Bingos.
Wine pairing: Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages — A light flowery red that will make your ears dance to the airy drone.
Change Becomes Us: If you are a Wire fan and have not heard this album, drop what you are doing and listen to it. It is the biggest surprise album in their catalog. The majority of the songs are reworkings of some of their stranger live material, but they hit it out of the park. Some of the tracks are just infused with that old punk spirit you have to wonder how many drumsticks Robert Grey went through. The heavy anthem-sounding chords of “Adore Your Island” demands to be put on a mix tape. The album calms down in the end but it is atmospheric like a stretched cloud. One of the best opening tracks. I love the album cover–a photograph of a hallway in the Seattle Public Library, which I hope to visit in August. Standout tracks for the moment: Doubles & Trebles and Adore Your Island.
Wine pairing: Modo Montepulciano — One of my favorite wines. I could not stop smelling it the first time I had it. An unexpected surprise because my nose is usually stuffy.
Red Barked Tree: I debated putting this in third, but realistically 154 is going to survive in music history longer than Red Barked Tree. But I love this album so much. A great diversity of return-to-form hard-hitting fast songs and sonic slow treats for the eardrums. An acoustic guitar shows up and it feels natural. The album cover is a photograph of rows of wine bottles. Holy crap, I should have used that image for this post. Oh well. There is plenty of mystery, nuance, and a pallet of aural colors on this album. Standout tracks for the moment: Clay and Two Minutes.
Wine pairing: Red Guitar Tempranillo — A Spanish red complete with acoustic guitar on the label to give you that spicy feeling in your mouth and lips while sipping each savorful track.
154: Dark, gritty, haunted. The band may have been exhausted from playing 154 live shows and making 3 albums in 3 years, but they made 3 separate masterpieces. Art-rock has never felt like a better a matrix of music, film, and painting. The call and response on “On Returning” and the electronic echo of “40 Versions” showcase what Wire is all about. The album cover plays off of the old Pink Flag album cover redesigned in wavy lines. Standout tracks for the moment: On Returning and 40 Versions.
Wine pairing: The Prisoner Red Table Wine — Dense and full-bodied for another heavy, heady album. Sometimes the album feels like a Franz Kafka nightmare. So does the wine.
Chairs Missing: Musically more interesting than Pink Flag, Chairs Missing is what many bands fail to do: make an amazing and possibly better sophomore album. From the almost non-music repetition of “Heartbeat” to sing-a-long “I Feel Mysterious Today” to the perfect post-punk of “I am the Fly” to the perfect pop song of “Outdoor Miner” to the perfect Pink Flag-like punk of “Another the Letter”, you can’t find a bad song. Required listening to any one who likes punk and alternative music. Standout tracks for the moment: All of them.
Wine pairing: Apothic Dark Red Blend – Pure dark velvet. A variation of a theme as the wine guy said to me once.
Pink Flag: One of my all-time favorite album covers. One of my all-time favorite album purchases as I had not heard more than one song on it and I listened to it twice in a row with head exploded. To sound like a skipping record, one of my favorite opening tracks: a creepy crawling sprawl of sound and danger. Then a 19 second long song. Then a complete different sounding song. And so on and so on. I fist pump and sing during “A Feeling Called Love”. Did I tell you I love Wire? Standout tracks for the moment and forever: All of them.
Wine pairing: Sledgehammer Cabernet Sauvignon — The flavor of your skull bursting.