Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Greatest Albums of All Time In No Particular Order (entry # 3)

Wire- 154 (1979)

Can never figure out the Wire fans who consistently list this last out of the first three albums. Pink Flag has it's moments but most of it's attempts at "punk rock" or whatever are cringe-worthy and embarrassing at times but understandable on a first release. Chairs Missing ups the ante and finds them branching out and finding their sound more without regard to the prevalent punk attitude of 1978. 154 (supposedly named after the number of gigs they had done up to the time of this recording) solidifies their unique vision and around 1979 only PIL and Joy Division share a similar uniqueness of sound that defy pigeon-holing in the post-punk realm and explores whole new possibilities of style and sound. In fact, they worked with producer Mike Thorne on this who later worked with the likes of John Cale, The The, Laurie Anderson and Soft Cell. Thus, it makes sense that they broke up after this masterpiece (how could they top it?) and haven't even come close since reforming and mostly dabbling in electro-punk-pop (or something like that).

Side one is simply a masterpiece and easily outdoes side two but that is no slight. It starts off languidly and stoicly with “I Should Have Known Better” with deep tenor vocals by bassist Graham Lewis. This start is juxtaposed by the short, aggressive alienated art-punk numbers “Two People in a Room” and “The 15th” sung by Colin Newman. “The Other Window” is otherworldly with a plaintive spoken word account by Graham from a train seat augmented by eerily echoed guitar lines. Shortly thereafter, the side nears an end with the epic and bombastic “A Touching Display” that builds in facets and haunted by Graham's vocals.

Side two is the “poppier” side for lack of a better term. “A Mutual Friend” followed by “A Blessed State” reminds one of an Eno piece circa “Another Green World”-lilting approaches with lots of open space and exotic Hawaiian style guitar effects. Ironically, the “hit” (after all, they were signed to a major label deal of sorts in the U.S. but of course the label didn't know what to do with them ) “Map Ref. 41N 93W” is probably the most straight forward pop track on the album, seemingly a left over from the Chairs Missing sessions. The album closes with the mountingly claustrophobic “40 Versions” building to a crescendo and a feedback embellished crash.

I first got this album in late 1980 and it's production values and sound still sound classic today and have stood the test of time-Radiohead, who I do enjoy only wish they could come up with something this original-but in their defense it was already done. I've listened to thousands of albums in a quarter century (it simply blew my mind when I came across it in high school) and 154 remains easily embedded in my all time Top Ten. Indeed, they were the post-punks beating Pink Floyd at their own game around the time they came out with the splendid “The Wall”.

No comments: