From the WUSC Vault #1
LABEL: EMI/Harvest/Warner Bros.
After forming in 1976 and releasing their debut album Pink Flag in the epicenter of the first wave punk movement, Wire were originally pigeonholed as another punk outfit amongst a plethora of bands either being it or trying to be it. Pink Flag was Wire’s entrance into a world they really didn’t care for. Wire began as a group who wanted to fuse their passions for music and art into a new channel and while their creativity did set them apart from their contemporaries, being amongst this wave of new and exciting punk bands who were being scooped up by the national media brought the realisation that Wire could be something more than a punk band who had a few catchy hits. This dwelling in the midst of punk absurdity surely gave them a reason to morph Wire into a band with a concept beyond sticking two fingers up at the system and dressing to offend. This notion was clear due to the difference in sound in their second album Chairs Missing (1978) as they introduced synthesizers and developed their song structure into something more cerebral than a two-chord riff and a sing-a-long chorus.
154 is a matured product of both their sound and the environment in which they created it. It is a product which is considered the climax of their original trilogy of albums. Wire’s collective interest in 60’s Psychedelic Rock and German electronic music, as well as minimalist and abstract art clearly influenced their musical output to be a calculated process with a desire to produce something they could be proud of that would stand the test of time, rather than to be another English band playing punk music in a market becoming quickly over-saturated with safety pins and glue.
In February 1979, a few months before 154‘s release, Wire played the well-known Rockpalast in Cologne, Germany. They mostly played a mixture of material from Chairs Missing and 154 in support of the new record. There were no flashy gimmicks or fashion statements and no speeches between songs, just a small audience who weren’t really sure what they were witnessing or whether they should understand it. The songs on 154 drew further away in structure from the regular verse-chorus-bridge-chorus formula that was prevalent in 90% of music in rotation on the rock and punk airwaves. 154 has certain callbacks to the punk brashness of Pink Flag mixed with melodic basslines and the experimental element of the synthesizer use and guitar effects. When analysing 154 alongside the previous two albums, it’s clear to see the learning curve as they blurred the lines of which genre they fit into. They have been a profound influence on bands across the spectrum of rock genre’s, from My Bloody Valentine to Minor Threat, who have both recorded and released covers of Wire songs.
Stand-out tracks from 154 are Map Ref. 41°N 93°W, I Should Have Known Better and The 15th. This album is catchy yet dissonant, daunting and thought-provoking. Economic instability and the effects of being in the ‘No Future’ generation perhaps prompted Wire to use their concept and music as their escape. A proverbial escape through crafting surrealist and strange lyrical themes to accompany the soundscape. In an interview after the Rockpalast appearance, singer and guitarist Colin Newman responded to a question about their music being depressing or negative by stating that their music should be “somewhat provoking and somewhat stimulating, even if it stimulates some negative reaction it’s better than no reaction at all”. It could be argued that the same negative stimuli in their songwriting process would ultimately lead to the band‘s separation through creative differences, resulting in an almost 8 year hiatus from releasing music.
Although the term ‘post-punk’ is thrown around a lot these days, with these three albums Wire were truly one of the pioneers of boundary-pushing music in the transition from one golden decade of music into another. Although they eventually reformed in some fashion and continued to release albums up to now, many Wire fanatics consider 154 as the closing statement of one band before they transformed over time into another.
(154 Full Album)
By Ross McLean