You, me, the music, and me.

Monday, January 16, 2006

WIRE 154

Warner Bros. QBS 3398 (1979)

The story goes that, at a certain high-society party one night, Miles Davis was introduced to a lady of status and fell into a rather one-sided conversation with her, during which she listed her many titles and accomplishments. When she noticed him growing visibly distracted, she was said to have huffed, "Well! Might I ask what you have done in your lifetime?", to which Davis coolly replied, "Well, I've changed music about five or six times."

English post-punks Wire may not have had quite as much influence on their peers as Davis did on his, but like Miles they put their music through many stylistic changes over the course of their career. Beginning life as a snotty art-punk band in the tradition of the Sex Pistols and the Buzzcocks, their sound changed as they searched for different means of expression, incorporating synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers into the mix. 154 was their third album and was the first to suggest the the group had grown bored with traditional punk sounds and were ready to try something new and different, punk formalism be damned.

The overall sound of the album may be a bit off-putting to the casual listener; synths and guitars grate against each other abrasively over pounding drums, and most of the lyrics tend to be either dark or analytical (or usually both: "The Other Window" describes a man on a train watching a horse struggle to free itself from a barbed-wire fence and, realizing that he is unable to help, eventually ignoring the situation). Yet repeated listenings reveal Wire's ear for catchy hooks; "The 15th" and "Map Ref. 41'N 93'W" could've been pop hits in an alternate universe (despite their oblique lyrics; the chorus of "Map Ref." goes "Interrupting my train of thought/Lines of longitude and latitude/Define and refine my altitude" and somehow manages to be hummable!).

Unfortunately, the tensions in Wire's music were reflected in the relationships between the band's members; the group broke up after the album's release. Happily, Wire reunited in 1985 with The Ideal Copy, a record that picked right up where 154 left off. Wire continues to record and tour to this day, continually confounding any and all expectations with regards to their sound (or what it should be).

(Wire performing live in Germany in 1979. The first song is from the album Chairs Missing, the second is from 154.)


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