Speaking of groups that don’t get enough credit or respect, let’s talk about Wire. Going strong (on and off) since 1977, this band is the band that’s inspired all the bands you love. Their first album, 1977’s Pink Flag, features a lot of short, sharp ‘punk’ tunes. They took the pre-formatted punk angst and boiled it down to unique, 90-second snippets of aggression. By the time of 1978’s Chairs Missing, they’d already tired of the short-song format, and the speed. They slowed things down some, and brought in some artistic twists to the lyrics. If you like The Cure’s first two albums, this is the blueprint for that sound. By the time of 1979’s unheralded classic 154, they slowed things down even more, and brought in elements of dub and a burgeoning electronica influence. It’s a fantastic album that rewards deep, extended listening. It also features perhaps their only ‘classic’ song, in Map. Ref. 41N 93W. They couldn’t even title their most overtly ‘pop’ song in any way people would be able to remember easily.
And then they broke up. Or so everyone thought. Wire has always been a band of extremes, and it became the ‘rock’ duo versus the ‘art’ duo. So they split, and made a bunch of solo-and-collaboration albums that are fine on their own, but for the most part are missing that certain spark that some groups have only when they’re all operating together. There was a posthumous live release called Document and Eyewitness that was released in 1981, which showed them playing songs that hadn’t been on any of their albums previously – this restless, relentless writing was a quality they would keep for ages. I’ve seen Wire live 3 times now, and they rarely play ‘recognizable’ songs. They keep plugging away with newness, forwardness – and that can make for an exasperating concert experience – certainly one different from every other group you’ve ever seen live.
And then they got back together. The 80’s would see a new Wire as much aware of the decade’s new ideals as they were in the 70’s, with a new sound to match. Wire returned in 1987 with The Ideal Copy, with a complete shift in the way they composed their songs. This would continue with 1988’s A Bell Is A Cup…, and 1989’s ‘live’ album It’s Beginning To And Back Again, which, much like Document and Eyewitness, was not so much live songs as reworkings of old material in a live setting. Then came 1990’s Manscape, a mostly electronic affair – even the ‘played’ instruments were fed through primitive MIDI equipment. After that came The Drill, live versions of a single track (The Drill), their first song recorded as a group in the 80’s. Each version is manipulated in such a way that you can’t put them together – you’d certainly have trouble recognizing each of the 8 versions as the same song. Then their first, and only, drummer, Robert Gotobed, left the band. They dropped a letter from their name and put out one album as Wir, now a trio. The album was called The First Letter, because the graphics showed the W in the Wir as the number 3 turned on it’s side. It’s even more electronic that Manscape, once again reflecting the dominant alternative sounds of the times.
Maybe that was too much, because then they broke up again. They’d be back, different again, in 2003. But that’s a discussion for another time…