I'm worried, there's cause for concern. I lit the touch paper and it started to burn. Oh no no no! Is it too late to change my mind? A total eclipse arrives now and something snapped. His last mortal remains reflect; that's how many came to grief. The road ahead looks quite uncertain. Rethinking strategies to free your mind and break your neck: HArpooned!
The last song on a Wire album often has an apocalyptic aspect, and this tradition, only completely rescinded by "Red Barked Trees," continues here. The last song "Harpooned" is the one to mention first as it's better than all the other songs on Wire's fifth studio album since their second rebirth put together. It made a monstrous set closer for the last few gigs I saw them play prior to recording. Musically it recalls the brooding ominous doom of "Reuters" from their debut album "Pink Flag" and the relentless percussive onslaught of "Over Theirs" from "The Ideal Copy." Lyrically it seems to be cut from the same cookie as "Ally in Exile / Doubles and Trebles." The protagonist is worried and hears voices echoing down in his shell, waiting some imminent catastrophe. In both songs the paranoid atmosphere is well justified as certain doom is just around the corner, just out of reach? "Harpooned" also gives the first vague hint that the deranged technoid circles of mania inscribed by their masterpiece "99.9" might not have been completely abandoned upon the exit of former guitar-artist Bruce Gilbert. "99.9" did suggest an alternative to the 'beat combo' set up that currently serves Wire's purposes very well, a parallel universe that they have yet to navigate further. Maybe it wasn't a dead end after all? More than any other album this sounds like primary melodicist Colin Newman has taken the reigns. There is much less of Graham Lewis' voice, and this is the first Wire album since "Pink Flag" with no lead vocals from him, maybe because he'd used them all up for his recent album on Mego, "All Over?" His most prominent vocal is the repetition of a single word, "Delay" on the snappy "Octopus," however the best songs are the ones I'm guessing had more of his cryptic lyrical word play, especially the intriguing "Joust and Jostle" and the flying Dutchman chasing "Swallow." It is these songs plus the upbeat hymn to the pervasive consuming religion of the internet "Blogging" which opens the album and the ponderous ode to unity "Sleep-Walking" that form the backbone of an album over-powered by the "Harpooned" brain. "Sleep-Walking" actually comes across as the less brutal little brother of "Harpooned" and these five key songs are also the ones extensively road tested on tour before recording began in Wales. The rest of the album is lighter and mostly lyrically more direct. "Shifting" and "Burning Bridges" are rare things for Wire, love songs, but pulled off without the corny cliche that so often marrs such endeavours. "Burning Bridges" could possibly be a tribute to Colin's father who died recently. Matthew Simms' guitar effects on "Split Your Ends" recall Mike Thorne's keyboards on Wire's third and best album "154" and reviewed, it seems about half the songs sound as if they were born in the shadow of "Map Ref" and "The Fifteenth." "In Manchester" gives a possible clue as to the next location of Wire's Drillfest, wherein they curate a week or so of gigs in a particular city. Although this is far from their greatest album it does include one future classic track and does nothing to detract from their formidable legacy. The one major cause for criticism is the unimaginative eponymous title: the narrowest vision often has the widest appeal?
This review was written for "Optical Sounds" zine.
Now look at www.pinkflag.com for the lowdown.