Wire emerged during the first wave of British punk in the late '70s and became one of the most influential bands of that era. The group's debut album, Pink Flag, pounded out 21 songs in 36 minutes. Some lasted less than 30 seconds; some were built largely on a single chord, while others were extremely catchy. Umpteen aspiring bands — virtually every hardcore band in the ‘80s — took cues from that album, to the point where Wire's name has essentially become akin to an adjective used to describe all that is minimal and aggressive.
Punk rock wasn't built for longevity, but Wire was, and it moved away from its initial approach almost immediately, channeling punk through a more artistic lens. Although it disbanded twice since forming in 1976, it never, in active periods, rested on its laurels. The recently released its 13th studio album, simply titled Wire, reveals a band with plenty of fire 39 years down the line.
- Photo by Owen Richards
- Past Pink: Wire
Vocalist and guitarist Colin Newman isn't fazed by the band's influence over the years because it's often reduced to a small fraction of a larger work. "If people only know the '70s stuff, I find it a bit boring," he says. "If they listen to everything that we do, then they have a broader idea of what we're about. I find the obsession with Pink Flag really tedious. From the perspective of now, Pink Flag is probably the most conventional record that Wire has ever made. Because it's the one that sounds the most like other people's records. At the time people thought it was very harsh."
While the band's style has evolved over the years, Wire still has the potential to sound harsh. "Harpooning," which closes the new album, tests the strength of your speakers with eight minutes of low-end throbbing, none of it excessive. It's a suitable climax to a set that, as always, combines visceral play with verbal play, heavy moments with catchier ones. In lesser hands, a song like "Blogging" might read like an attempt to stay relevant. In Wire's hands, it's a droll set of lyrics that place Internet technology in the hands of those present for the birth of Jesus: "Three king researchers/ use Google maps/ Bethlehem manger/ a high-rated app." Humor "is very much a part of what we do. Always has been. It's not necessarily always obvious," Newman says.
Besides Newman, bassist Graham Lewis and drummer Robert Grey (originally known as Robert Gotobed) have been with the band since its inception. When original Bruce Gilbert departed in 2004, the band didn't want to replace him, preferring to just recruit a second guitarist for tours. But Matthew Simms sounded better than a hired gun. "He was more than just filling the parts. It started to feel like we would be crazy to let him go," says Newman. "As we started to think about the next album [2012's Change Becomes Us], I just couldn't really imagine doing it without Matt."