Archive for “Change Becomes Us”

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

Posted in Music with tags , , on April 23, 2013 by johnbuckley100

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…

On Wire’s “The Black Session – Paris, 10 May, 2011”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on April 5, 2013 by johnbuckley100

In yesterday’s rave about Change Becomes Us,Wire’s excellent brand new album of songs that actually had a prior life on the 1981 Documentary and Eyewitness album, we referenced the release, earlier this year, of a live album but didn’t say much about it.  The Black Session — Paris, 10 May, 2011 would, in another year, be cause for celebration in and of itself.  That it comes out the same season as Wire’s excellent studio album, it may well be overlooked by anyone who isn’t a Wire completist.  (And now that we’ve registered for the forums on the website, allow us to observe that there are a lot of people out there, we now know, who make our Wire obsession seem moderate.)

Recorded with Wire as a four-piece, with Matt Simms having by early 2011 joined the band on guitar, it is genuinely fine live album.  Colin Newman sings in fine form, with the courage to navigate “Map Ref. 41degrees N, 93degrees W,” which is not easy to do live, as a man in his mid-50s! With a decent balance of songs from late and early Wire, this is an album well worth picking up.  Moments after you download Change Becomes Us.

Wire’s Remarkable “Change Becomes Us”

Posted in Music with tags , , on April 3, 2013 by johnbuckley100

On the occasion, in 1981, of Wire’s release of Document and Eyewitness, a mess of an album that was seemingly all that was left of the band after their premature demise, one young pup of a rock critic wrote in NY Rocker that “there has never been a band so interesting precisely at the moment when their reach exceeds their grasp.” Yes, gentle readers, that young pup was our head Tulip Frenzier, we meant it at the time, and we still mean it.

On the occasion, in 2013, of Wire releasing Change Becomes Us, which was recently recorded but is comprised of songs meant to be on Wire’s fourth album, to have been released in 1980, we are almost thunderstruck with gratitude.  To understand just how joyful it is to have Wire, 33 years on, give us the album that was originally meant to be the follow up to 154, you have to go back in time, and fathom just what Wire meant to us then, and means to us more broadly.

Between 1977’s Pink Flag and 1979’s 154, with a stop along the way for the gorgeous Chairs Missing, Wire went from a wholly original, atomized breakdown of rock’n’roll into its constituent, crude but thrilling pieces to producing something that qualified as art rock.  In rock evolutionary terms, Wire had traveled in just two years from three-chord rock to astonishing virtuosity, something akin to the Beatles releasing Abby Road in 1965, or the Stones giving us Exile In Main Street before releasing “Satisfaction.” Pink Flag may actually have been the most influential of all the British punk albums, the equivalent to the first Velvet Underground album in terms of its inspiration to art school wastrels to go form their bands, and even as late as the mid-’90s, bands like Elastica were ripping off songs like “Three Girl Rhumba” with brazen glee.  When 154 came out two years later, with its title reference to Studio 54 confounding us as to whether it was meant as homage or irony, Wire was simply the most innovative band in the London-NY circuit, and their departure, along with the death of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, signaled the coming Dark Age of 1980s rock.  Two back-to-back songs on 154, “A Mutual Friend” and “Blessed State” encapsulate the moment: the first one incorporating Roxy/Eno influences into a song that started as a dirge, the latter a perfect pop number with gorgeous guitar work.  By the time we got Document and Eyewitness, and were given the unhappy assignment of trying to make sense of it, Wire was a band that seemed to have evolved beyond human possibility, exploding like a supernova.

Except they didn’t.  They came back in the late ’80s, and still were great.  Yes, those albums are a bit hard to listen to because with the advent of CDs, Wire, along with most late-’80s acts, produced records that were far too trebly and brittle of sound.  But the songs held up, and the band kept going, even as they lost their genius-level guitarist Bruce Gilbert along the way.  We loved Red Barked Treewhich hit these shores in 2011, and earlier this year, another of their remarkable live albums came out, showing that the three old men of the band (Gilbert having been replaced by a young guitarist, Matt Simms, who seems to have had the perfect role model), can still give us enormous pleasure.

Change Becomes Us does not have the revolutionary clang of 154, in part because it was made by a band 3/4’s consisting of men in their 50s, in part because the world has caught up.  But it has all the magic that Wire has always had: Colin Newman’s unique ability to be a pretty pop singer and a cockney rebel on alternating songs, Robert Gotobed (nee Grey) and Graham Lewis, more than thirty years hence, still proving they were the most compact, deceptively sophisticated minimalist rhythm section since Ringo and Macca.  Change Becomes Us gives us something quite marvelous: a band in its full state of maturity offering us the freshness of youth, punk’s rebellion and art rock’s sophistication chiseled from its fossilized state into something with the marvelousness of the walking dinosaurs in those early scenes in Jurassic Park.  Wire has long since been able to grasp whatever it reaches for, but is no less interesting for it.

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