After another lengthy hiatus, beginning in 1992, Wire reemerged a decade later determined to push themselves in an expected direction. With 2003's Send, which followed from and incorporated some songs from the two Read & Burn EPs, the band blazed, blasted and blew (largely) through a blistering barrage of tunes that showed that they were as delightfully idiosyncratic and creative as ever.
Anyone who saw Wire live during that period, as this blogger did for the first time at a Los Angeles show, it was more than a surprising to be confronted with a level of volume that was as loud as any concert experienced before.
But, the songs worked well in that maelstrom. "In the Art of Stopping," "Comet," "The Agfers of Kodack," "Spent," and more are just built for speed and noise. The live album, The Scottish Play: 2004 (a neat little play on The Bard) gives some idea of what Wire's music of that period sounded like in person, though it's obviously not possible to replicate the sonic assault.
But, that's not all that Send and related recordings from those first few years of the 2000s was about. For one thing, although there are electronic treatments added for color and adornment, especially on "Read and Burn" it was great to be able to hear Robert Grey (Gotobed) playing a real drumkit again and performing with his old metronomic reliability. Not that the late 80s version of Wire wasn't great--there was much to enjoy there--but the driving intensity of Send would not obviously have been anywhere near possible without Grey's drumming.
And, of course, there's Colin Newman's ironic, Cockney-inflected vocals--often supremely sarcastic, witty and insightful, and sometimes bellowing, as on the staggering "Spent." Occasionally, Graham Lewis's voice, though definitely cigarette-burnished (or burned), comes out particularly effectively, even if processed, in the raging, biting "The Agfers of Kodack." Though to hear him sing the tune on The Scottish Play reveals painfully what the years of smoking had done.
Finally, there is the production, which somehow manages to sound raw and polished all at the same time, due to the care and consideration taken by Newman, who has mixed all of Wire's music since at his home studio, Swim.
Some bands maintain remarkable longevity by falling back on past glories; others build upon their history while adding new dimensions by looking forward. Wire is definitely the latter, even after Bruce Gilbert departed in 2004. Their subsequent albums have all been great and their latest release, the mini-LP Nocturnal Koreans, shows that they are still very much forward thinking.