'10:20' Review: Wire's new songs morph from bright psychedelic pop to darker drone and noise-driven territory

The rock band's latest collection explores old and new creations, unique sonic directions and never-heard-before material


                            '10:20' Review: Wire's new songs morph from bright psychedelic pop to darker drone and noise-driven territory
Wire (WikiCommons/Fergus Kelly)

The English rock band Wire continues to uphold its reputation of being an ever-evolving entity and a punk band with a massive cult following over their long and storied career.

Barely three months after the release of their now widely acclaimed 'Mind Hive', Wire has returned with '10:20', a special June 19 release that features a collection of old classics and never-heard-before material.

Colin Newman (vocalist), Graham Lewis (bassist), Robert Grey (drummer) and Matthew Simms (guitarist) serve up a refreshing new take on their material along with the contributions of Margaret Fielder (Laika), who played guitars on Wire's live dates. These new releases morph from bright psychedelic pop to darker drone and noise-driven territory, while exploring other sonic directions along the way. Featuring recordings that were cut from previous albums, as well as rebirthed compositions that have evolved through numerous live performances, this collection of "strays," as the band refers to them, is a musical journey that started well over a decade ago.

The band Wire performing (courtesy WikiCommons/Fergus Kelly) 

 

The album opens with the new release of 'Boiling Boy', which in all its studio grandeur is a fantastically refreshing take on what would go on to become Wire's most played song. Robert Grey's intricate motorik drumming with its signature '80s sound (complete with thunderings roto toms) and Graham Lewis's rumbling bass hold a steady march as they pound away through a lush soundscape courtesy of the guitarists. Colin Newman's unique delivery of the Boiling Boy's story as it unfolds amidst the continuously cascading and crashing waves of guitars is impeccable. This is a great version of an everlasting favorite that has over the years become the centerpiece of the Wire's live performances, making it one for the collectors.

'German Shepherds' was the second track off the 'Silk Skin Paws' EP and was one of Wire's top B-side numbers. It features heavily processed bass and big sounding drums with sparkly guitars and voices floating on top, with its synths nicely blending a pop aesthetic with the punk vibe.

Its retro electronic charm and vocal parts running parallel to Colin's voice paint quite a picture sonically. This version features a cleaner sound with the band employing the rhythm guitar to greater effect, adding vocal contributions from Lewis and Fielder. The song breathes more in comparison to the original studio version, considering there's a lot more happening musically with the guitars.

Artwork for 10:20 (Wire)

 

Written back in 2000 when Bruce Gilbert was still a part of Wire, 'He Knows' is a slow song that would appear frequently in live sets post-2008. Besides being an atypical number, 'He Knows' also features minimal drumming. The cymbals run to the steady breath of the bass as the repeated guitar strains lull the listener into a trance. The blooming chorus then lifts the listener and drops them back into the mesmerizing trot of the cymbals and guitar. Newman's voice is silky smooth, especially during the repeated phrase "We're hypnotized..." as he gently ensnares the listener on this otherworldly journey. The unique song structure is held together by the bass which assumes rhythm control, dictating the ebbs and falls of the song. Considering this version is the only known recording of this song, Wire fans will find this one quite special. 

Left out of the band's sophomore album 'Chairs Missing', the track 'Underwater Experiences' features abrasive arrangements of cacophonic guitars, juxtaposed with pummeling drums and Colin Newman's vocal histrionics. Despite previous incarnations, this new version is quite arresting and heavy, with Colin's hectic vocal delivery barked out like orders. The crashing guitar tones and thudding kick drum form the heartbeat of this song as it rushes through the speakers. Colin Newman's voice during the frantically delivered "still refract" and "32 feet per sec" sections is unlike anything heard on the previous releases, and the song successfully pummels its listeners into submission in a little over 2 minutes.

Now, we look at a song that probably best encapsulates Wire's tireless work ethic: 'The Art of Persistence'.

Previously available only as a demo recording on the EP 'The Third Day' or 'Recycling Sherwood Forest', this track takes on new life in an innovative arrangement complete with a fabulous horn section. Lewis's bass lines form the backbone of the song alongside Grey's uptempo pocket drumming. This rhythm section helps support Newman's placid delivery of the underlying tension in the song's lyrics. The guitars are minimalistic with a pop aesthetic, transferring the focus on to the vocals and the throbbing rhythm.

'Small Black Reptile' is a huge departure from the original computer pop arrangement that appeared on the 1990 album 'Manscape'. This release is a warm, guitar-driven pop-rock arrangement with an ample nod to psychedelic rock. Newman's vocals are rounded and lilting, while the harmonies are rich and abundant. Matthew Simms shines with rock guitar motifs and noisy punk etudes that sit perfectly on top of the underlying grooves. This release is a testament to Wire's commitment to reinvention and underscores the novelty of each one of the songs on this album.

Lush synths and vibrato-drenched guitars dominate the track 'Wolf Collides', which would not sound out of place on 1978's 'Chairs Missing'. However, the witty lyrics were actually penned in 2015 by Graham Lewis, and the song quickly became a regular feature on the band's live set. There's a retro synth vibe to this number that comes through in full effect on the song's outro, creating an atmosphere of intrigue and nostalgic mystery. This version was recorded for 2017's 'Silver/Lead' album, but was dropped due to space constraints - it's now been resurrected for this new collection.

First appearing on 'The Ideal Copy', the song 'Over Theirs' originally clocked in at a little over 5 minutes. It employed samples and looping vocal parts that collided with the bass and drums to create a hypnotic track with ominous potential. Entracing as it was, it always begged to be revisited in a guitar-driven frenzy and Wire have certainly lived up to our expectations here. Reimagined in the vein of industrial, drone guitar acts like Godflesh and Ministry, this version of 'Over Theirs' is a mammoth nine-minute rendition. It marches like a wild beast through a sprawling soundscape full of big riffs, driven synth lines, and bright rhythm guitar playing. Newman's voice communicates the urgency in the lyrics in a more measured manner this time around. The generously lengthy outro sees a free exploration of the "drone zone" with guitar feedback and synth lines dancing with each other. It's a fantastic closer to an aural treat of an album.

'Wire' seems to have perfected the knack of reinvention and this epic collection of old-but-new songs bears testament to that. '10:20' is the perfect gift for not only die-hard fans of this seminal band, but also for new listeners who would cherish a glimpse into Wire's rich and complex musical evolution. This album is a must-have purchase for Wire connoisseurs and completists.

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