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Death By CultureWire Strikes the Bell Cup Again
POSTED BY VINNIE BLESI, February 4, 2011    Share

You can call them punk, post punk, art punk, art rock/pop, experimental or just outré. Wire, a musical group, formed in 1976 by art school pals and rejects: Colin Newman, B.C.(Bruce) Gilbert, Graham Lewis and Robert Gotobed(Grey), have survived and still remain relevant some 35 years later with the release of their new CD, "Red Barked Tree". The new CD draws on all the best that the group has offered over the years including their many solo and side projects. This is their 12th studio project under the Wire moniker, but Newman, Lewis and Gilbert have kept busy with solo projects, collaborations and production work, so their amassed work is much greater than what is contained in those 12 Wire albums.

Over the years I have found that Wire is a group that people either love or hate. I fell in love with Wire in the late 1970's during my weekly visit to the import section of Asylum Records on W. Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa Fl. In the days before the internet and mp3's it was hard to find music not distributed by major US labels. The person who ran Asylum knew my musical tastes and immediately told me to check out this new album he got in, "Pink Flag" by Wire.

21 tracks clocking in at 35 minutes, this album was a life changing event for me. Only hearing the Sex Pistols tops it. There was a mysterious energy. There was a mysterious magic. 35 minutes of bliss. Wire took their minimal musical knowledge and expanded it into mini punk epics that lasted sometimes less than 30 seconds.

Wire would team up with producer Mike Thorne, who went on to work with Blur, Peter Murphy, Soft Cell, Bronski Beat and others, to make their second release, "Chairs Missing". Thorne added synthesizers to the punk Wire anthems. Chairs Missing offered more developed songs than on "Pink Flag". A more pop sound started to emerge from the art school rejects. As well as a more psychedelic sound that appreciated and understood that some songs needed to have a nuance, a balance between quiet and noise, a zenith and a nadir. "Chairs Missing" is a classic piece of art, as was "Pink Flag".

Wire's third album, 154, was both unique, as each member began writing their own songs, as well as groundbreaking for its experimental approach. This would end with the first break up of Wire as Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert broke camps with Colin Newman. What would follow was a treasure of riches, as both camps went on to their solo and collaboration projects. But the Wire solo projects will have to wait for another column.

154, offered its own mystery. What is this album about? It had a sinister sound to it. So songs like "The Other Window", a spoken word piece, still disturbs me to this day. From the first track, I Should Have Known Better, the sinister, yet enticing sound, draws you in like the Vampire's stare. The next track Two People in a Room, could be a track from Pink Flag, but with a dissonance that gently irritates.

Wire gave us a glimpse of their art pop future in tracks such as On Returning, Once Is Enough and 40 Versions. They also gave a glimpse of their experimental solo projects that would follow with songs like, Blessed State and Indirect Inquires.

Fast forward eight years to 1987, after a wealth of solo and side projects, Wire reforms with a new sound. The new Wire sound was that of art pop. Jettison the extreme experimental elements of their previous work, the new sound was more radio friendly, but still identifiable as being Wire. Wire finally scored not on mainstream radio but on alternative, college radio stations. With their tracks like Eardrum Buzz, Kidney Bingos, Ahead and Snakedrill, Wire once again became relevant among the so called college radio charts.

In 1990 they released Manscape, without drummer Robert Gotobed, under the moniker Wir. The cd was a failure as they relied on drum machines, too much tech, and not enough passion. The second era of Wire came to a close, as the band members split to continue their own solo projects.

Wire finally resurfaces in 2000. They embark on a tour to try and rediscover their roots. I drove to Washington D.C. to see them. They only played songs from their first 3 albums. Once again, I believe trying to recapture something that happened twenty years prior.

Since then they did produce two CDs, Send and Object 47. Both of these were disappointments as Wire tried to become relevant by producing loud, distorted songs, forgetting that songwriting is what makes a good song.

Wire reappears, as if from behind a magician's cape, in 2011 with Red Barked Tree. Recorded without their most controversial member, Bruce Gilbert aka The Beekeeper, this new CD for the most part meshes the best of Wire past with the best of Wire future. The first half of this CD is full of energy and this CD is good but unfortunately is not great. The CD bogs down on track 7, Moreover is a predictable track with distorted guitars and distorted vocals. Red Barked Tree really dies a painful death with the last two tracks which I believe may just be recording by Colin Newman. Of course I could be dreaming.

Wire, circa 2011, has shown they are as vibrant, energetic and creative as ever. I just wish they had put just a little more energy into their new project, taking it from just good to a great release.


"Death By Culture" is ©2011 by Vinnie Blesi. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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