London band Wire would refute being either ‘indie elder statesmen’, or ‘post-punk icons’; yet perversely, both cliches apply. Kind of. From their 70s inception, their music has weathered the storm of ‘post-everything’ labels, of indie being co-opted into the mainstream, and, laterally, of download culture.
This is due in no small way to their insistence on complete autonomy, as with fellow wilfully individual outsiders like Mark E Smith -always impossible to second-guess, always shifting in terms of style and genre.
This, their second album (really a mini-album) on their own Pink Flag label, marks both a departure and evolution from their signature sound. They simply don’t do nostalgia. It’s a multi-layered, musically dense yet accessible collection.
The title track’s sense of urgency, then, is matched only by its melancholic yearning, with Colin Newman singing eerily “driver, driver’s lost in the woods”over a throbbing bassline. There is a sense of transience here- of things constantly shifting. Internal Exile‘s throbbing pop, with its majestic wash of trumpets , focuses on the first world problems of “laptop lackeys” and “bankrupt cynics who leave the city”- all presided over by Newman’s detached, wry vocals.
Only Dead Weight feels like they’re treading water- not very memorable- yet as with the rest of the album, a short burst of energy. It’s still immensely listenable.
Forward Position is a firm favourite- possibly one of the most minimalist things they’ve done since the AC Marias One Of Our Girls project in the early nineties.It’s echoey, haunting, with a beguiling otherworldliness and contemplative space.Absolutely gorgeous.
Numbered meanwhile is a return to the classic Wire sound- wry and propulsive: pop synth sensibilities weighted with simmering unease.That juxtaposition is what always set them apart from their peers-a slight menace at odds with Newman and bassist Graham Lewis’way with a nagging riff.
Lewis himself takes lead vocal duties on the nightmarish swirl of closing track Fishes Bones -its reverb and ominous clockwork percussion is reminiscent of John Cale at his most extreme and experimental.
To quote a fine line from Internal Exile, they will never join “the queue of future has-beens”- Wire exist in their own special unit- never fashionable, always cool.
Available now on Pink Flag.