Since their inception in the days of punk, forming in London in 1976, Wire has continuously evolved and transcended musical trends like no other.
Their first three albums – Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing (1978) and 154 (1979) – are all rightfully considered post-punk masterpieces that established Wire as a driving force in British art-rock, and set them apart from both peers and influences. Wire has had a huge influence in modern music, ranging from R.E.M., Sonic Youth, hardcore punk and post-punk revivalists (Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party) to the whole Britop craze (notably Blur and Elastica).
And aside from a five-year hiatus in the early 1980s, as well as a lengthy one in the 1990s, Wire has managed to repeatedly reinvent themselves sonically and refuse to call it a quits. Their last couple of studio efforts have been remarkably strong, most recently the lush and wonderful mini-album, Nocturnal Koreans, featuring music originally developed while they worked on their former, self-titled album from 2015.
Wire have also managed to keep the core of the band more or less intact, still based around Colin Newman, (vocals, guitar), Graham Lewis (bass) and Robert “Gotobed” Grey (drums). Guitarist Matt Simms joined around 2010. As a democratic unit the quartet decided to participate a round of 5 Albums That Changed My Life with one album each, turning the feature into a quartet as well. And a great one it is.
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Todd Rundgren: A Wizard, a True Star
“Life-Changing” is a difficult thing to be precise about. I experienced the Beatles (well the ’60s in general actually) in real time at an age when I was too young to have any cynicism and unable to understand the sub-text (but totally got the magic). David Bowie and The Velvet Underground soundtracked the moment when I started to have independent means, a rite of passage to adulthood, even if that was only from holiday jobs. And 1976/1977 would have sounded very different had the Ramones not existed. I could have chosen from any of those and many more but instead have gone for a record I bought in a sale in a record shop in Winchester when I was on my Art Foundation year.
Todd’s A Wizard, A True Star is a record that is hard to categorize. On one level it didn’t sound like anything else at the time (especially in its use of synthesizer) but on another level there’s quite a lot of him doing his blue-eyed soul thing and there’s even a cover of a song from The Wizard of Oz! The first side (which opens and closes with “International Feel”) ranges between peerless beauty, out-and-out silliness and virtual un-listenability, all in pretty quick succession, but it’s the way that the opening of “International Feel” grabbed my attention like nothing ever had before that has stuck with me. A synthesizer bong followed by the aural equivalent of something reaching escape velocity that opens out into a great keyboard riff over which a drum fill builds and then we are off. By the time the song segues into “Never Never Land” we are only 2:50 in and half of that length is intro and outro!
I didn’t really understand how records were made when I first heard this album but you could hear it wasn’t necessarily the sound of a band playing. There’s some kind of quality from it that you get from fiddling about in the studio which I felt drawn to. Rundgren is a great songwriter but not everything here qualifies as songs (and I mean that in a good way). Plus there are at least five covers on this album. It’s bewildering and somewhat unexpected. There is a sense that although he’s serious about the work he doesn’t take himself even slightly seriously. As well as a songwriter, Rundgren is also a great guitarist (and bass player) and a fantastic singer. He could have made a career out of any of those but chose instead to fiddle about in the studio and make something unexpected. What’s not to admire?
Neil Young: After the Gold Rush
The album I have chosen is After The Gold Rush by Neil Young, his solo commercial breakthrough, released in August 1970. I heard pre-released tracks first, late at night on Radio Luxemburg, played by Young’s fellow Canadian DJ David Kid Jensen. I was knocked sideways by the album’s astonishing variety, wide emotional landscape and dynamic power… From the delicate love ballad “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” to the aggressive anti-racist rant of “Southern Man,” through the magic realism of “After The Gold Rush.” A passionate blend of melody and words, economically arranged, delivered unswervingly by Young and a band containing Stephen Stills, Nils Lofgren and Jack Nietzsche. After The Gold Rush gave me thrilling, sustaining food for thought.
Cream: Wheels of Fire
In 1968, when this came out, I would have been 17. I had their first two albums, so I was already a Cream fan, but this went way beyond what they had done before and it had a live half – for someone who had never seen a band live this seemed so exciting, especially as it had a 15-minute drum solo on it. What could be better? 15 minutes of pure drums!
Also “Crossroads.” I was not aware that it was a Robert Johnson song at the time – it just had this raw, surging and driving sound. This was definitely not pop music – trumpet, glockenspiel, tubular bells, cello, bizarre lyrics, “Pressed Rat and Warthog” recited by Ginger Baker. Ginger’s drumming in general, but especially on this, affected me more than any other drummers. It was so diverse and imaginative it just sounded like he would never run out of ideas.
Grouper: Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
This record contains a world for the listener to get happily lost in for ages. Melodies emerge and dissolve, atmospheres come and go, and the effect overall is very special. It was the first Grouper LP I’d bought, but having since picked up all the others over the following years I feel all are essential listening. It’s influenced me to have confidence in quiet and the combination of noise and beauty and to explore the creation of immersive sound over a side of vinyl.
Originally published on read.tidal, April 2016