, March 31st, 2017 20:22
In December, Wire’s Pink Flag – post-punk’s archetypal overture of refined enigma and neurosis – will celebrate its 40th anniversary. An opening gambit that brazenly contorted punk with art-rock cunning and obscurist, almost literary flair, it introduced a band who have, time and time and time again, re-established themselves as pioneers with zero intention of bowing to the whims of nostalgia or legacy. Almost half a century on from launching their reductionist sonic manifesto, album number 15 sees the London quartet at their most assured, yet contemplative since 2010’s stellar Red Barked Tree.
Doubling up as their fourth studio album in five years, Silver/Lead continues a potent hit-rate from the band, as well as a trend that has been something of a calling card of theirs since regrouping back in 1999. Whilst inhabiting familiar terrain – rhythmically rigid efforts framed by masterfully opaque lyrical ambiguity – it’s in Wire’s deceptively hook-heavy refrains and textural exploration where they continue to prosper like few others. For a band whose extant trajectory is precisely posited by their PR as “uniquely addictive,” Silver/Lead is an exhibition in restraint whose brilliant corners and burrowing phrases reward both the keen ear and repeated listen.
Opening on the sweeping panorama of ‘Playing Harp For The Fishes’ – an ill-omened early peak that distils frontman Colin Newman’s time-tested bent for marrying placid tones with cautionary words – the best moments here, from the synth-driven buzz and chug of ‘Diamonds in Cups’ to breakneck lead single ‘Short Elevated Period’, opts for pop-centric minimalism that resists the itch to outsmart itself. With the latter track, in particular, alongside the defiant ‘This Time’ (with its tip of the hat to ‘I Am The Fly’ from Chairs Missing) proving especially compelling highlights wielding simplicity like a scythe, Wire’s cultivated craft doesn’t as much earworm than excavate one’s inner lobe with the aim of permanent residence.
But celebrating such cultivated minimalism shouldn’t underplay the exploration here that – paired with Graham Lewis’ wily lyrical conundrums throughout – pushes Silver/Lead into must-listen territory. Whether you look to the opener’s underlying sea of searing guitar lines, the processed tonal swells of the album’s stirring closing title track or the whale-song patterns of ‘Brio’, Newman and co. continue to exhume new sonic ground in recognisable landscapes. And in an industry all but dictated by kneejerk changeability, there's something thoroughly comforting in just considering the existence of a band like Wire, who – as they mark their 40th year – must now be recognised as one of the most consistent British bands of all time.