Chances are when you think of seminal punk rock groups, you consider the likes of The Clash, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols; generally anyone who had the good sense to form in or around 1977. One band that perhaps does not spring so readily to mind is Wire, the British four piece whose 1977 debut album, ‘Pink Flag,’ is considered one of early punk rock’s best. More impressive than that album, which asserted the group predominantly as a fleet, brash young collective, was and is Wire’s propensity for reinvention. Over 35 years after their inception, Wire have outlasted many of their peers, thanks in no small part to that restless spirit. Their latest release, ‘Change Becomes Us,’is a fitting encapsulation of their unending journey.
Comprised of previously unreleased songs which the band have performed live numerous times over the years, ‘Change Becomes Us’ provides listeners with a nice overview of Wire’s accumulated range. Things begin in familiar territory, with “Doubles & Trebels” serving as a choice example of Wire’s post-punk sensibilities, which first began to assert themselves on early albums like ‘Chairs Missing’ and ‘154.’ While “D & T” occupies the more energized end of that sub-genre’s spectrum, “Time Lock Fog,” the album’s second longest track, is more “post” than “punk,” plodding along sullenly to ambient chimes and droning bass. Between these two extremes, certain songs choose to split the difference, with “As We Go” slowly ramping up into more groovy reaches and “Adore Your Island” turning on a dime, soft and atmospheric one second, loud and driving the next.
Wire also take the opportunity to remember their roots as a selection of pure punk tracks make it into the mix. “Keep Exhaling” eases the band back into ‘Pink Flag’ mode, the more persistent drum beat supporting a still airy vocal performance from singer Colin Newman. This proves to be a bit of stretching before the band really let lo0se on “Stealth of a Stork,” a nice, quick little rocker that sounds more like early Wire than anything else here. The other live-wire (no pun intended) track of note is “Eels Sang,” a bouncing oddity who’s stream of consciousness lyrics defy explanation. In that sense, the song’s a worthy partner to “Re-invent Your Second Wheel,” which finds Wire instead choosing to rearrange the alphabet amid soft, floating guitar strums.
Where ‘Change’ falters are those times when it’s ambiance is left unchecked. The aforementioned “Time Lock Fog” avoids this narrowly, but the same can’t be said for “& Much Besides,” an utterly dull track with little ambition in any regard, save for giving us the album’s title. The same could be said for “B/W Silence,” which isn’t nearly so alienating in its blandness, but is wholly forgettable all the same.
That being said, the album kicks into high gear after gathering its strength on “B/W Silence” and “Time Lock Fog.” One after the other, ‘Change’ comes at us with its best tracks: the cool and sleek “Magic Bullet” gives way to “Eels Sang’s” goofy charm. On “Love Bends,” Wire has what could easily be a radio single, without feeling out of place with any of Wire’s myriad sensibilities. Finally, things come full circle, with “As We Go” following in “Magic Bullet’s” footsteps, albeit managing to let loose a bit more in later verses.
Of all ‘Change Becomes Us’s’ appeal, the best thing about it is how unlike so much other modern music it is. So far this year, we’ve seen plenty of classic rock acts getting back into the swing of things, and Wire carries on the trend valiantly. Heck, they even manage to channel Pink Floyd for a bit on the album closer, “Attractive Space,” before dissolving nicely into a furious little spiral of trademark synth-tinged shouts and wall-of-sound guitars. On the whole, Wire’s latest may appeal more to long-time fans more than casual audiences, but it’s strong proof all the same that the band isn’t planning on going anywhere just yet.