Wire were about as atypical as it was possible for a punk band to be. Whilst other acts made a virtue of stupidity whilst recycling the last ounces of rebellion from borrowed Stooges riffs, this quartet (one of whom was, whisper it, over 30!) signed to Harvest, EMI's vilified progressive subsidiary which by 1977 had fossilised into little more than Pink Floyd's own label, and released "Pink Flag", a record that channelled fierce intelligence through art school experimentation and into 21 of the shortest, sharpest shocks to grace the era.
No amount of preparation can soften the impact of your first listen to "Pink Flag". Songs are discarded as soon as the lyrics run out - which, in the case of "Field Day For The Sundays", a scathing attack on tabloid journalism, takes less than 30 seconds - or submerged under sheets of hollered rage (the splenetic "Mr. Suit" and the anti-war tirades of "Reuters" and "Pink Flag"). Elsewhere Wire show themselves capable of pounding out altered almost-pop music ("Fragile", "Mannequin", and the wryly-titled instrumental "The Commercial"). If "Pink Flag" still manages to sound fresher than its spittle-flecked contemporaries it might have something to do with the way its influence has taken longer to contaminate the mainstream - R.E.M. made "Strange" arguably Wire's most famous composition by going global with it on their "Document" album, whilst Elastica memorably modelled "Connection" on the riff from "Three Girl Rumba".
This long-overdue vinyl reissue of Wire's finest 35 minutes arrives from a source of unknown origin, and the quality of the sleeve - which looks suspiciously like a photocopy - and the thin and floppy vinyl it contains do little to inspire confidence. Nevertheless, this issue of "Pink Flag" sounds better than any other I've heard, outpacing the CD by some considerable distance. Guitars clang, rasp and scrape as abrasively as you'd expect, and the thunderous drum rolls on the title track are a revelation.
WIRE Chairs Missing (Harvest)
Wire arguably metamorphosed from scratchy no-chord wonders to post-punk experimenters faster than any of their contemporaries (their second album Chairs Missing was released the month before Public Images self-titled debut single). After the short, sharp shocks of their 1977 debut Pink Flag (a title whose phonetic similarity to the name of one of their none-less-punk Harvest labelmates must surely be more than coincidental), three of the 15 songs presented here stretch luxuriantly and sacrilegiously over the four minute mark. One of them is Practice Makes Perfect, even its title emphasising how far and how fast the band have travelled from punk rock; its a slow, deliberate construction of burglar alarm guitar riffs and ambient chorale. In Heartbeat distant figures and a beat like a fog-shrouded steam engine shift slowly into focus before receding back into the murk, Doppler-style. I Am The Fly is Barrett-(bless him)-esque whimsy with a scything edge, and the delicious, subversive pop muzik of Outdoor Miner shouldve made Wire as big as, ooh, XTC, but it struggled to number 51 as Britain bought Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Heart Of Glass instead. The scampering strangeness of I Feel Mysterious Today wouldve fitted perfectly on the soundtrack of Chris Morris dark comedy series Jam, and From The Nursery splinters with sarcasm, Robert Gotobed bashing out the primitive rhythm like hes Mo Tucker or sumpn. Used To, in contrast, sounds cloudy, expecting rain, like its coming from across marshland. Amidst all this theres still the odd punk thrash Sand In My Joints, Too Late hearkening nostalgically back to the spirit of 76.
The songs still exist for as long or as little as they need to be, stopping when spent and not a moment later, but producer Mike Thorne adds an Eno-esque wash of synth where appropriate. The itchy art-rock cleverness makes it a harder album to love than Pink Flag, but easier to enjoy than its successor, 154, which pursued this direction even further. Nevertheless, its possible to hear elements and echoes of Chairs Missing in more mainstream popular culture Peter Gabriel tidied up the rowdy crescendos of Mercy into Not One Of Us, and Outdoor Miner has practically become an indie kid karaoke staple. Well, sorta, as covers by Lush, Flying Saucer Attack and My Life Story attest.