A curiously self-titled Wire album betrays a lack of new ideas
When a band names its debut after itself, the meaning is clear: “This is who we are.” When it happens after a long layoff, the message is: “We’re back.” But for Wire, the eponymous option is harder to decode. Wire follows its predecessor, Change Becomes Us, by only two years. It’s the combo’s 13th or 14th studio album (depending on how you count ’em) in a career that spans 39 years, and while it’s its first to feature guitarist Matthew Simms as a fully participating member alongside founders Colin Newman, Edvard Graham Lewis and Robert “Gotobed” Grey, he’s been touring with the band for years. It’s hardly starting over.
But when you consider that Change Becomes Us was a reworking of material abandoned in 1980, a more troubling notion emerges: Are these guys running out of ideas? The first Wire track, “Blogging,” does not reassure. It sounds crisp, but disengaged, as Newman’s voice recites observations about electronically mediated interaction. It registers skepticism, but not enough bite. Fortunately, things pick up from there, with a series of earworm tunes, glassy guitar licks and brittle beats that sound like an alternative follow-up to Wire’s icily electronic effort from 1986, The Ideal Copy. Still, a shroud of familiarity veils everything save the remorselessly heavy closer, “Harpooned,” which points out what is missing: Wire needs more of the barbed wit and brute anger that has enabled the band’s best post-2000 work stand up to its iconic ’70s recordings.