The first time I heard Wire’s 154 I have to say I wasn’t all that impressed. In fact, I felt I should’ve spent my $14 on another Kraftwerk CD instead of on this “art rock/punk” band. It was 2007, and I was in the throes of a Spoon binge after the release of their Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga masterpiece. I’d read in the past that Wire was a big influence on them and thought I should really look them up and check these Wire guys out. Well, in 2007 on a trip to Fort Wayne with the kids(for what reason I have no idea) we stopped at a Borders Book Store for something my oldest wanted and I perused the CDs. I picked up Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, XTC’s English Settlement, and Wire’s 154. I was extremely happy with Kraftwerk and XTC, but Wire’s 154 completely lost me. There were moments I liked. “The 15th”, “On Returning”, and “A Mutual Friend” were all songs I liked immediately, but other than those I was a little perplexed.
It was a little too strange for my Midwestern(idiot) mind to wrap around, so I eventually got rid of it. Fast forward to 2012 and on a vacation to a cabin in woods in Southern Indiana we headed to Indianapolis and on a whim I bought Wire’s Chairs Missing at the lovely Luna Music. Man, what an eye opener that record was. It completely knocked me upside the head. A wonderful mix of punk vigor, artsy expressionist moments, and what would one day become post-punk. I fell in love immediately. I eventually got a hold of their first album, the punk masterpiece Pink Flag from my local record store and realized I was wrong about 154 and needed to make things right. On a post-Christmas trip to Indianapolis I once again stopped at Luna Music and made things right and bought the reissue of 154 on vinyl. Either I wasn’t ready for it’s genius in 2007, or my ears had changed in 6 years. 154 is brilliant.
I think what threw me off the first time around was the Graham Lewis songs. His voice -a cross between Ian Curtis and Leonard Cohen narrating a novel- was a little too much for me. On the second time around I really came around to his vocals. I can really hear the drama and Gothic darkness I didn’t hear first time around. I can hear where Robert Smith might have been influenced by Lewis’ songs. Very heady stuff. “A Touching Display” is a great mix of post-punk and what would be called Gothic in just another couple of years thanks to The Cure’s Faith album.
But Colin Newman, he’s my guy. He’s been that main line throughout all the first three albums that I totally connected with. “Two People In A Room”, “The 15th”, “On Returning”, and “A Mutual Friend” just kill me. I can hear those punk roots still, even within all the artsy stuff going on here. “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W” is another genius track.
Listening to their first two albums you can hear how Wire influenced so many bands. Their mix of angular riffs and skinny tie articulate delivery really opened the doors as to what could be considered punk. What could be considered edgy. Bands like Mission of Burma and Talking Heads would never have been able to exist in the same capacity as they have if it weren’t for Wire. 154 was the record that brought them to a whole new level. It took that punk aesthetic and put a glass cover over it. It took their jagged manifesto and made it into a gallery piece. It wasn’t just Lewis getting all heady, either. Newman had a track like “Indirect Inquires” following a great little pop track like “Map Ref. 41° N 93° W”. You don’t like that sort of thing? Too bad, here it is anyways. I love this sort of musical statement. I love the Pollock-like drips and splatter. It’s what makes being a lover of music so interesting. Wire, for all intents and purpose, have made three of the most important rock records in the last 40 years. Don’t think so? Well, you can think what you think.
You’re wrong, but that’s cool.
From 2007 to now(2015, for you folks finding this post in some digital time capsule) I’ve come to not only just appreciate what Wire have created and affected in the modern rock universe, but I am absolutely in love with their first three records. I haven’t moved past 154*. I guess I’m afraid of being disappointed by anything newer than 1979. Maybe that’s unfair of me as the band still makes music and is vital. Maybe I’ll check out some other albums. Maybe.
* This is why the album is named 154: “The album is so named because the band had played 154 gigs in their career at the time of the album’s release.” Now you know.