Wire - Pink Flag

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2018-06-15
Wire - Pink Flag
Wire - Pink Flag

This album should come with a warning label for the unsuspecting consumer: “Dangerously Addictive. Abandon all hope and play at maximum volume”.

If Pink Flag ever fell out of fashion, it has never sounded so timely. The first words that greet you on ‘Reuters’ are, “Our own correspondent is sorry to tell, of an uneasy time that all is not well,” Abetted by growling guitars, the song ends with hair raising screams of, “Raaaaaaape!” All of which may explain why Wire didn’t have a Top 40 hit with this one. What they had was something much more enduring: influence.

It can be easily argued Pink Flag is up there with the Velvet’s “Banana” as one of the most subversively influential albums in Rock history. Listening to this re-issue, it boggles the mind that this was cut in 1977. While on the surface, they weren’t doing anything radically different than contemporaries like The Buzzcocks, Wire weren’t actually a Rock & Roll band any more than they were a Punk band. They were never really part of the Punk or Rock scene. In concept, Wire were more like an Art installation with aims to deconstruct Rock cliché. Personally, I don’t have much use for such pretentions, all I know is Pink Flag knocked my socks off the first time I heard it. It’s the kind of record I can’t just play once. Inevitably, I hit the play button again. But they were certainly ambitious. Something that became more evident with subsequent releases like Chairs Missing and 154.

Despite any of that, ‘Field Day For Sundays’ comes at you like a gang of marauders on amphetamines. Then, in the blink of an eye, it’s all over. Tossed aside, like a lit cigarette butt and replaced by ‘Three Girl Rhumba’. All of which sets the scene for the rest of the album. For 21 glorious tracks, the frenetic pace does not let up. From ‘Reuters’ to ’12 x U’ there’s no filler. Even the 49 second, ‘Commercial’ has something urgent to say, despite the lack of lyric.

Wire knew the value of less is more. If their attack owed a lot to the Ramones, they were far darker. One listen to ‘Strange’ however, and it’s evident they took their inspiration more from ‘Sister Ray’ than, “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!”. And while they musically owed little to Kraftwork, they certainly took their cue from the Krautrock pioneers in terms of mechanical stage persona. The idea here was Robot bass. Robot drums. Robot singer. No solos, no commentary. Like Kraftwerk, they possessed a sense of ironic detachment. However, if Wire’s aims were what Bertolt Brecht called, "Verfremdungseffekt" or distancing effect--- like Brecht, they weren’t entirely successful.  Along with Brecht’s Mother Courage, Pink Flag strikes a more emotional than didactic chord. Its songs are undeniably filled with anger and outrage. Frenetically concerned with the plight of humanity. Never is this truer than on the title track which begs the question, “How many dead or alive?” While they may not wear their bleeding hearts on their sleeves, there’s far more compassion than nihilism at work here. And despite any artistic, deconstructionist pretensions, Wire knew the value of “it’s got a good beat and you can dance to it”.

Among the standouts are ‘Ex Lion Tamer’ with its irresistible riffs and infectious but brief choruses. ‘Fragile’ and ‘Mannequin’ flirt shamelessly with Pop. Which gets to the heart of the matter. In spite of all the Sturm und Drang, Wire have undeniable Pop impulses. Toss those impulses to unholy racket and they hold it all together. On that front, ‘Different To Me’ is as fast and hard and as it gets. ‘Champs’ is the kind of track that sets the bar for those who would follow in Pink Flag’s footsteps. ‘Feeling Called Love’ might just be their Art School answer to ‘Louie Louie’. The furious ’12XU’ is the perfect send-off. Or rather, kiss off.

Speaking of walking in footsteps, Pink Flag’s influence can’t be underestimated. Guided By Voices obviously took their cue from Pink Flag’s short, 1+ minute song lengths. R.E.M. were never shy of citing Wire’s influence. The Hardcore movement, trailblazed by bands like Hüsker Du, owe them a royalty check. Fashionable posers like Elastica wore their Pink Flag influence like a badge of honor.

By now you might suspect, Pink Flag is a long-time favorite of mine. And of course, I'm far from alone in that. In fact, a lot of Pink Flag fans can’t stand their subsequent albums. That said, this wasn’t a band content to rest on their laurels. Chairs Missing and 154 pretty much ditched Pink Flag’s formula and set out to challenge themselves and their audience.

Yet, the question remains, who needs another re-issue with claims of superior mastering? Well, if you don’t already have their first three classic albums, do yourself a favor and pick up these re-issues. If you’re a sucker completist, be prepared to shell out again because all the bonus goodies are not available for download. Rabid fan or inquiring novice, you can’t afford to hesitate in passing this up. Let your Pink Flag fly.

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars
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