ver since their classic first three albums, Wire has been a very unpredictable band—in the sense that you never know if they’re going to release something great (A Bell is a Cup...) or abysmal (Manscape). Fortunately, the group’s latest reunion (this is, what, the third time?) lands squarely in the former camp.
Read & Burn 01, the first in a planned series of 6-song EPs, has been compared to the band’s debut, Pink Flag. Indeed, references to that seminal punk record may be relevant, but such comparisons don’t quite tell the whole story. This EP hints at the newest Wire direction: heavy, stomping punk fused with the textured electronics of their 80s albums to create an abrasive, almost industrial, sound.
From the very first note, it’s clear that this incarnation of Wire is not fooling around—they hit hard with one-and-two-chord assaults built on repetitive, jackhammering rhythms. The bouncy, hyper-speed “Comet” rockets along as Colin Newman intones, in his typical sarcastic monotone, “and the chorus goes/ blah blah blah blah bang,” skewering modern pop music. The rest of the EP is similarly uncompromising—every song is a savage burst of raw anger, taking Pink Flag’s sarcastic punk and updating it for the new millennium with cleaner production and even more minimalist arrangements.
As heavy as the first EP was, Read & Burn 02 is a whole different animal—the kind of animal that could rip off your face with one swipe of its claws. This EP builds off R&B 01, adding more electronic elements and taking a more experimental approach, while amping up the abrasion of the last EP. The hilariously fast-paced “Raft Ants” sounds like Pink Flag speeded up, with indecipherable shouted vocals that seem to consist of just random words.
“Nice Streets Above” practically veers into NIN territory, with a distorted chant adding to the caustic, mechanical atmosphere. The album’s solitary glimpse of relief from this aggressive battering is the poppy “Trash/Treasure,” which harkens back to the band’s stabs at commercial success in the 80s—until, at least, the song is devoured alive by static at the end.
Taken as a pair, these two EPs represent a great new U-turn for the ever-changing Wire. It’s rare for a band this old, with this long of a history, to still be making music that’s as vital as when they first came out. It’s the rare reunion project that actually adds something of significance to the band’s catalogue.
Reviewed by: Ed Howard
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01