The first thing you’re likely to note about Object 47, is that the lyrics are filled with questions. Actually, wait, ha ha, that’s a lie. The first thing you’re going to notice, even if you haven’t heard that ferocious primary guitarist Bruce Gilbert has left the band, is that Object 47 is much less dense/assaultive/industrial/loud/fucking angry than 2003’s Send, although whether that’s down to Gilbert’s resignation (the band’s word, not mine) or not is hard to ascertain, as well as moot. After that, those upset that Send was mostly a compilation of the two Read & Burn EPs that Wire released before the album came out will also note that all nine tracks on the brief Object 47 are new, meaning that Read & Burn 03 has not been picked through by the band (collectors everywhere sigh in relief).
But by the time you turn to the lyrics, then you’re going to notice all those question marks. In another band they might seem tentative, diffident, maybe even a bit cowed. But Wire have always been more interrogative than unsure, and those questions (“Can I make it plainer?”, “Are you just oblivious?”, “Can you declare your interest?”, “Are you willing to draw a line in the sand?” and so on) are more aimed at getting the subject to defend, explain, justify than obtaining information. It’s always a hostile world in Wire’s music, in various ways. The reason, say, the first Futureheads LP struck me as a tiny bit Wire-esque had nothing to do with the sonics and everything to do with the kind of terse, brainy misanthropy that ran through it.
Maybe it’s just because Colin Newman often sounds like he’s mocking you and Graham Lewis a bit like he wants to beat you up, but Wire have always sounded like they don’t much like people (and who can blame them?). From the fleet-footed art punk moves of Pink Flag through to the glacial 154 and onwards into their increasingly accomplished and interesting work in the ‘80s and ‘90s (even dreamy, love-song-about-nonsense “Kidney Bingos”) Wire practically radiate a wary kind of disdain.
Object 47 doesn’t sound much like those epochal first three albums—it’s likely they never will again, between their increased musical skill and persistent love of the studio as instrument—but barring those it’s not a bad summation/puree of the sound of Wire down through the years. It’s not as techno as Manscape, not as dreamy or poppy as A Bell Is a Cup Until It Is Struck, not as intense or as crushingly digitized as Send... but it partakes in all of those aspects throughout its short-but-sweet 35 minutes.
The band describes the sound as “tunes that zoom”, and certainly nothing here succumbs to the noise-for-noise-sake aimlessness that befell the weaker tracks on Send. All nine are perversely hummable in a very Wire way, even when the humming and buzzing music closes in around you and someone is howling in your ear (the closing “All Fours”). That all three members have had healthy and prolific careers outside of Wire is both apparent and crucial. Everything here sounds lovingly sculpted and a song like “Hard Currency” maintains a depth and space in its production even with its flurry of drums and percussion swarming through the song.
Wire is a great band who have often been daunting to approach, so the really dazzling thing about Object 47 is just how approachable and digestible it is. It may not be the best album of their career (it’s hard to tell, this early on), but barring maybe Chairs Missing it’s the one I’d hand to someone curious about the band, and it’s a staggering achievement given that, for example, by this point in their career the Rolling Stones were making Voodoo Lounge. Wire instead have an album that accessible but still richly rewarding to fans. You’ll be singing along to the soaring chorus of “Perspex Icon” after the first listen, and even maliciously chanting nouns with “Patient Flees”. Opener “One of Us” carries on a proud tradition of fairly hilarious bitchiness on the band’s part, marrying a bouncy sing-song chorus to Newman’s vow “One of us will live to rue the day we met each other”, and “Circumspect” follows it up by badgering the listener until they’re not sure of anything that just happened. “Can you tell me what you saw? Can you tell me what you thought you heard?”, Newman drawls, and while I guess there’s some political/every day resonance to that it’s mostly just the kind of sinister fun you listen to Wire for.
Lewis, meanwhile, spends the surging “Mekon Headman” being as circumspect as possible about the violence he’s describing/possibly participating in, and “Four Long Years” may well be about weapons inspections. As always with Wire, however, what contemporary triggers these songs may have, they’re expanded until the songs are more about the annoyances, pains and occasional grace of living with other humans around than Hans Blix. Wire may have started out hollering out “1-2-X-U!” like a normal punk band on Dexedrine, and they may have followed that up by deconstructing their live show until the skinheads waiting for the speedy songs started heaving bottles at them, but after a few decades, poof… they’ve backed into grouchy wisdom and a sense of craft sturdy enough to ensure that they can still whip the youngsters at this “rock music” game.
// Notes from the Road
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