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Change Becomes Us Tim Burrows , March 21st, 2013 09:59

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For their next trick, Wire attempt time travel – either that or they're looking to pip Kevin Shields and co to the record for the slowest realisation of an album, with a near 35-year gap between initial violent creation and the finished product on this, the band's 12th release.  Taken from unfinished sketches that were kicked about on the circuit in 1979-80, Wire aficionados will recognise many of these from the 1981 live album Document And Eyewitness. But more than a remake, it's an exercise in artistic frugality as a means of renewal. As Wire explained to The Quietus, the type of "creative recycling" employed here has long been a method they've used to make something new. As bassist Graham Lewis puts it, "It started off as a project that was a good idea, and then suddenly we realised we had a new album. It feels so natural to us, but it's not a common thing."

Though it's an often-thrilling evocation of post-punk era experimentation, Document… is commonly read as the suicide note of Wire MK 1 – the scabby, unfocussed farewell of the group's original punk-to-post-punk incarnation. Here, 'Eels Sang' is a more realised and together version of the abrupt stop-start dadaist breakdown of 'Eels Sang Lino' that you can hear on Document. On the earlier version you can hear a possible influence of James Chance's NY jazz-punk deconstructionists the Contortions, with Graham Lewis screaming over haphazard saxophone, and collapsible rhythms from Robert Grey. On Change Becomes Us, the groove is more sure, the vocals more silken. Similarly, opener 'Doubles And Trebles' was first released as 'Ally In Exile'; 'Keep Exhaling' is an updated version of 'Relationship'; 'Stealth Of A Stork' is a meatier 'Witness to the Fact'.

Recycled the songs may be, but the band have souped 'em up, making Change Becomes Us the band's most bombastic and polished record to date. There are one or two times – such as the Who-like beginning of 'Adore Your Island' – when it sounds like a stadium rock group has been smuggled onto the record. It is as if they have sought to nullify, accentuate – perhaps even send up – the poor quality of the earlier recordings via a wilful act of audio Botox. Voices are heavily treated with effects and multiple vocal tracks are smoothed together using pitch and time correction, and an array of embellishments. 

Despite the songs' far-off beginnings, Change Becomes Us is like an aggressive, steroid-pumped continuation of the band's excellent 2011 album Red Barked Tree, a testament to the band's consistent faithfulness to the key signatures of ice-sheet psychedelia and jackhammer punk. Here, Wire continues to prove that 4/4 doesn't have to be straight; that intellectual obliqueness doesn't have to be a smokescreen to hide a lack of emotional depth. 

Lyrically, the kings of obfuscation seem keen on opening up a little. 'Love Bends' has been worked from the stomping yet unfinished 'Piano Tuner', evolving from punk by numbers into an ode to the power of, well, love – its total effect on people, the molecular chemical shifts that masquerade as truths. It is a perfect example of a Wire song as it is about perception. Like the title, Wire's music bends – it swerves around as if mimicking the inherent unreliability of feeling. The slow-burning, penultimate track '& Much Besides' has been quite faithfully derived from the more ragged Document track, 'Eastern Standard'. The earlier version boasted typically absurd wordplay, but these days the odd focused message makes its way through the smudges. "While much remains unresolved/Change becomes us all in time," Colin Newman cries as the song closes. "The course is set". 

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Nils Winkler
Mar 22, 2013 7:43am

My favorite release of the year so far, brilliant. "Adore Your Island" sounds like Rush to me, something I would have never expected on a Wire record. I wasn't sure about the vocal treatments on the first two listens, but it works really well. Some songs (e.g. "Love Bends") sound like a direct follow-up to 154, a nice continuation from Red Barked Tree - what a statement, with some 30-odd years in-between!

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Mar 23, 2013 5:31pm

Good review but I'm confused by your line "...the poor quality of the earlier recordings via a wilful act of audio Botox..." - I always thought the production and recording quality on Chairs Missing and 154 was some of the best I've heard.

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Tim Burrows
Mar 23, 2013 8:45pm

In reply to Mark:

Thanks Mark. Ahhhhhhh - sorry if unclear. Earlier recordings I refer to here are only those on Document & Eyewitness (the songs much of this album takes as source material). I completely agree, 154 and Chairs Missing are sublime.

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Michael E
Mar 25, 2013 12:21pm

Wire were best in the early days: PINK FLAG, CHAIRS MISSING and 154 are masterpieces, classics, even the nearly abstract punk of their debut never sounds dated. From that point of view, RED BARKED TREE was a great return to form, their fourth best album ever.

I really didn't like DOCUMENT AND EYEWITNESS at all, bored me to death. I didn't like later incarnations of the band except the early solo albums of Colin Newman.

So what you're writing sounds interesting enough to give it a chance to listen to, the possible No. 5 of my personal Wire catalogue!

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Charlie Hearse
Mar 26, 2013 11:32am

I feel this record can be mentioned in the same breath as the holy three. It is that good. Old material or not, it's a completely solid album that has all the distinct hallmarks of a classic Wire album and then some. The sound that they have culminated in the past few years reflects a lot of other music that they have influenced, in particular, Robert Pollard. "Attractive Space" has GBV and Circus Devils bleeding through. "Love Bends" is a hell of a companion piece to Pollard's "Dancing Girls and Dancing Men". However, this album is more than that. As I said, it has qualities from classic Wire, and not just because the songs comes from older versions of material. Let me put it this way, 1977 - 1979 Wire built a sound that is amazing and influential. Many bands have attempted duplicating it over the years, but it doesn't matter. For Wire to continue to work with that sound is more than appreciated. They can take their sound and write as many songs as they see fit. No two songs are too alike to accuse them of drying out. The Wire sound is a fantastic one. "Object 47" proved that they don't need to reinvent themselves. Kind of like what I feel the idea behind "Reinvent Your Second Wheel" seems like. Take what exists and go from there. Bruce Gilbert is missed, but what Matt Simms adds to the band is strong support and sounds for the very qualities they have constructed with the last two records. That quality is what we recognize to be Wire, plus new, strong melodies that have a contemporary edge to an already contemporary structure.

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Apr 20, 2013 4:14pm

after this recommendation i got it today on vinyl (rsd). this is a brilliant album. many many thanks

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Coen van Hall
Jul 2, 2013 2:04am

In reply to Charlie Hearse:

Believe me, Charlie Hearse, this album is way better than Red Barked Tree imo. It makes Documents most interesting again. A band at work. I loved the rough scatches of Documents. CBU is the perfect addition to that, and brings back perfect memories alive.

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