Album: Object 47
Label: Pink Flag
Review date: Jul. 7, 2008
Even though this is Wire's 47th recording (counting EPs, singles, live albums and god knows what else), the band's reputation still mostly rests on its three groundbreaking albums in the late 1970s: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154. When people say that something "sounds like Wire," they mean it sounds like these three records – either brash and fast and loud like the first two, or tentatively melodic, experimental and synthy like the third. They forget, for the most part, that Wire itself didn't sound like Wire for much of the late ’80s and early ’90s, that in those dance-influenced, synthetic years, Wire actually sounded more like New Order. A series of fractious post-2000 reunion recordings – the three Read and Burn EPs and the summing full-length Send – may have allowed us to forget that Wire had its pop side, its new wave side, its technology-fascinated dance side. If nothing else, Object 47 serves as a reminder that no one should ever assume they know what the next Wire album will sound like, only that it will differ from the last.
One difference is immediate. This is the first Wire album without guitarist Bruce Gilbert, a member since the beginning and one of its leading proponents of noise. So when Object 47 brings its pop melodies to the front and shoves its droning, clanking, turbulence down into the mix, as it does for the first half of the album, fans of that classic Wire sound will be cursing Gilbert’s departure.
The fact is, though, that the first five songs on Object 47 exist in an almost surreally clean sonic space. Even the edges that might be rough in live performance are subordinated with antiseptic washes. Listen to how the abrasive crank of bass slips down below the singing in opening salvo "One of Us," almost subliminal under a slick, late-1980s new wave melody. There's subversion in the lyrics and maybe in the deepest rumbles underneath, but the song feels too accessible, too easy, too bouncy. "Mekon Headman,” too, taunts with droning, distorted guitars roiling under pop surfaces. You hear them as if through layers of sterile gauze. With "Four Long Years," the slinky, minimalist percussion at the start makes you wonder if the musically omnivorous Colin Newman and crew have been sampling some dubstep – that is, until the Depeche Mode synths bubble up.
The first half of Object 47 would, in fact, be easy to dismiss as lightweight and over-eager to please, lesser fragments from a once great band … if you ignored the second half. The album takes a shocking 180°. On "Hard Currency," the drums crack right up near the surface, the circling, distorted guitars and hard-pulsing bass build genuine heat under a serene façade. For the first time on the record, you feel surrounded by three-dimensional sensation. "Patient Flees," while softer, is melodic in an idiosyncratic way, more like Syd Barrett than XTC. And the two closing cuts, "Are You Ready?" and "All Fours" are tough and abrasive and punishing, full body blows at last.
Various people have tried to explain to me why I find Object 47 so frustrating. One, Bill Meyer from Dusted, said it sounds like it was recorded via file trading, as if none of these guys were ever in the same room. Another, an ex-editor, said that Wire's super-clean material always took longer to warm to than its art punk and that I should give it time. Maybe, but my inclination is to forget all that and just play the last four tracks over and over. After 47 recordings, 30 years in music and at least three self-reinventions, who can blame me for cherry picking the good stuff?
By Jennifer Kelly
Upcoming live shows:
8-Sep London UK Scala
9-Sep Leeds UK Met University
10-Sep Nottingham UK Rescue Room
11-Sep Glasgow UK The Arches
12-Sep Manchester UK Academy 3
19-Sep Amsterdam NL Melkweg
20-Sep Gent BEL Minnemeers
21-Sep Tilburg NL ZXZW Festival
22-Sep Brussels BEL Botanique
5-Oct Montreal QC Le National
6-Oct Ottawa ON Barrymore's
7-Oct Toronto ON Lee's Palace
8-Oct Cambridge MA Middle East Downstairs
10-Oct Philadelphia PA Johnny Brenda’s
11-Oct Washington DC 9:30 Club
12-Oct Atlanta GA Variety Playhouse
15-Oct San Francisco CA Fillmore
16-Oct Vancouver BC The Commodore Ballroom
17-Oct Minneapolis MN First Avenue
18-Oct Chicago IL Metro