The third age of Wire has begun.
I know, that sounds a bit silly, but Wire's return is no small affair. Yes, lots of defunct-but-influential groups have eternally muddied their reputations with ill-considered "reunion" tours, touring behind half-hearted "new" material in order to bask in the adulation and cash they never received during their heyday. But Wire are different. For Messrs. Newman, Gilbert, Lewis and Grey, each new emergence is a veritable reboot -- their musical past largely abandoned in favor of new ideas, and their creativity empowered by post-millennial DIY distribution.
Admittedly, this incarnation of Wire is rooted in nostalgia. Read and Burn's sound owes much to the group's 2000 reunion, which spurred a drastic revision of Wire's classic late-seventies material. In those performances, the group forced its early art-punk output through a more muscular version of its late-nineties "dugga-dugga-dugga" aesthetic, creating driving three-chord juggernauts of white-hot, rhythmic noise. Read and Burn is that sound, but passed down to a second generation. It's a dense, matte-black monoblock of furious sonic energy -- ultra-compressed riffs, barely controlled bursts of feedback, and lyrics more urgent and angry than anything Wire have done in the last twenty-odd years.
And damn, these songs rock -- not in the skeletal, incandescent style of the original "12XU", but with a vibrant impression of bulked-up presence that belies the group's carefully cultivated air of detachment. Take "Comet"'s three-way collision of speed-metal riffing, urgent hardcore rhythms and no-wave irony: they're having fun playing that. You can almost see the smile on Colin Newman's face as he delivers the self-aware refrain: "And the chorus goes / and the chorus goes / ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bang." And if the bleak guitar-gunning and throaty warbling of "1st Fast" seems to stop on the very brink of explosive collapse, credit skill over musical conservatism: it's really just a case of delayed gratification. This is the punk rock of experience and confidence -- proof that the inner fire doesn't go out when you turn 40.
At a hair over seventeen minutes, Read and Burn 01 -- supposedly the first in a series of EPs -- is both seductive and frustrating; it's a bit like going to a party and spending the entire evening talking to a gorgeous, flirtatious mystery woman, only to have her vanish at the end of the night without having given you her name or her telephone number. It's good enough to make you want much, much more, but short enough to be entirely free of musical flab. And cheer up -- you probably won't have to wait another twenty years for a follow-up.