No truer words can describe Wire than the title of its latest full-length Change Becomes Us. That’s because if there’s been a constant to Wire’s on-off-on, over 35-year career, it’s that the punk avatars have continually reinvented themselves. And it’s a particularly appropriate name for an album that fleshes out doodles that they first tinkered with at the end of their late ‘70s golden age, as this latest incarnation of the band uses all the accumulated knowledge and skill at hand to shape old unreleased material and what Wire Kremlinologists have noticed as fragments from the chaotic Document and Eyewitness live record into actual songs. But as much as Change Becomes Us may be invested in nostalgia for what could’ve been if Wire hadn’t dissolved for the first time in 1980, the thing about the new effort is that it is too vital and vibrant to be only about the past and hypothetical situations.
So even as Wire goes full circle back to its roots on Change Becomes Us, the group is still pushing its aesthetic forward, giving what’s still its trademark post-punk sound the weight and force that of its recent outings. Sure, there’s no way for Wire to time warp back to the same sly attitude and rambunctious artistry the original foursome made its name with, but today’s version of the band compensates for that with more muscular compositions and a cleaner approach. In effect, Change Becomes Us is a veritable compendium of everything that Wire has been up to since the late ‘70s, combining the bristling energy of the good old days, the electronic textures of the ‘80s forays, and the heftier rock of its 2000s output. Sure, you might get a déjà-vu-like inkling that Wire is blasting back to the past even if you don’t know the backstory behind Change Becomes Us when you hear the tense, coiled riffs and Colin Newman’s spoke-sung vocals on the opener “Doubles & Trebles”. But there are also plenty of cues from the track that signal it’s something that only this manifestation of Wire could’ve come up with, like the acoustic guitar that traces the slicing electric lines and the fuller, clearer production.
Perhaps bassist Graham Lewis offers the best explanation for how Wire went about turning its old brainstorms into reality when he told The Quietus that the final treatments “transcended” the inspirations that were ultimately just starting points for the renditions on Change Becomes Us. Even the numbers most reminiscent of Wire’s heyday don’t feel dated as if they had been reanimated from a hermetically sealed time capsule: Clocking in at under two minutes, the breathless “Keep Exhaling” and the romping “Stealth of a Stork” would’ve fit nicely on to Pink Flag or Chairs Missing, except that there’s a polish to them that gives Wire’s timeless sound a bite that’s completely contemporary. And while the Gang of Four-ish “Eels Sang” and the coiling, bouncing “As We Go” carry on the aura of mystery that Wire’s archived work still conveys—especially when Newman enigmatically croons aphoristic lines like, “Remove vegetation, clear the trees / It all becomes part of our history,” on the latter—the way they’re rendered with gleaming, bulked-up guitars and resounding rhythms makes them come through in HD clarity, instead of the staticky, grainy video footage of your memories.
That transcendence that Wire is seeking on Change Becomes Us pushes some of the more complex songs in directions they wouldn’t have gone in the distant past and maybe not until now. That’s something you can’t help but notice on the whiplashing “Adore Your Island”, which shockingly intros to windmilling Who-esque power riffs before launching into a patented Wire post-punk punch-out, only a little more breakneck and headlong than normal. The moody “Magic Bullet” creates psychodrama tension from the interplay of guitar and synth that taps into the Wire mystique, while producing chills and thrills that truly incite, in Newman’s own inscrutable words, “a sense of foreboding never tasted before.” But it’s “Love Bends” that’s the latest revelation for a band who’s had a career of them, as jittery, cutting riffs are met by floating keyboard effects that feel ethereal without ever breaking down the structure and form of the song. And you catch yourself wondering if Wire has grown soft and earnest over the years when Newman starts the track by singing, “Love bends the earth / It straightens the road / It dives the pearls / It lightens the load,” though the group’s history makes you think there’s got to be at least a vestigial hint of cynicism to the sentiment.
Certainly, Change Becomes You succeeds in its attempt to reinvent the wheel—or “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel”, as the title of one of the album’s best tracks puts it aptly. But even on that number, which starts with 154‘s punk experimentalism, then streamlines and sharpens it, Wire accomplises something more than doing the same thing well, only differently. Instead, “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel”, in particular, and Change Becomes You, in general, prove that a band like Wire isn’t about repeating history, but making more of it.