Wire - Chairs Missing

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2018-06-15
Wire - Chairs Missing
Wire - Chairs Missing

“I am the fly in the ointment,” pretty much sums up Wire’s sophomore effort. If their 1977 debut, Pink Flag was seminal, Chairs Missing went to show the band wasn’t about to rest on its laurels. “I feel mysterious today,” is another sentiment that characterizes this effort.

While ‘Practice Makes Perfect’ and its robotic staccato guitars pick up where Pink Flag left off, the appearance of synths and eerie backing vocals reveal a band that was out to explore their possibilities as opposed to capitalize on their signature sound. Remember this was 1978. Bowie had just cut Low and ‘Heroes’. Like Bowie, Wire aimed to embrace a new ambiance, pioneered by the likes of Brian Eno, Neu! and Kraftwerk. And embrace it they did, with an open mind and a raw nerve.

The likes of ‘French Film Blurred’ lend a distinctly ominous Cold War Noir feel to a fascinatingly schizophrenic album. Elsewhere, ‘Another Letter’ robotically embraces Synth Pop in an intense, all too cynical manner. ‘Outdoor Miner’ on the other hand, could have easily been a Pop hit and is an essential Wire classic.  

‘Send In My Joints’ sounds like it slipped off Pink Flag’s leash after a handful of barbiturates. Tracks like ‘Marooned’ and ‘Being Sucked In’ are far more sinister and harder to categorize. The more Pop-oriented ‘Heartbeat’ manages to burn close while ‘Mercy’ provides the album’s thrilling centerpiece. Fraught with a tension/release so many bands would later take advantage of from Pixies to Nirvana. A perfect storm rising to a lightning climax, ‘Mercy’ is Wire at their finest. Other highlights include the deliriously paranoid, ‘I Am The Fly’ and ‘From The Nursery’. Meanwhile, ‘Used To’ manages to be both sullenly experimental and accessibly melodic.

While Chairs Missing may lack Pink Flag’s focused attack, it makes up for in its lurching, manic mood swings. It’s undeniably a transition album in the best sense. The band moving away from Rock into a more ambient territory. I’ll grant it’s a meandering listen but not inconsistent. The unhinged faster numbers are just as compelling as the more experimental fare. True, there may be some chairs missing at the table. And that’s likely to unnerve and disappoint those expecting Pink Flag II. This is an ornery, purposely awkward record. A slow-burning effort, out to buck and challenge expectations.  The reward comes from discovering something new after repeated listens.

Along with Pink Flag, Chairs Missing is essential Wire. True, the re-issue game is getting a little old, but be warned, the extras will not be available for download.  And if you’re a picky audiophile, this will give you another opportunity to praise or condemn the re-mastering. Win, win.

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