It’s all in the art of continuing. Some 27 years removed from their birth, 12 from their last album of new material, and with countless bands having formed and crumbled in the interim, Wire has roused from their slumber to issue Send. In most cases, the return of a major artist following an extended layoff elicits a collective groan—understandable given the unfortunate career trajectories of Suicide and Peter Gabriel. Truth is, artists don’t tend to age well, and most later works fall short of early high points, especially when there are significant gaps between albums. However, Wire is not your typical band. They’ve managed to remain strangely compelling throughout their long, unpredictable career. Even at their nadir, which arguably lasted through most of the ‘80s, Wire were at least making challenging music—despite the fact that their exploration of dance rhythms didn’t win them any new fans or please the old ones.
After hearing Send or even the two precursors, Read and Burn 01 and 02, it becomes quite apparent that each phase was absolutely essential. What seemed like deranged twists and turns at the time have officially been validated. The latest incarnation of Wire incorporates their entire catalog—and I mean all of it—from the mangled dance beats to their renowned punk venom of the late ‘70s. But this is hardly a piecemeal assembly job. This Wire fills in the gaps, hiding the seams with enough distortion and dissonance to make Kevin Shields proud. Skirting the edges of melody on songs like “Mr. Marx’s Table” or “Being Watched”, where the song suddenly erupts with eardrum-piercing shards of feedback, one can’t help but be reminded of the sonic extremes explored by My Bloody Valentine—even if the sound is more firmly rooted in the quixotic clamor of punk than the zonked narcolepsy of the Velvet Underground. Shields even remixed a Wire track in the mid-‘90s, suggesting that Wire had more a profound impact on the shoegaze aesthetic than anyone bothered to realize at the time.
One could say that Wire front man, Colin Newman, returns the favor on Send. In what could be interpreted as a heartfelt homage to the reclusive legend, Newman piles on the effects and mixes the results to the point of combustion. There’s a claustrophobic, almost impenetrable quality to the production on the album, as if Newman wanted to suffocate the melodies with as many harsh effects as he could tease from the amps and the mixing desk. Thankfully, he succeeded only partially.
Balancing out the thick reverb are stiff, speedy beats, which both hint at an industrial influence and attest to a voracious appetite for punk and post-punk bands over the years. When the guitars do run amok, as they have a habit of doing on Send, the steady rhythmic thump ensures that the songs stay grounded even as they threaten liftoff. It produces a strained tension befitting their ambitious yet curiously melodic urge. Hyperventilating guitar fuzz is tempered with a Ministry-like drum clatter on “Comet” to impressive effect—while “Agfers of Kodack” marries Colin Newman’s ominous growl to latter-day Primal Scream sonic terrorism, as the clanging metallic grind threatens to crush the pop impulse coursing just beneath the song’s industrial sheen. Throughout Send, Wire strike the right compromise, pushing their songs to brink of chaos without ever allowing them to disintegrate.
Some no doubt will complain that Send is nothing but a cheap attempt to cash in, since it offers only four songs not previously available on the Read and Burn EPs. While that may be true, I see no reason to chastise the band. The track list has been available for months, so it’s not as if the band can be accused of trying to pull a fast one on their fans, but more importantly, the seven Read and Burn songs were damn good the first time through. They deserve a wider audience. Although I see no reason for the faithful to pick up Send for the four new tracks alone, I would certainly recommend that the novice start with Send as opposed to the pricey and elusive EPs.
At a time when most elder statesmen in rock seem content to use a new album as an excuse to launch another greatest hits tour, Wire stand apart from the pack. Not only are they far from creatively spent, they are arguably making the most vital music of their career. Wire may be aging, but decline doesn’t appear to be part of their vocabulary.
// Notes from the Road
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