Chairs Missing



by DariusBlue USER (7 Reviews)
December 19th, 2007 | 69 replies

Release Date: 1978 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The second Wire album is a perfect cross between the forcefulness of punk rock and the ornateness of art rock: witty, intelligent, powerful and inspired. A definitive post-punk landmark of guitar rock.

Produced by Mike Thorne
UK chart: 46
US chart: did not chart

When I was a child, my school would hold a party just before the Christmas holiday. It was the usual jelly and party hats affair but one thing that always stuck in my mind was a game we played towards the end of the day. A circle of chairs facing outwards would be erected in the middle of the main hall and a playing card would be placed on each seat. Everyone sat on a chair. The object of the game was to navigate the circle and reach your own seat again, using a connection with your card to the one on the seat next to it. Or something.

Hmm....that didn't really go anywhere, did it? However, this is one of many introductions towards Chairs Missing I thought of when writing this review, where many different views can be taken when approaching this key post-punk album.

Chairs Missing is forty-two minutes in length with fifteen tracks, including two singles, the near-hit Outdoor Miner and I Am The Fly, the latter shamelessly ripped off by Britpop bandwagon-jumpers Elastica. The songs are a mixture of brutality and beauty, shock and awe, guitar crunch and synth washes and lyrical insight and inspired nonsense. The barebones punk rock of Pink Flag is fleshed out via keyboards and synthesisers and the excellent musicianship of Bruce Gilbert, Graham Lewis and Robert Gotobed is brought out a little more as post-punk began to rise from the ashes of the Sex Pistols.

The opener Practice Makes Perfect is a statement of intent: the foreboding bassline, the guitar thrash and the siren-like synth set up Colin Newman's friendly cockney nag as he speak-sings clippedly "Practice makes perfect yes I can prove it - business or pleasure, the more that you do it!" and that is the concept of Chairs Missing - a guitar music embellished with new ideas with enough grounded production (Thorne also produced Pink Flag) and vocal familiarity to keep the audience "in" on the whole thing. If the lyrics don't hammer it home, the "final girl" like synth wail at the finish will. A long song by the standard of Pink Flag at over four minutes, the brevity and wit and the progression and intellect is on its way.

A track-by-track review is tempting but unsuitable, as I could write at great length about the next song, French Film Blurred, a hushed guitar pop tune with genuine lovely moments and Another The Letter, a circular, video arcade-like synth riff which gradually builds up into quiet chaos before an abrupt finish and ruin how to appreciate this album. Because Chairs Missing is an intelligent rock album that is open to every interpretation imaginable, punk rock fan or not. Colin Newman's vocals speak in a post-Lou Reed manner, appropriately enunciated, whispered or stentorian. The production allow this to sink in and leave enough space for the band to expand their sound without turning into Yes. Chairs Missing begs to be listened to as a whole, which isn't too much to ask, considering the weightier expectations of Howard Devoto and Ian Curtis.

Newman's "say no more" vocal style and the band's new directions may well be the Great Leap Forward for Wire, but it's Bruce Gilbert who makes this album into a rock classic rather than just a post-punk classic. One of the most underrated guitarists in British rock, he showcases fifteen different ways the electric rock guitar can go and Thorne is generous enough to make it sound close and intimate rather than remote and cold. Steve Albini, the embodiment of indie rock cred, covered Heartbeat with his former band Big Black, in the studio and live with Gilbert and Lewis. Incidentally, it's a shuffling quiet-rocker complete with fret squeak and distant crashing symbals. Huh. Some other names from the post-Pistols guitar godhood canon that owe some debt to Gilbert and this album are Kevin Shields, whose now-functioning band My Bloody Valentine covered the snappily-titled "Map Ref. 41 °N 93° W" for a tribute album which, alas, appears on Wire's third album, 154 and Fugazi's Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto. Of course, the current wave of pauxst-punk bands like Bloc Party, Maximo Park and Futureheads too.

The one-two punch towards the end of the album are formed by the two aforementioned singles. Outdoor Miner is a lovely jangle-pop song with gorgeous harmonies, typically vague lyrics and a great singalong chorus. It was a no.51 single in the UK and another Huge Hit In A Parallel Universe along with Gang Of Four's "At Home He's A Tourist" and Magazine's "A Song From Under The Floorboards". The funny thing is the single version was extended to include a keyboard part, only Wire could get away with something that perverse. I Am The Fly is a spasming guitar riff and snipped Sarf Lahndan-accented sneer, and another great singalong chorus and excellent mechanical handclaps. Do you know how many good records become great records with mechanical handclaps? Go on Mr. Producer, turn on the handclap machine. You know you want to.

I Feel Mysterious Today is a great rock strut and sums up the achievements of the album with Newman's knowing vocals and strange observations: is it ever appealing to stand on the ceiling?" before Graham Lewis' undulating bass winds up like a catapult and Newman spits "did you ever conceive that you too can leave exactly when you LIKE?". It's that opening and closing of doors, the juggling of ideas and - yes - the moving of chairs to get a different view which allows you to hear a different album each time, demanding to be heard in its order despite no overall theme or concept in its tracklisting. Indeed, the band can barely fit all four minutes and eleven seconds of the closer, the aptly titled Too Late, where Gilbert unleashes an awesome guitar masterclass and Newman keeps up with him, repeatedly asking "is it too late to change my mind?" before the entire band join in and it becomes slam-bang punk rock crunch with synth pieces like pneumatic drills punctuating the noise. Newmans gives up, the guitars die down and you're left with a groaning noise before the album ends.

What is Colin Newman asking if he can change his mind about? Whether Men 2nd, a skittery, jangly mood piece with a comic shout of "Women and children first!" should come before the suitably dry, atmospheric, spacey mood music of Marooned? Or whether the whole album should be scrapped and they should start rehearsing "Glad All Over" again? I don't know.

I do know, as does the band, that Practice Makes Perfect, which is where we came in, and where we appear to be.

Key tracks:

"I Feel Mysterious Today"
"Outdoor Miner"
"Practice Makes Perfect"
"Used To"

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user ratings (449)

Comments:Add a Comment 
December 20th 2007


Post punk?


December 20th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

I actually think this is on the same level as Pink Flag, if not better.

December 20th 2007


These guys are brilliant, haven't hard this album but have heard some of the tracks because i have a best of 1977-79 record, i need to get their real albums.

December 20th 2007


Album Rating: 5.0

What I meant by "pauxst-punk" are bands like Franz Ferdinand and The Killers who are held up as post-punk revival but don't actually have anything to do with it, like Med57 says in his brilliant review of "Entertainment!" Whether Pink Flag is better is a matter of taste but anyone who likes "On Returning", the 77-79 collection should get this. The 2006 re-issue has excellent liner notes and spiffing photos.

March 15th 2010


Album Rating: 5.0

I've been hooked on this album for a few weeks now. Genius stuff.

March 15th 2010


I s'pose I should get this as I have 'on returning' and it's awesome. I'm pretty sure it has most of these tracks on it, though.

June 26th 2011


Wire is excellent.

September 20th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

probably my favorite album of the 70s.

October 25th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5

The best Wire album. Almost flawless

October 25th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

This and Pink Flag are really close

October 25th 2011


Album Rating: 4.5

true, but I think this benefits from the more varied sound

November 4th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

overplayed pink flag but this and 154 still do it for me

December 31st 2011


One of my favorite post-punk albums

April 3rd 2012


Album Rating: 4.5

so far ahead of its time

July 28th 2012


Album Rating: 4.0


January 20th 2013


Album Rating: 4.5

this is amazing

March 24th 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

yea its ace. i like it better than pink flag. i guess cuz this is more post-punk and pink flag is more punk.

March 24th 2013


Gotta check this out

March 24th 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

This rules hard

March 24th 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

yea man we need more post-punkas in this bich DL their first 3 and get blissed

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