1977 was somewhat of a goldmine for British music. More and more punk bands were forming as a protest against the complexity and pretentiousness of the increasingly popular prog-rock scene at the time, but many of these bands achieved popularity just for jumping on this zeitgeist-bandwagon. One band which could never be accused of this was Wire, and their debut album Pink Flag, an album which many still consider to be a masterpiece.
The album arguably captures the spirit of punk like no other, with the songs seemingly written almost as a polar opposite to those of prog-rock. There were no meandering solos or overly show-off lyrics; in fact, many of the songs barely contained more than a single verse and chorus. Of the 21 songs on the album, only six last longer than two minutes and another six don’t even reach one minute – most notably Field Day For The Sundays, which crams in a verse and a chorus in a mere 28 seconds. It could be forgiven, then, to mistake this album for yet another generic, short, sharp punk shock – especially when you note Wire’s first demo in 1976, which contained song titles like Mary is a Dyke, Can’t Take it No More, and Bitch.
It seems clear from the onset of Pink Flag that Wire want to distance themselves from all the other ‘generic’ punks. The album’s opening track, Reuters, throws listeners in at the deep end with its snail-paced, one-chord riff and the cries of ‘looting, burning, rape’ which end the song, a morbid affair detailing a Western nation in crisis. However, Pink Flag is anything but a miserable affair. Tracks like Three Girl Rhumba and Ex Lion Tamer are two of the more catchy songs to come out of the whole era and even the album closer, the sub-two minute quasi-hardcore rush of 12XU, feels downright fun.
Despite the whole album being over in under 36 minutes, the sheer number of tracks means there are plenty of themes to be explored. While the lyrics are frequently cryptic and sometimes downright bizarre, Wire bring an arty and intellectual charm to their discussions of break-ups (Lowdown), the philosophy of love (Feeling Called Love), dead-end jobs (Mr Suit), war (Pink Flag) and… one dimensional boys? (the glorious Straight Line) which, funnily enough, make the album feel anything but one-dimensional.
Despite Wire’s constant desire for musical re-invention, Pink Flag acts as a pre-cursor to almost every style the band has taken on over the last 40 years – in particular, Mannequin, with its potent combination of pretty guitar-pop contrasting with bilious lyrics like ‘You’re a waste of space / no natural grace’, which seemingly paved the way for the band’s unique style of post-punk in future decades. Not only did Wire influence themselves with this album, but also just about every band from the 80’s onwards with roots in indie rock, post-punk, hardcore or even just the jagged but playful art-punk found in spades in this ground-breaking debut album.