Archive for “Pink Flag”

Wire, Last Of The Class Of ’77 British Punk Bands, Returns Anew With A Gorgeous Album

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 17, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Next year, when Wire celebrates its 40th birthday as a working band, only they and the Fleshtones may be entitled to lay claim to having played CBGB in its prime and still be intact.  Yes, guitarist and guiding spirit Bruce Gilbert left in 2003, but the core of Colin Newman, Robert (Gotobed) Grey, and Graham Lewis have just released their 14th album, the eponymous Wire.  It should be no surprise to readers of Tulip Frenzy that it is melodically beautiful, occasionally thrilling, and completely worthwhile.  We still haven’t listened to the new Calexico, because Wire is the only band we can listen to this week, on our iPad, in the car, at home before the computer.

Forget the Halley’s Comet reunions of the Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols, and even that ephemeral episode where Magazine thrillingly came back from the dead.  Of the British bands who set our ears on fire in the late ’70s, it is only Wire that we have been able to rely on, at least since they reformed in the mid-’80s following their having been dropped by EMI upon the release of their third album, and masterpiece, 154. That album was the most fascinating document of a fascinating era: Wire’s three-chord rhumba having given way to gorgeous Eno-inflected experimentation all within the construct of pop songs, on an album that symbolically closed the punk era they’d helped create by being titled with the address of New York’s preeminent disco.

Since Gilbert left in the early Aughts, his replacement, Matthew Simms, plays with, not against the grain, and sure, something is lost in the process, same as the way Pere Ubu was never the same without Tom Herman, the Stones without Mick Taylor.  But on three successive albums, particularly 2011’s Red Barked Tree, and 2013’s Change Becomes Us, the band has touched past glories and updated the story.  With Wire, the foursome consolidate much of their gains in an upbeat, occasionally beautiful record that is more than a reminder of what has been.

Colin Newman has always been a schizophrenic vocalist as comfortable playing the Cockney punk as the pretty-voiced pop singer.  On the new one, it’s really all the latter, a series of songs for adults to listen to on a late-night car ride when they want to stay awake and engaged but not on edge.  We might not rave about it the way we did Change Becomes Us, but we welcome it, and Wire, as old friends, here for the long haul.

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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