Monday, June 18, 2012

Wire: Pink Flag

Labels, labels, labels.  When Wire released its first album, Pink Flag, at the end of 1977, the punk revolution in England was nearing its end, or at least what has been referred to as the "first generation" was coming to a close.  Speaking of labels, it was interesting that the band was signed to Harvest Records, a subsidiary of the massive EMI label, best known for issuing "progressive rock" works from the likes of Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Move and others--seemingly a world away from that of Wire!  This was also true of 1980s signees Duran Duran and Thomas Dolby.

In any case, Wire bore little resemblance, to YHB, to the Sex Pistols or early Clash or The Damned or lots of other early punk bands.  Sure, the songs were short, had a certain attitude to them, and could move along at a fast clip.  But, there was something clearly different about Wire that set them apart from virtually anything on the so-called "punk" scene at the time.

At any rate, easy labels and ready comparisons are not of much interest here, anyway.  The 21-song album featured the steady, metronome-like drumming of Robert Gotobed (Grey), bassist-vocalist Graham Lewis, guitarist Bruce Gilbert, and vocalist-guitarist Colin Newman, but producer and keyboardist Mike Thorne was essential to the band's sound to the extent that some have referred to him as Wire's fifth band member.  His role would only increase in the two subsequent albums, to be covered later in this blog.

The first track, "Reuters", sounds almost nothing like the punk music of the day, though its heavy guitar, echoey bass, and crisp drums nicely supplement Newman's Cockney-inflected delivery of lyrics that, dealing with the reporting of war and human rights abuses, are far more mature and advanced than what most contemporaries had on offer.

Moving briskly through great pieces like "Three Girl Rhumba;" "Lowdown;" "It's So Obvious;" "106 Beats That;" "Strange;" "Feeling Called Love;" "1 2 X U;" and many others, Wire throw out ideas left and right, with varied tempos, unusual melodies, and ironic lyrics barely developing in any given piece, before the next one, generally quite different that those before and after, kicks in and the sequencing may be as integral to the success of the album as any other element.

This was a band that, though not proficient musically, were definitely so in terms of ideas and their execution and Pink Flag does not sound at all dated, nearly thirty-five years after its release.  Wire would go through several iterations through its history (YHB did not hear them until the 1987 record, the excellent The Ideal Copy, which showed the band pursuing a very different sound, if not fundamentally altered attitude), but Pink Flag is a bracing start for a great band not content to stand still or rest on its laurels.

Wire:  Pink Flag (Harvest, 1977)

1.  Reuters
2.  Field Day for the Sundays
3.  Three Girl Rhumba
4.  Ex Lion Tamer
5.  Lowdown
6.  Start to Move
7.  Brazil
8.  It's So Obvious
9.  Surgeon's Girl
10. Pink Flag
11.  The Commercial
12.  Straight Line
13.  100 Beats That
14.  Mr. Suit
15.  Strange
16.  Fragile
17.  Mannequin
18.  Different to Me
19.  Champs
20.  Feeling Called Love
21.  1 2 X U
22.  Options R (Restless Retro 1989 CD bonus track)

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