Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Outdoor Miners...The Story of Wire...Show # 286

Wire formed in London, England in 1976, the group consisted of Watford Art College students. Collin Newman was on vocals/guitar, Bruce Gilbert on guitar, Graham Lewis on bass/vocals and Robert Gotobed on drums. Influenced by the emerging UK Punk scene at the time, Wire began playing live shows and gained the interest of Mike Thorne, who was a producer that had connections with EMI Records. Thorne, who was recording local Punk acts at The Roxy for a live compilation album, recorded Wire and included two of their songs on the compilation (titled Live At The Roxy). Shortly after this, Wire entered a studio to record their first full length album Pink Flag.

Produced by Mike Thorne, Pink Flag featured 21 songs. The overall sound of the album is raw with blunt sounding guitars and a certain kind of atmosphere (as all of Wire's albums feature), while combining visual elements as well as musical ones. Lyrically the album is contains intelligent and contextualized lyrics. The album was recorded almost entirely of live takes with no overdubs. The only songs that featured overdubs were parts of the song "Lowdown" and the song "Strange". Some of the songs on the album are thirty seconds long, but the overall cohesiveness of the album is great. Pink Flag features songs such as "Three Girl Rhumba", "Ex-Lion Tamer" a song about Batman, "A Field Day For The Sundays", and "Champs" a song seemingly about car racing. The 21 song album is a series of short music explosions combined the stripped down elements of Punk, Power Pop, and Pop. The songs are so catchy and short that the songs are cut to their bare essentials and then usually end. Other great tracks featured on Pink Flag are "Fragile", "12 X U", "It's So Obvious", and "A Feeling Called Love". The albums cover is credited to Graham Lewis and Bruce Gilbert. It is a photo of a pink flag on a flag pole, blowing in the wind that was seen (minus the flag) on the way to a live show. The album received critical acclaim, but in terms of sales it did not do very well.

Wire's second full length album, Chairs Missing would be released in 1978. The album featured what some people may call more of a New Wave sound. The production was different, the band experimented with their sound branching out from the sound of Punk, incorporating more Pop and dimension to their sound. Influences of Psychedelia and 70's Prog Rock are apparent in addition to the production techniques of Mike Thorne (who also played keyboards on the album). Chairs Missing features songs such as the dreary "Practice Makes Perfect", the sparse and textured "French Film Blurred", the fast paced keyboard rocker "Another The Letter" and the song "Heartbeat", which literally replicates a heart beat (musically). In addition to these tracks (and others), there are the songs "I Am The Fly", which is a song featuring strange, spring sounding guitar effects and "Outdoor Miner". While "I Am The Fly" was recorded prior to the album and a great pop song, the song "Outdoor Miner" is also an interesting piece of Pop music. Lyrically the song, which is about a serpentine miner, was written by bassist Graham Lewis and the music was written by Collin Newman. EMI Records liked the song so much that they asked Wire to extend its length (which was 1:44), which they accepted. Adding a middle section that featured Piano, Wire released "Outdoor Miner" as a single and it started climbing the UK singles charts. It would only go to #51. Overall Chairs Missing would go to #48 on the UK album charts.

Wire began touring, basically non-stop. They also made their first US appearance in the summer of 1978. Shortly after, in March Wire began a European tour with Roxy Music. Wire were at a high creative peak at this point and their live shows reflected that. Most of the shows contained new material that had not been recorded, although most of it would appear on their next album 154. Named after the number of gigs the band had played at that point, 154 showed Wire once again going into a different direction. The album was very melodic, smooth sounding and features more synthesizers and keyboards than any other previous Wire album. The album features songs such as "Two People In A Room" and "The 15th", which are short Wire songs similar to their earlier albums, but display a new sense of structure. There are also other songs, that are often moody and dramatic such as "A Touching Display" and "A Mutual Friend". The album also features yet another Pop song, like only Wire could make. The song "Map Ref. 41°N 93°W" is a song that picks up where songs such as "Outdoor Miner" left off, the song is a multi-textured and layered track. This album shows off the evolution process of the band, which if you are comparing to their other albums is highly evolved. They started out with the stripped down, bare-essential Rock/Punk with Pink Flag, brought more Pop and experimentation with Chairs Missing, and finally developed into a the album that was 154. Initial copies of 154 came with a bonus four track EP, that featured the songs "Song 1", "Get Down (Parts 1 and 2)", "Let's Panic Later" and "Small Electric Piece".

154 (1979) & Map Ref. 41°N 93°W Single (1979)

Following the release of 154, Wire began having creative differences which would eventually result in the end of the first period of the group. The band played a live show at the Electric Ballroom in 1980, which was a chaos fueled show where the band played several new songs (some of which were never recorded in the studio). The show was recorded on an 8-track recorder that was not set up properly, so the mix from the show was mixed in a distorted mix with two tracks. Released as Document and Eyewitness in 1981, this live album marked the end of Wire. After the release of this album, Wire took a five year break.

In 1985, Wire came back together as a band, this time fully integrating electronic instruments such as synthesizers, keyboards, drum machines and sequencers into their music, even more so than before. The first evidence of Wire's new sound came in 1986, in the form of an EP, titled Snakedrill EP. A full length album came in 1987, that would be titled The Ideal Copy. The album featured Wire's new approach to music via more electronic music based instruments (some have said that it resembles New Order), and it helped gain them more exposure in the US. After a US tour, another album followed in 1988 titled A Bell Is A Cup...Until It Is Struck. The album, which has been called by some as one of Wire's best albums, takes the bands electronic based music into a Pop music style with stream of consciousness lyrics.

The bands next album It's Beginning To And Back Again was released in 1989. The album was a collection of reworkings of live versions of songs from their album A Bell Is A Cup...Until It Is Struck. "Eardrum Buzz" from this album became the highest charting single Wire ever had in the US going to #2 on the US Modern Rock charts (it went to #68 in the UK). After Wire's next album Manscape, drummer Robert Gotobed would leave the group due to all the digital techniques that they began to use. For Manscape (which was released in 1990) Wire embraced more studio and computer based recording techniques. Without Gotobed on drums, Wire dropped the letter "E" from their name and became Wir. They released an album titled The First Letter in 1991 as Wir. This album which many think was ahead of its time, featured electronic soundscapes and not many vocals. The band went on a hiatus again after this.  The individual band members pursued solo careers.

In 1999, Wire began rehearsing again with Robert Gotobed (who started going by his original name Robert Grey) back on drums. In 2000, Wire played London's Royal Festival Hall in the UK, a short tour of the US followed. During this tour a large majority of the bands live set was older Wire material. Following more touring Wire decided to continue as a band. Their first recording in what can be called the third phase of Wire (the first being 1976-1980, the second being 1985-1991) was an EP called Read & Burn 01. Released in 2002, the EP was the first in a series of Wire releases, the EP demonstrated a sound similar to Pink Flag-era Wire. The second EP came the same year and was titled Read & Burn 02. The EP was just as loud and angry as the previous EP (Read & Burn 01). Send was released in 2003. It featured seven songs from the Read & Burn EP's in addition to four new tracks.

In 2006 some of Wire's earlier albums were re-issued and in 2007, Pink Flag was re-issued. These newer releases featured no bonus tracks (unlike the 1989 and 1994 versions) because the band felt that bonus tracks distorted the original artistic statements that they intended to make. A third EP, titled Read & Burn 03 was also released in 2007. The EP had a sound reminiscent of the sound created during 154-era Wire. Object 47 was released in 2008. This album marked an number of things in the bands career. First it was the first full length album that did not feature guitarist Bruce Gilbert. Second it marked the 47th release in Wire's discography (hence the title of the album). The overall sound of the album is extremely catchy. The album features songs such as "One Of Us" a melodic Post-Punk song and the stop and start song "Perspex Icon". Wire is currently working on a new album. 

More information:

Pinkflag.com (Wire's Official Website)
The Making of Pink Flag (Mike Thorne's Website)
The Making of Chairs Missing (Mike Thorne's Website)
The Making of 154 (Mike Thorne's Website)

This Week's Play List:

1. Wire - Dot Dash
2. Wire - A Field Day For The Sundays
3. Elvis Costello - Less Than Zero
4. The Rezillos - Mystery Action
5. Lost Patrol - Outta My Mind
6. The Perks - Escape
7. Blue Peter - Living In The Eighties
8. Crash 80s - Thrills
9. The Diodes - Tired of Waking Up Tired
10. Klark Kent - Don't Care
11. Subway Sect - Exit No Return
12. Shrink - Valid or Void
13. Wreckless Eric - Take The Cash (K.A.S.H.)
14. Colin Newman - & Jury
15. The Stranglers - Walk On By
16. Public Image Limited - Chant
17. Raptors - Running Away
18. Relief Maps - The Water Song
19. XX Teens - Only You
20. Devo - Girl U Want
21. The Rapture - Whoo! Alright Yeah.. Uh Huh
22. Radio 4 - (Always A) Target
23. Wire - The 15th

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for February 9th. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

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