The fifteenth album from the post-punk greats, one of the most singular artists in British music history, and pretty much what you’d expect by now – which is to say, completely, effortlessly, unsettling. They’re still probing that sound, that air of grimy, noxious sterility, which they first chased on their second album ‘Chairs Missing.’ Which means, more of the same oddly poppy shuffle of the Lewis/Gray rhythm machine, more of the cloying discordancy that (relatively) new member Matthew Simms inherited from original guitarist Bruce Gilbert and most importantly, more of the detached, robotically modulated cadences of vocalist Colin Newman.
And long may it continue.
Wire may have lost much of their ability to shock (although, there can’t be much shock left in the world after their first three albums rewrote the rulebook, that punk had only just rewritten, for alternative music), but everything they do is worth hearing. With ‘Nocturnal Koreans’ it’s about the moments the delicately poised air of discomfort cracks and the music breaks open: the delightful, mesmeric sway that consumes the final third of ‘Internal Exile’; the gorgeous drifting ambience of the instrumental passages in ‘Forward Position’; the way Matthew Simms drags the same ringing guitar line through the three minutes of ‘Pilgrim Trade.’
Two particular moments stand out though, throwing something already odd completely off kilter. The closing number ‘Fishes Bones’, a fractured monologue, taking its cues from the wonderful Sauna Youth (one of innumerable young bands who owe their existence to luminaries like Wire) as much as fellow original travellers The Mekons, with Newman (I assume, though it’s hard to tell) speaking blankly, like HAL having his circuits removed in ‘2001’: “I’ve often wondered what the fuck was going on in there/I’m counting fishes/I’m making the dishes/ IIII wiiill… make all your wishes come true/I sent a message to your… mobile home.”
Even more gratifying though, the self-paraphrasing reference to their irresistible 1977 ‘Three Girl Rhumba’ in ‘Numbered.’ Newman dripping the same impregnable sneer that he seemed to have on tap all through their debut album: “You think I’m a number/Still willing to rhumba?” Willing or not, they still do.
This Wire article was written by James Dawson, a GIGsoup contributor. Photo by Marylene Mey