"I never know which version I'm going to be
I seem to have so many choices open to me"
—Wire, "40 Versions"
Wire are a Long Runner Post-Punk
band formed in Watford, England in 1976 by Colin Newman (vocals, guitar), Graham Lewis (bass, vocals), Bruce Gilbert (guitar), and Robert "Gotobed" Grey (drums). note
Wire are best known for their 1977 debut album Pink Flag
and specifically its track "12XU", which, in a roundabout way, pretty much started the entire genre of Hardcore Punk
; to a lesser extent, they are also well-known in certain circles for their next two albums (1978's Chairs Missing
and 1979's 154
), both of which, while quite different, helped define what we now know as Post-Punk
. All three are universally regarded as classics of the New Wave period, and each set the trend that Wire would later become notorious for: Every album a New Sound Album
, every tour a showcase of new material, regardless of fan or critic's opinion.
It was this incorrigibility, as well as internal tensions, that lead the band to leave EMI in late 1979, then go on hiatus in 1980, each member retreating to various solo projects. Lewis and Gilbert formed Dome (a.k.a. Cupol, Duet Emmo, Gilbert & Lewis...
) and experimented with confusing the hell out of everyone whilst wearing awesome hats
; Newman, Gotobed and producer Mike Thorne, on the other hand, made eccentric, punk-inflected pop music under Newman's name.
And then, in 1985, without warning, Wire resurfaced, playing sets consisting solely of new material.
From 1986 to 1989, the band released three albums of darkly satirical Synth Pop
, to the chagrin of many of their punk-minded fans and varying critical opinion. Undeterred, the band soldiered on, experimenting with drum machines, early MIDI technology and remixing, their interests culminating in the 1990 releases of The Drill
(consisting of numerous, wildly different versions of their '80s Signature Song
"Drill") and the much-derided Manscape
Seeing himself as irrelevant to the band's new sound, Robert Gotobed quit in 1991; in acknowledgement of his departure, the band changed their name to Wir (pronounced either as "wire" or "veer"
) and released The First Letter
, which produced a Black Sheep Hit
in the mournful dance number "So And Slow It Grows". The success was short-lived, and Wir dissolved in 1993.
Aside from the occasional remix project and an epic-length performance of "Drill" commemorating Bruce Gilbert's fiftieth birthday in 1996, Wire remained silent until 1999, at which point they reformed for a series of retrospective shows. Soon, they began to perform and release new material again, starting with the release of the Read & Burn
EP series and culminating with 2002's Send
. The new releases saw a return to the raw ferocity of Pink Flag
married to the lyrical and technological advancements of their '80s releases and production influences taken from modern drum'n'bass and noise rock
, and were greeted with massive enthusiasm from fans and critics alike.
In 2003, Bruce Gilbert, grown bored of playing guitar and interested in pursuing his solo work, amicably left the group; Margaret Fiedler McGinnis of Laika was recruited to replace him as touring guitarist. Subsequent albums, such as 2007's Object 47
, have been more subdued and widely spaced, though the band's touring schedule remains formidable. For their 2010 tour, McGinnis was replaced by Matt Simms of It Hugs Back, who became a full member of the band for 2013's Change Becomes Us
- Pink Flag (1977 ) — Arguable Trope Maker for Hardcore Punk; contains "12XU".
- Chairs Missing (1978) — One of several Trope Codifiers for Post-Punk.
- 154 (1979) - Darker and more experimental; many of its songs are Ur Examples of Goth Rock.
- Document & Eyewitness (1981) — Live album, recorded 1979-1980; notoriously difficult.
- Snakedrill EP (1986) — Begins Wire Mk. II; also, the first appearance of "Drill".
- The Ideal Copy (1987)
- A Bell Is A Cup... Until It Is Struck (1988)
- It's Beginning To And Back Again a.k.a. IBTABA (1989) — A "live" album consisting mostly of new versions of older songs based on portions of live performances. There are also a couple studio recordings of new material on the album, and one of those songs, "Eardrum Buzz", is the band's most successful single.
- The Drill (1990) — Multiple remixes (by the band) of "Drill", some bearing no resemblance to the original.
- Manscape (1990)
- The First Letter (1991, as Wir) — Without Robert Gotobed; produced "So And Slow It Grows".
- Read & Burn 01 (2001) — Begins Wire Mk. III.
- Send (2002)
- Read & Burn 03 (2004) — First release without Bruce Gilbert.
- Object 47 (2007)
- A Red Barked Tree (2011)
- The Black Session (2012) — Live-in-the-studio album.
- Change Becomes Us (2013) — Reworked material originally written circa Document & Eyewitness.
This band provides examples of:
- Cover Version:
- Driven to Suicide: "Another The Letter":
Behind the curtain, in the yellow bulb light
The letter reads: I took my own life
- Epic Rocking: While generally known for the reverse (see below), Wire have shown themselves quite capable of writing longer songs and playing out originally shorter ones in a live setting. The longest formal studio track by Wire is "You Hung Your Lights in the Tress / A Craftsman's Touch" from Manscape at 10:03, but the extant recordings of the 1979 live pieces "Crazy About Love" and "A Panamanian Craze?" both exceed fifteen, and there are live versions of "Drill" said to have gone on for as long as half an hour.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "Small Electric Piece", an instrumental made of just synth throbs.
- Fun with Acronyms: IBTABA, or It's Beginning to and Back Again
- Goth Rock: Ur Example with some of the more moody, experimental tracks from 154
- Hardcore Punk: Trope Makers with "12 X U" and Pink Flag. Their brevity and aggression were heavily influential to Hardcore Punk bands such as Minor Threat.
- Incredibly Long Note: The last word in "Reuters".
- Intercourse with You: "Practice Makes Perfect" has overtones of this, but the tone of the track and some of the odder references imply something much more sinister.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Even at their poppiest, they still manage to include lyrics like "Please take your knife out of my back" and "One of us will live to rue the day we met each other".
- They have also written sweet, singalong songs about leaf-eating insects ("Outdoor Miner"), monetary and sexual exploitation in show business ("Ahead"), cartography as an ecstatic experience ("Map Ref. 41°N 93°W"), and... nothing at all ("The 15th").
- Madness Mantra: "Waiting, waiting, waiting for us... Waiting, waiting, waiting for us...". Colin only repeats it louder and more unhinged each time.
- Miniscule Rocking: One of the band's early trademarks, particularly with Pink Flag. They never played a song beyond what seemed necessary, thus most songs lasting between 0:30 - 1:30. They started letting them run longer more often with Chairs Missing.
- New Sound Album: Practically every new one. Chairs Missing expanded Pink Flag's sound to include synths and moodier soundscapes, 154 dipped into brooding Gothic Post-Punk, Snakedrill EP began the band's Synth Pop period, Send and the Read & Burn EP's were much Darker and Edgier, bringing in elements of Industrial music and Noise Rock, Object 47 marked a steady return to the band's 70s Post-Punk sound, culminating in Change Becomes Us being entirely of incomplete music from 79-80.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Brazil", "106 Beats That", "Mannequin", "French Film (Blurred)", "Men 2nd", "Outdoor Miner"note , "The 15th", "Blessed State"note , "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W", "Indirect Enquiries".
- Most of these titles relate to the content of the lyrics in some way, but a few are more oblique: "Brazil" refers to the samba-like groove of Gotobed's drum part, and "The 15th" was simply the fifteenth song that they recorded at that session. "106 Beats That" was originally written to be 106 beats long, and the "X" in "12XU" is self-censorship for "fuck" (so "12XU" == "want to fuck you").
- Punk Rock: Circa-Pink Flag. The artiest and coldest Punk Rock band to boot.
- Post-Punk: Trope Codifiers with Chairs Missing and 154, and Pink Flag qualifies as an Ur Example with its cold and angular sound.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Bassist Graham Lewis began singing lead on Chairs Missing ("Sand in my Joints") and has been the secondary vocalist since.
- Synth Pop: Their 80's-90's material.
- What Is This Thing You Call Love?: "Feeling Called Love":
What is this feeling called love?
What is this crazy thing I can't explain anyhow?
- Word Salad Lyrics/Word Salad Title: It's a wonder if anyone knew what they were on about. Granted, many of their lyrics make more sense if you know the background to them, especially their denser 80's work, but when a band uses references to polymer plastic's effects on the ivory trade as throwaway lines... well, what do you expect?
- Word Puree Title: "12 X U". "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W" is not, though it certainly looks like it at first glance.