Mind Hive

Forty years young and still bearing surprises, Wire's latest, Mind Hive, sees the post punk legends continue to evolve, finds Richard Foster

What makes Wire tick? We listeners have had over 40 years and umpteen albums and solo projects to work that one out. But with Mind Hive, the band continue to evolve, surprise and quietly inspire.

Punk’s last Beats, Wire often seem to enjoy sticking to their furrow and preaching their sermons from it. But old "Punk Floyd" jibes aside, their modus operandi is not cast in aspic or reverently mounted on the walls of a white cube like the Pistols or Buzzcocks. They have certainly never lost their knack for penning great, and very timely songs. The stirring and quietly sinister opening track, ‘Be Like Them’ is an invitation to be part of something that is, I rather suspect, the direct opposite of what the band stand for. Colin Newman’s acid hints to "rabid dogs tearing at skeletons" or "hungry cats getting fatter" seems to only lead to the punchline, "Nothing new about that".

That aforementioned lyric, "It’s nothing new, hungry cats/ Getting fatter minds & thinner ideas", throws a mnemonic rope bridge to the vision of a ‘Field Full Of Folk’ in William Langland’s epic, Piers Plowman. Wire here could be the "mice that knew too much" in the poem, unable to stop the avaricious and cruel ways of the world (and the cat) but looking to create a counterpoint.

Yet, unlike Langland’s apocalyptic preaching and despite their "punk legends!" reputation, Wire’s visions of us, in our very own Fields Full of Folk, are most lethal when they are wrapped in subtle garb. Wire have always created "soft" music that fillets the listener’s pretensions like a knife; without us ever really noticing we’ve been spliced open. ‘Off The Beach’ initially seems to promote this quieter aspect of the band with their ability to incorporate a form of wyrd English pop into their oeuvre. The track’s coastal imagery brings Betjeman’s poems of the English seaside, such as ‘Greenaway’, sharply to mind, too. Until the moment quickly dawns that ‘Off The Beach’ is the conduit for a darker message about the fate of refugees. Last lines "People lying, homeless, dying", is a resoundingly killer punch; a hard, bitter, slap across the face. A similar reveal is experienced in ‘Shadows’, where the analogy of a shadow – a phenomenon that is often associated with our bodily and collective histories – is given a dread future shape courtesy of a softly-spoken, but stark narrative. Despite its undoubted artistic quality, the band use the track as a reminder that we mustn’t get complacent about the shape of things to come.

Wire were always concerned with making music that "felt" of something: a band who could create strong if initially broad-brush impressions with their sound and message. On Mind Hive. there are gentle, rich and abrasive moments aplenty, and often in harness. The beautiful ‘Unrepentant’ brings Pink Floyd to mind, just before their music became unbearably stodgy and prim. The track’s long tail out is a glorious instrumental meandering coda that affirms the dreamy thoughtforms that make up the lyrics.

By contrast, ‘Primed and Ready’ is a simple stomp driven by that chugging "Wire" beat, traversing some form of sonic path like a beautiful dinky toy propelled over a thick pile carpet, the light (cast by the chiming guitars) reflecting on its basic paintwork. The effect created is at once charming and reassuringly cussed. ‘Oklahoma’ has something of the mood of Scott Walker’s Climate of Hunter; mostly in the steady build, the mix of atonal blasts and widescreen brooding and the unexpected changes of tempo. (Graham Lewis’s yelp at the beginning has something of Scott, too.) Then there is the eight-minute ‘Hung’, where the slow build of guitar textures and the steady tread of the bass and drums create one of this record’s highlights. A soundtrack to a building site, the track’s deep reserves of patience, act almost as a warning, maybe that the music – and the band – have got far more time to play with than anyone listening in.

In a recent article in the Guardian, Simon Reynolds suggested the 2010s saw the final breakdown of the popular culture’s filters, legacies and working assumptions; all becoming naught more than statements that flap (to paraphrase Julian Maclaren Ross’s great essay on Surrealism) like tattered flags in the wind. Of course, one can point to similarly discombobulating periods throughout history. Disputed rights over streaming data inadvertently led to the 80 Years War and the Counter Reformation, as any good student will tell you. So it’s a great thing to remember that one staple of old fashioned pop culture, Wire, continue to pop their heads out of the hedgerow and, "making verses as their wit teaches them" (to misquote Langland one last time), preach to their hardy band of followers like angry Watt Tylers; iPadded up to the max and wreaking their own form of bottom-up, off-stage havoc. Long may the tradition continue.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today