Unknown Fact Revealed In The Saga Of How Wire Came To Record “Change Becomes Us”

A few weeks ago, we posted a review with some of the backstory on how it came to be, more than 30 years hence, that Wire would record in a studio many of the songs first released in 1981’s mess of a live album, Document and Eyewitness.  Change Becomes Us is a really interesting album, judged strictly by the standards of contemporary music.  That it actually comprises a baker’s dozen songs that were meant to be Wire’s follow-up to their opus 154, which came out in 1979, makes it all the more remarkable.

What we did not know three weeks ago — what we did not know many years ago, when we were assigned by Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo) to review Wire’s posthumous mess of a live album — was that after the band had released, in 154, probably the most accomplished record of that ephemeral post-punk era, EMI dropped them from the label!  The artsy/sloppy implosion that took place on the stage of the Electric Ballroom, and at Notre Dame Hall, captured on Document and Eyewitness, was the result of a band that had just produced a masterpiece yet suddenly had no place to stand.  Their vulnerability, which led not only to a wildly unsuccessful show, but to the band’s demise (they reformed again in 1985, and a few times since, and as of this moment, are a thriving concern) came from having the rug pulled out from under them by EMI.  The bastards.

In Mike Barnes’ excellent liner notes to the just-arrived-courtesy-of-the-Royal-Mail deluxe CD, the story is told thusly:

“Crucially, Wire’s record label, EMI, decided not to renew their contract option, and having survived on advances, the group were now label-less and penniless.  They had been approached by Factory Records, but couldn’t agree on terms.  They had also recently endured a spectacularly mismatched European tour supporting Roxy Music, who by then were well into their airbrushed easy-listening phase.  The group had to effectively pay out of their EMI advance for the pleasure of this exposure to audiences who largely hated them.  They had also parted company with their manager. Thoroughly disenchanted with the music business, Wire decided it was time to give their willful side free reign.”

It, uh, didn’t work out,  at least not then, judging from the boos to be heard on Document and Eyewitness, and the album itself was, we wrote at the time, a disaster.

And now they are back, having reworked those songs 33 years later, and it sounds magnificent.  Maybe they were just thirty years ahead of their time…

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