Saturday, 1 September 2012

Wire - Pink Flag


Punk rock, London, circa 1976. While the Sex Pistols are recording their euphorical debut album 'Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols', four lads in Art School decide to come together and start a band called Wire, three of the four having very little experience with their instrument of choice. Little did they know, their influence would leave a major mark on music, even to this day we see artists crop up out of Wire's shadows. It wasn't until 1977's Pink Flag that Wire became recognized. It's one thing releasing your debut album, but releasing your debut album in a period where punk was taking over is something else. The critics never panned Wire. Negativity was only directed at their ability, or lack there of. Vocalist / songwriter Colin Newman had a very slurry voice, using the fuzzed up distorted guitars to his advantage. His lyrics were fantastic and 'post-modern'. Pink Flag put a new form of art rock on the map.

This groundbreaking debut album is 35 minutes long and features 21 fast paced punk tracks. Pink Flag was an indication of what was to come from bands like Joy Division and The Fall. Post-punk beckoned, and Wire were right at the heart of it. Black Flag and Minutemen are among the American punk artists to take influence from Wire. This album in particular saw the rise of the two minute punk track. From start to finish, Pink Flag is a punk rock opera. Sonic Youth knew it, so did Elastica... Wire's Pink Flag had started a new generation. 'Reuters' opens with a very stark bass riff and a high pitched electric guitar. The slow tempo matches the mood of the track, with Colin Newman absolutely acing his vocal. Fans of Wire may thrive off the distortion and compact sounding tracks, but it's the lyrics that have always grabbed my attention. Colin sings, "Prices have risen since the government fell. Casualties increase as the enemy shell. The climate's unhealthy, flies and rats thrive. And sooner or later the end will arrive."

Many tracks on Pink Flag are under one minute long. These tend to be the quicker and more conventional tracks, such as the jangly 'Field Day For The Sundays', 'Brazil' and the aggressive 'It's So Obvious'. 'Three Girl Rhumba' comes in at under 90 seconds. The clear guitar riff is easy on the ear, with the light drumming taking focus. The vocal is exceptionally clear, it's very youthful , but rather mature. It's a sharp contrast to the following track 'Ex-Lion Tamer'. I love the guitar riff here. It's simple, it's catchy and it's loud. The distortion really adds texture to Wire's sound. The lyrics are not too bad either, with Newman shouting, "Stay glued to your T. V. set."

Arguably the most attractive tracks on Pink Flag are the slower and melodic tracks. Repetition does kick in, however this wouldn't be punk rock without the repetition. 'Lowdown' has a very gripping guitar riff and a heavy drum rhythm. The second guitar by Newman is abrasive, high pitched and simplistic. The drumming patterns of 'Start To Move' are quickly replaced by the bass heavy guitar riff. Wire, alike most punk bands, use three chords and sometimes four to create there sound. The distortion really does set Wire apart from the punk scene. Sometimes Wire can sound quite immature, such as on the track 'Surgeon's Girl'. I can't imagine a 50 year old enjoying this type of track in 2012. That's the difference between the childish, fast paced but ineffective Surgeon's Girl and the art punk self titled track, 'Pink Flag'. This track is much like the electronic driven funky tracks from 'Chair's Missing'. Heavy 'Melvins'-like drumming opens Pink Flag, then comes the harsh guitar work. This is not punk rock, this is no wave. 

What better way to indicate reaching the middle of the album than a track ironically indicating a break. 'The Commercial' is spectacularly named to differentiate between side one and side two. It's a fiery instrumental that leads directly into the blood-gusting 'Straight Line'. I've always wondered how good these tracks would stand up on a mini EP or as a single, and the truth is.. They wouldn't. Pink Flag is a one dimensional album, that's the beauty of it. The chord progressions on '106 Beats That' sound refreshing. We hear a mini solo as the track draws to a sudden close. The next track opens like many others on Pink Flag, with Newman screaming a count in. 'Mr Suit' is not a track that's sung, it's more of a track to shout as loud as you can. The bass is outstanding on this track, with the guitar sounding less distorted and more rhythm like. 

'Strange' is the longest track on the album. It's still under four minutes, however it could be a lot longer. The guitar is very repetitive, taking on a two chord structure. It's very similar to The Velvet Undergrounds 'Sister Ray', with Newman sounding like Lou Reed in places. The production value of this track is phenomenal given the period. Reverberation and ambiance make an appearance on the back half of this track with some peculiar percussion and vocal chanting. It ends with this reverberation and a very heavy guitar and bass note. The next track 'Fragile' isn't as bold as previous tracks on Pink Flag. It's much more calm and collected. The guitar progression is very smooth, jangle-pop like but with distortion.

My favourite track on Pink Flag is also the most catchy and pop related. 'Mannequin' is a lovely song about false attraction. Newman's lyrics are reputable, with wonderful chorus segments. The most human part of Wire comes through with the group singing the 'la la la la la la la's' like pop divas. The three chord progression is there, and it's very simplistic. Mannequin is Wire's creative mark. It's the one track on Pink Flag that proves Wire could of been popular. Listeners are brought back to D.I.Y punk with the loud and in your face 'Different To Me'. It's very snappy but serves it's purpose between Mannequin and the running track 'Champs'. I can see myself running a marathon just listening to Champs on repeat. The clapping adds personality with the distortion and rhythm guitar in the background. The drumming never fails to break pattern and that's what makes Champs a great track and one of the best in Wire's discography. 

'Feeling Called Love' has even more distortion and brighter secondary guitar. The chords are fantastic and again, poppy. Strip back these tracks and insert a Robbie Williams-esque voice and you have a chart topper. Thankfully, Wire don't have this. The final track '12XU' has a thunderous opening and an electric guitar riff. It's one of Wire's first songs and my god it's one of the hardest sounding and easiest to listen to. The final 30 seconds of Pink Flag is a build up of distortion, Newman's shouting and a distorted guitar riff that ends suddenly. It's made to be, it's an opera... Things don't get better than this for Wire. Or do they?

Pink Flag is truly an outstanding album. The pop hooks of Mannequin never clash with the post-punk vibes of the self titled track. The fast paced punk tracks like Field Day For The Sundays are exceptional. Wire have a good mix of material on this album. It never becomes boring because of the variations of genres all crammed into this very short debut. The distortion can seem repetitive at times, and that does mark Pink Flag down, but this is punk rock after all. The lyrics are brilliant and Newman sings them with passion. His influence has been left on artists across all fields. Sonic Youth, Elastica, Minutemen, Black Flag, The Lemonheads, Blur and even The Vaccines have taken an influence from Pink Flag. It's a classic album not to be messed with.
~Eddie

9.5

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