Wire
154


4.5
superb

Review

by InfamousGrouse USER (3 Reviews)
September 6th, 2014 | 66 replies


Release Date: 1979 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The beginning of the end..

What’s most commendable about 154 is how it sits in context with Wire’s 1970s output; the transition the band made over a two-year period from a balls-out, boisterous act to an occasionally minimal, oft decelerated outfit. Seminal debut Pink Flag had taken a furious, speedy approach to punk rock, combining a three chord structure with raucous, sing-along choruses; critically acclaimed follow-up Chairs Missing, released less than a year afterwards, saw the band borrow from the burgeoning art rock movement, as well as take keyboard and synthesizer use on board, undergoing a dramatic change in sound and settling comfortably amongst the frontrunners of the post-punk school of thought. An excellent sophomore in its own right, introducing a good deal of atmospherics into their musical palette, Chairs Missing was a little unrefined, sometimes experimental to a detrimental degree and lacking in its ability to paint a full picture; 154, on the other hand, feels like a tauter and altogether more cohesive package, profiting all the more for it. It’s as if Wire were able to take the pop sensibilities and raw aggression first developed on the debut, the penchant for experimentation and ability to fabricate luscious sonic soundscapes picked up on the sophomore and intermingle all of these ideas in a way that never loses its aim, demonstrating Wire’s signature wackiness, catchiness and ambitiousness in a neatly-wrapped forty-five minute package.

Let’s give the songwriting quartet of Newman, Lewis, Gilbert and Grey some credit here, as it seems like their compositional capacities are often overlooked. Wire were a constantly changing organism in their brief, prolific early years and, moreover, they were able to undertake substantial stylistic changes (shifts which, honestly speaking, many of their contemporaries wouldn’t even dare to try), continuously experiment, push their boundaries and somehow, somehow never lose their ear for a fabulous melody or ability to pen an anthemic track. The variation of songwriting on this LP is quite staggering; Wire were clearly aiming to please all types of audience with the thirteen tracks on 154, as it truly feels like there’s something for everyone. There’s poppy goodness in the form of ‘The 15th’, a quite gorgeous number (pardon the pun) with floating synths in the background, infectious jingly guitar lines backed up by an outstanding vocal performance. It’s a song that’s in the vein of older material such as ‘Mannequin’ or ‘Outdoor Miner’, so wickedly catchy and accessible it would provide a suitable introduction to the group for first-time listeners and could conceivably be a radio hit had it been selected as a single. Elsewhere, there’s the timeless, cryptically titled ‘Map Ref. 41N 93W’, a track about cartology or exploration or maybe something entirely different, complete with a storming, memorable chorus (just try and not let it roll over your mind!) a la ‘Ex Lion Tamer’ or ‘I Am the Fly’ alongside bursts of ascending, descending guitars and mirrored by surface synthesizer work. There’s straight up rockers like the crushing, manic percussion and piercing, nightmarish guitars on ‘Two People In a Room’, harkening back to the Pink Flag era, and like ‘Once Is Enough’, a track with foot-tapping bass and one which often threatens to spiral spastically out of control. There are eerily experimental, dissonant tracks like ‘The Other Window’ with its bizarre narrative approach, ‘A Mutual Friend’, developing during its four-and-a-half minute runtime from a creepy beginning to a passage with an English horn blowing serenely, its tranquility intermittently sundered by blasts of static.

And then there’s tension. Opener ‘I Should Have Known Better’ is fraught with it: synthesizers menacing just on the verge of perception, plodding bass, more or less the same chord continually struck, ominous distortion hanging in the forefront, continually enveloping all and dissipating as it pleases, coming and going with a higher degree of intensity as the runtime burns down, the agitation in Newman’s vocal delivery more noticeably poignant with each passing line – the subtle progression is altogether marvelous, crafted to perfection. LP centrepiece ‘A Touching Display’ clocks in just shy of the seven-minute mark. The song is the encapsulation of Wire’s experimentation and ambition: hark back a mere two years and their average song length was around one minute forty seconds and yet now they create this brooding monster without even batting an eyelid. A minute long jarring combination of three picked notes accompanied by symbols quietly crashing and rising enigmatic synths opens the track, followed by the entrance of an electric viola that wails sinisterly, weirdly complimenting the sustained vocals ever growing in character and conviction, for another minute before it gets louder and moodier still. From its gloomy introduction to its lengthy wind down and fade out, its tempo never really hits overdrive. It builds and builds, becoming more harrowing and earthshakingly intense from time to time. For all the tension, there’s no tangible sense of release. It’s a real masterwork; a journey into the depths of personal hell, a dark claustrophobic space that strangles you into submission before spitting you back out, bruised and broken, only to repeat the process.

Mike Thorne, producer of the first three Wire LPs, and credited with the keyboard and synthesizer work on both Chairs Missing and 154, attested to the difficulties encountered during the recording sessions of this album. Preexisting rivalries and jealousies threatened to split up the quartet, and within the confines of the studio Thorne referred to the undeniable personal tensions often manifesting during those long shifts, adding as an afterthought the tension likely rubbed off on the tracks themselves. And when things inevitably went to *** soon after, we’re lucky enough to be left with the remnants of the quartet’s bitterness and resentment towards one another; a social atmosphere that most definitely lends to the eeriness and overall tone of the record. 154 is the result of natural progression and a culmination of ambition; a diverse, accomplished approach to songwriting and revealing a refined, balanced approach to experimentation and melody, with top performances by the musicians from front-to-back. With this LP and the two preceding it, Wire had cemented themselves as canon within punk rock and post-punk in the space of a mere three years, such was the incredible craft they displayed. Regardless of their personal musical endeavors pursued over the years to come and the fact that upon their return, they were never really the same, well, at least they’d given us Pink Flag, at least they’d given us Chairs Missing and, most importantly, at least they’d given us 154.


user ratings (272)
Chart.
4.1
excellent


Comments:Add a Comment 
InfamousGrouse
September 6th 2014


4332 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

tell me how bad of a writer i am here; or let's discuss one of the most prolific bands of the 70s

NorthernSkylark
September 6th 2014


9063 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great review, very interesting read for someone only familiar with punk rock Wire



your last sentence is four lines long, and uses way too many commas.

and your second paragraph is daunting just to look at, so I would shorten it a bit.

Digging: Ben Howard - Heave Ho

InfamousGrouse
September 6th 2014


4332 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

never heard the other two classic period Wire records?



#1: i do have a habit of using run-ons, you're right

#2: paragraphs 2 and 3 were originally one big thing so i cut it more or less in half best i could..

NorthernSkylark
September 6th 2014


9063 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

nope, i never got around to them, so i'll jam them after Mogwai



well, I'm glad you split it up then!

InfamousGrouse
September 6th 2014


4332 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

prioritise Wire :]



last sentence looking marginally better?

NorthernSkylark
September 6th 2014


9063 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'll give them both a spin tomorrow, ok?



yes, it's somewhat better actually.

BMDrummer
September 6th 2014


14440 Comments


haven't jammed this one yet

InfamousGrouse
September 6th 2014


4332 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Give 'er a whirl BMD, she's a real beauty

zakalwe
September 6th 2014


26507 Comments


This is great grouse me man.
Superlative read.

Digging: Rustin Man - Drift Code

InfamousGrouse
September 6th 2014


4332 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Cheers zak, I scribbled it up last night before realising a substantial amount of it was twaddle, a little bit of a reworking of it and it's looking alright I reckon



What's your take on the record?

zakalwe
September 6th 2014


26507 Comments


Having only ever spun the two prior to this one it certainly offers up something new but I definitely dig despite having no 12 X U

BMDrummer
September 6th 2014


14440 Comments


Wire rules, and i know the whole deal with the 80s that they had, always meant to finish their discog tho

InfamousGrouse
September 6th 2014


4332 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

ONE TWO X YOU

40 Versions is certainly a lot more mellow than the other two classic period Wire closers.



Might be wrong but I hear a lot of Wire and This Heat in later 80s postpunk records like some of Swans output and whatnot

KILL
September 6th 2014


81233 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

great shit gj

zakalwe
September 6th 2014


26507 Comments


I've only heard bits and pieces of Swans, the Seer is the only album I've fully sat through, head in hands lost in contemplative thought before concluding it was bobbins.

InfamousGrouse
September 6th 2014


4332 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Been needing a review for ages so I thought I'd have a stab, cheers Kill

InfamousGrouse
September 6th 2014


4332 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

noun: bobbins



1. a cylinder or cone holding thread, yarn, or wire, used especially in weaving and machine sewing.



2. a small bar attached to a string used for raising a door latch.

zakalwe
September 6th 2014


26507 Comments


Bobbins of cotton.......rotten.


NorthernSkylark
September 6th 2014


9063 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

... or the end of the beginning?

AgainAnd
September 7th 2014


281 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

The first three albums are all just brilliant, and their other stuff isn't too shabby either. Seeing Wire live last November was a blast. Have people here yet checked out the re-release of Document And Eyewitness?



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