If punk was born out of a reaction to the all powerful prog powerhouse of the mid-70s, post-punk was a reaction to the reaction, retaining punk’s spiky, give-it-a-go attitude while bringing back a sense of poise and artistic ambition beyond three chords and the truth. And at the forefront of this arch, immersive movement – heading out into the field and constantly, impishly moving the goalposts – were Wire, a band whose experimental brilliance was instantly obvious from their earliest steps. This year, they celebrate 40 years of pioneering spirit by releasing their 15th album, and it finds them as electrifying as they were when they put out their debut, Pink Flag, in 1977.
They have a Janus-like skill for looking back at their own impressive history and forwards into the future at the same time. So while the gorgeous stand out track Diamonds In Cups traces the lines of their classic 1979 single Outdoor Miner in its warm, melodic buzz, and the metronomic gloom of An Alibi demonstrates exactly why they surely had an influence on the likes of Joy Division, there’s very little sense of the band relying on the nostalgia circuit or homeopathically reusing and diluting the old ideas that made them so special in the first place. Silver/Lead is fresher, more vital and more thoughtful than material coming from most bands half their age.
The thing that’s always aligned them with modern prog listeners is the psychedelic touches that envelop their music, gilding it with a dreaminess that gives everything a skewed but deeply human heart. The title track, in particular, is steeped in mournful layers of shimmering melody, as beautiful and oppressive as London fog.
Elsewhere, the more elements they add to the mix, the chillier and more alien they seem to become. Opener Playing Harp For The Fishes, with its raw edges, scraping industrial sounds and sci-fi synths feels like an airlock being opened, the expanse of space laid out in all its terrifying infinity ahead – a sense revisited in the suffocating effects overload of Brio. But then, at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have Short Elevated Period, a slab of perfectly crafted, classic new wave pop that all but sits up and begs for your love.
Few bands make it as far as their 40th anniversary. Fewer still manage it with all of their creative faculties pulsing as strong as ever. Treasure Wire during this milestone year, because as Silver/Lead ably demonstrates, they’re vital members of the important minority pushing the envelope with every single new release.