Here's a bit of wrongheaded revisionism for you: even as Wire's post-millennial output is being embraced as part of the garage-rock explosion that the group helped to inspire, an increasing number of "fans" have taken to dismissing the group's entire eighties output as crap. Never mind that the eighties produced such memorable Wire songs as "Ahead", "Drill", "Advantage in Height" and "Kidney Bingos"; they're all being tarred with the same brush these days, often by people who haven't actually heard
the records in question. Call it the curse of Manscape
, if you'd like.
Fans who still have a great deal of admiration for eighties Wire will probably be most pleasantly surprised by Read and Burn 02. While Colin Newman remains in "shouty" mode for most of the EP, "Trash/Treasure" and "99.9" remind us that melody is not beyond his grasp. "Trash/Treasure" is particularly pleasing; not only are Newman's vocals as calmly, mesmerically sardonic as anything on A Bell is a Cup Until it is Struck, but the music keeps pace. The throbbing, flanged guitar line slips its leash with two minutes left in the song, shifting the pace from smooth, mid-tempo quasi-electronic burble to limb-flailing urgency in the home stretch. There's enough grit here to satisfy the garage fans, but the tune itself is smarter, as if rather than joining in the nostril-flaring anarchy, the band has once again hacked into Big Brother's hidden camera network and is having a good laugh watching the rest of us make fools of ourselves.
The slower, broodier "99.9" offers a more dramatic metamorphosis: Newman bounces from resonant, dispassionate declamation to vicious, mutated fury a la Skinny Puppy, and the music mirrors his Jeckyll/Hyde shift. Heavily processed guitar rips through the song's more energetic sections, but lingers respectfully behind Newman's wide-eyed primal madness. Be very afraid.
Read and Burn 02's remaining tracks deliver more of the teflon-coated punk-rock that made 01 such a treat. "Read and Burn" itself coughs up ultra-compressed riffs and pedaled-down bass; the lead guitar chimes like a saw blade shearing through sheet metal, while Graham Lewis's processed bass blatting will shake foundations. "Spent" hangs its hat on a crispy, low-bit guitar riff sample as Newman does the shouty syllables thing, and the borderline industrial churning action of "Nice Streets Above" does a slam-bang dovetail into the blazing hardcore stomp and classic Wire "random phrase" lyrical attack of "Raft Ants". All of them will lead your volume knob willingly into blown-speakerville, if not eviction notice territory.
Read and Burn 02 can't surprise us the way its predecessor did; since 01's stunning return to form, we've learned to expect just about anything from Wire's latest incarnation. 02, then, is more of a clarification of Wire's position: while they're concentrating on moving forward rather than dwelling on past triumphs, they haven't turned their backs on any part of their history. And neither should we.