Forty years after stepping onto the musical battlefield with one of the best albums of the late seventies in ‘Pink Flag’, WIRE return with an album that can be summed up with one phrase: more of the same.
It’s better than their last release, the weirdly titled ‘Nocturnal Koreans’, but the plodding nature of many of the songs, such as ‘An Alibi’, too repetitive and uninspiring. Nothing happens. The synths during the choral build are too thick and muffled, and Newman’s vocals are as usual, mundane to say the least. I can’t say that’s his fault though, he’s in his 60s, for God’s sake! You can’t expect the lackadaisical swagger and arrogance of classics such as ‘Heartbeat’ and ‘Outdoor Miner’ to still be present. Nonetheless, I think a youthful voice could give these songs more life and direction.
However, there are moments where this sluggish glide takes flight. ‘This Time’ on first listen is extremely boring and can be labelled as the ‘filler-iest’ of filler songs I’ve ever heard WIRE produce, but after a few listens you can’t help but get into it. The vocal effects are actually suitable and create a Bowie-like reminiscence of a song set in space or a dark void. Similar to how I described a few tracks from their self-titled release in 2015, Simms simple guitar and the relaxed rhythm section, set to a backdrop of monolithic synths, makes it the perfect background music for a reading of ‘1984’ or Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’.
Songs I did enjoy here include the opener, ‘Playing Harp For The Fishes’ and ‘Forever & A Day’, the latter track probably making the biggest impact. The distorted guitar interrupted with slick chords are met with a vocal more like the old Newman, which is something I always enjoy. Passionate, cool and effortless, his voice carries so much woe and want for whoever his “darling” is: oooooooo darling, I want you to stay/oooooooo darling, forever and a day. It’s a highlight to be swallowed and savoured.
WIRE have always had this storyteller quality, they create vibrant settings through the music and narratives in the lyricism. Like a novel, each song here feels like a chapter. I don’t really listen to WIRE and expect to be exhilarated, I now seem to expect a story or defining theme/message. I wasn’t around for the first album, or many of them for that matter, but listening to albums like ‘Pink Flag’ and ‘Chairs Missing’ make me wish I was around for those glory days. For the past few albums, each album has produced maybe 3 or 4 songs which can be put on the GOOD WIRE song list, the rest however, are a bit middle of the road.
If you go into this record understanding that sometimes they can be a bit cheesey and over the top in terms of the melancholy, negative imagery, I think you will enjoy it. If you’re expecting a good pumping of the heart or surge of energy, you will be disappointed.
It’s not often a band leave me so conflicted. I really don’t know if WIRE are any good. The soundscapes they create aren’t behind the curve but they certainly aren’t ahead either. They’re firmly planted on the horizon, churning out solid records with a few screamers here and there.
Release Date 31st March 2017 (Pinkflag Records)