Audio Mixer: Colin Newman.
Recording information: Brighton Electric; Monmouth; Rockfield; Swim Studio.
Photographer: Jon Wozencroft.
Self-titled albums, especially those that aren't debuts, usually imply some sort of definitive statement. That's not necessarily the case with Wire, which feels more like an update than a manifesto thanks to its restraint. On first listen, it's not as bold as Change Becomes Us, which isn't surprising since those were songs the group abandoned three decades before. Instead, these shadings recall Wire's previous album of all-new material, Red Barked Tree, which tempered its explosions with more atmospheric evolutions of the sardonic, bittersweet post-punk-pop they pioneered in the '70s. "Split Your Ends" picks up where droning, implosive Tree songs like "Down to This" left off; "Octopus" jangles instead of jabs; and "Joust & Jostle," perhaps the most quintessentially Wire song here, adds a psychedelic glaze to its barbs. Wire also brings Red Barked Tree's political undercurrents to the fore, arguably with more finesse: though "Blogging"'s title could seem cringe-worthy, its acerbic melancholy regarding the digital age is a harbinger of the disconnection that runs through the album, as well as its mix of disquieting lyrics and droning sonics. On another album, the band might have blazed through a song like "Harpooned"; here, it's a slow burner. Similarly, "Sleep-Walking"'s plodding tempo enhances the ominous feel of lyrics like "the narrowest vision has the widest appeal." Even if Wire isn't the band at its most uncompromising, it requires closer listening than might be expected: is Colin Newman singing "on a mission/telling lies" or "an omission/telling lies" on the aptly named "Shifting"? Either way, it's a highlight that, like many of the album's other best moments, lets the band's melodic gifts shine. "Burning Bridges" and "In Manchester" borrow from '60s pop, but the insistent rhythm section is unmistakable; meanwhile, "High" boasts the kind of dreamy chords that launched a thousand shoegazing followers. The album borders on monochromatic at times (possibly because there are no songs by Graham Lewis, who provided some of Red Barked Tree and Change Becomes Us' finest tracks), yet its subtle subversions are thoroughly Wire, and thoroughly befitting the band at this stage in its career. ~ Heather Phares