Wire’s “Nocturnal Koreans”: A Band As Relevant Today As They Were In ’77


If you had told me in 1981 when I was asked to review Wire’s nominally posthumous Document And Eyewitness that 35 years on not only would Wire still be releasing records, they would continue to be one of my favorite contemporary bands, I would have said you were crazy.  But here comes Nocturnal Koreans, an eight-song mini-album recorded at the same time as last year’s gorgeous Wire, which we called one of 2015’s best albums, and even at a moment when there are fine new albums by Brian Eno, Parquet Courts, Woods, and PJ Harvey, among others, we can’t listen to anything else.

Over at NPR, Bob Boilen is clever but not entirely correct to analogize that Nocturnal Koreans is to Wire as 1978’s Chairs Missing was to 1977’s revolutionary Pink Flag.  To begin with, these two new records emerged from the same recording sessions, with the the songs on Nocturnal Koreans served up as a different approach to the moment, not an example of the giant leap in ambition and sophistication apparent between Wire’s first and second records.

No band in history ever showed as much growth between its first and second records, not the Beatles, not the Clash, no one.  Those first three Wire albums witnessed punk progenitors becoming one of the most tasteful, thrilling art-rock band of all times.  (It’s possible the only similar growth pattern, come to think of it, was Eno going from Here Come The Warm Jets to Another Green World — an album that had a profound affect on Wire’s third record, 154.)

Nocturnal Koreans finds Wire slightly less wired than they were on Wire, which while motorik in tempo, played up the warmth of Colin Newman’s voice, the melody of their prettiest songs, minus the cockney and chaos of their most raucous work.  These two albums go together, and the whole reveals that the most revelatory, and in many ways, ambitious of the British punk bands, 3/4ths intact 41 years and 15 records on from their founding, is still greater than 99 percent of the bands out there — not to mention the sum of the parts.


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