Wire’s New Album: Change Becomes Them
If Wire’s new album Change Becomes Us sounds like the great lost follow-up to Chairs Missing, that’s because it sort of is. Many of its tracks are finished versions of sketches of songs from the band’s late 70s period, dating from their brilliant initial trio of albums: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. Much as these songs share a scruffy surrealism, bracingly dark tunefulness and Wire’s signature wry humor, the original postpunk band is not trying to recapture the past: they keep evolving, and the songs are in the here and now. Ironically, in an age where anybody can record an album with their phone, the kings of late 70s DIY have expanded their sonic palette further here than ever, giving the songs an often hypnotic lushness that sometimes evokes Australian art-rockers the Church.
Doubles & Trebles, a menacing spy story, immediately sets the tone, building from an eerie whole-tone guitar riff to a stalker insistence. With its offkilter vocal harmonies and watery dreampop clang, Keep Exhaling is primo vintage Wire with early 90s production values – and is that an I Am the Walrus quote? Likewise, Adore Your Island snidely references the Who’s Baba O’Reilly.
Re-Invent Your Second Wheel works a tricky tempo with more than a hint of theatrical Peter Gabriel-era Genesis amthemics. Stealth of a Stork builds layer upon layer over a straight-ahead punk stomp, while B W Silence works a suspenseful, watery dreampop vibe. Trippy flanged vocals and enveloping sonics give Time Lock Fog a feel like the Church circa 1993 or so. Magic Bullet, with its unexpected hints of reggae, would have been a standout track on Chairs Missing. Eels Sang reminds of early Gang of Four but with wetter guitars, while Love Bends is a more organic take on the dancefloor rock Wire was doing in the mid-80s: think Ultravox with heavy drums.
The album gets stronger as it goes along. As We Go has a catchy Outdoor Miner hookiness, but more ominously…until a droll singalong chorus that they run over and over again. & Much Besides segues out of it, a lush, balmy futuristic scenario that sounds suspiciously saracastic. The album winds up with Attractive Space, which grows from a Zarathustra-ish riff into a big spacerock anthem. In the time between when many of these songs were conceived and finally realized, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis’s voices have mellowed, Robert Grey’s beats have taken on an unexpected subtlety, with the band’s most recent member Matthew Simms adding textural lushness and diversity. Not a substandard track on the album, pretty impressive for a band that’s been around, more or less, since 1976. Also available: the latest in Wire’s series of “legal bootlegs,” a grab bag of live material culled from a 2000 Nottingham Social gig as well as radio sessions at WFMU and KEXP in 2011. Wire are at Bowery Ballroom in June and likely to sell out the venue; watch this space for onsale dates for tix.