Nigh out of spite for the arbiters who would say that punk was boneheaded and “anti-intellectual,” Wire produced one of the most formidable hat-tricks in music: Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing (1978) and 154 (1979). Taking an art school approach to punk music and a documentary approach to punk lyrics, the three albums combine to form a dark, schizophrenic and eerily vivid diagnostic of the human condition. With the release of Change Becomes Us, an LP of recordings that started off as live sketches from the days of the band’s original lineup, the impeccable triumvirate becomes a quartet.
An album title heavier than the lyrical themes found in the discographies of most bands, dynamic and modern-sounding songs, clean and efficient production – it all seems so effortless for this band. The vocals are a chorus of one insistent yet detached British voice, that tells of “an ally in exile”, “extra tension always eating”, “one-legged surveillance and the stealth of a stork” and “misuse and abuse of machinery”. In typically formalist fashion, the music consists of the familiar elements of rock songs – power chords, acoustic overdubs, double-tracked vocals, guitar effects – arranged in ways that inspire an objective appreciation of the individual parts and the whole into which they coalesce. The album brings to mind the cliché expressed when a cynic is presented with abstract art: “Yeah, I could do that.” The songs are simple and stark, anyone could’ve recorded them. But as is the case with abstract art, you didn’t. Wire did.
Opening track, the aptly titled Doubles & Troubles, is an ascending three-chord slug. Keep Exhaling is morose and placid, as though someone is talking you through your own demise as death grips your body. Equally placid is the sparse B/W Silence, which sounds as though your body is sliding down an ice cliff in sublime slow-motion. Adore Your Island, Stealth of a Stork and Eels Sang bring violent industrial sounds into the echoplex whilst simultaneously sounding restricted and claustrophobic. The more savage moments are contrasted by the icy and elegiac Time Lock Fog, & Much Besides and Attractive Space.
“Post-punk” is a dubious little term. Two otherwise emphatic words are forced into a game of tug of war at either end of a hyphen to create a vague math equation of a phrase that looks like the questions presented to you during an IQ test. It gets even more frustrating when you start to dip into the semantics. Explaining post-punk should be simple: after punk. But explaining the soundscape and the experience is akin to explaining Earth to an alien. You can try, but it’s easier just to show it. Wire and Change Becomes Us is as good as any place to start.