Rare is the band that sounds completely contemporary by sticking to what it’s been doing for almost 40 years. But that’s the position in which Wire finds itself now, 14 records deep into its stubbornly inventive career. From its earliest days cutting against the punk rock grain in the ’70s, Wire’s angular, highbrow post-punk jams have always been generously ahead of the curve.
Unfortunately, foresight and innovation often do a lot more for a band’s cred than its commercial viability. Wire’s insistence on following their own sound long ago made them cult rock heroes, the kind to which scores of bands pay respect but broader fan bases overlook. Listening to the outfit’s new self-titled, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the rest of the musical world is catching up with them. With indie and dance rock’s evolution from cultural footnote to formidable pop force over the past decade, the gap between the band’s intellectual brand of cool and the mainstream has narrowed considerably.
2013’s Change Becomes Us showed just how palatable the band’s angsty art punk had become since the “12XU” days, and Wire marks a continued move toward sophisticated guitar pop. The classic feel of songs like “Swallow”, “In Manchester”, and “Shifting” tap into a distinctly British sound akin to latter-day New Order. But the band also manages to retain its edge, as evidenced on the driving guitar rock of “Joust & Jostle” and the seven-and-a-half-minute “Sleep-Walking”. They may not be quite the same scrappy art rock brats that made Pink Flag and Chairs Missing underground classics, but they’re no less thoughtful and inventive in their songwriting approach. Four decades into an already inspired career, Wire’s time might finally be here.
Essential Tracks: “Swallow”, “In Manchester”, and “Joust & Jostle”