Wire first split up in 1980, after they’d recorded three miraculously inventive albums and a stack of 7-inches. Of course, the English band never really “broke up”; its members kept collaborating on various projects, and the Wire name has been resurrected several times over the years. Currently, Wire is an active, ongoing concern—they’ve released seven albums since 2003—and thank heaven for that.
But it’s hard to overstate the sheer artistic magnitude of Wire’s initial run. Born in the thick of the British punk scene in 1976, the band metabolized the genre almost immediately, then began to kick against its limitations in profound ways. Their first three albums—1977’s Pink Flag, 1978’s Chairs Missing, and 1979’s 154—are vital documents of punk’s evolution into post-punk, made clear by the new, superbly pressed vinyl reissues on the band’s own Pinkflag label.
With original copies commanding high prices, this marks the first time these indelible recordings have been presented properly in the vinyl format since the 1980s. (Let us refuse to acknowledge the 2006 reissues on the dodgy 4 Men with Beards imprint, a label notorious for substandard master sources, crappy artwork reproduction, and bad, crackly pressings.)
Wire’s reissue campaign also includes deluxe CD versions with bonus tracks, demos, and thick liner notes, but the vinyl iterations only contain the albums as originally conceived. Perhaps later we’ll see a wax compilation of the non-album tracks from this period, including the four-song EP that originally came with the first copies with 154—a pricy, hard-to-find box set of their early 7-inches was briefly made available for this year’s Record Store Day—but for now, these three albums stand perfectly well on their own merits. Revisiting them 40-ish years later confirms their astonishing potency and vibrancy; to use a cliché, these tracks sound like they could’ve been recorded yesterday.
Actually, screw that: The noises Wire were making sound like they could be recorded tomorrow, or next year, or even decades from now. Wire achieved a remarkable clarity of (aural) vision right out of the gate, and all four musicians collaborated seamlessly in the architecture of pure sound, stripping down conventional song-craft and minimizing rhetoric to emphasize music as art object. Significantly, these fine reissues bring the recordings’ sonic quality to the forefront, and the vinyl’s silent backgrounds emphasizes the space between the notes—something that became a crucial part of Wire’s approach on Chairs Missing and 154.
For all of the band’s art-informed addition-by-subtraction and capsizing of ideas about how punk rock is supposed to function, the best thing about these albums is how pleasurable they are. Pink Flag isn’t simply one of the most accomplished debut albums in history—it’s a flat-out brilliant party record, with 21 quick songs that traverse the sonic and political energy of punk while finding room for pop-song ecstasy.
Chairs Missing is more digressive and subversive in the way it creates hooks out of minimal elements, while 154 juxtaposes moments of danceable abandon with lurching unease—conveyed in bulbous, balloon-like timbres that cleared the path for the saturated, larger-than-life sounds of the 1980s.
In the past, I’d sometimes thought of Wire as slightly impenetrable. These new vinyl versions correct that perception and convey the immediacy and warmth of their music as it was intended. You can’t ask more from a reissue than that.