Welcome back! If you’re new here and not sure why this feature rules… each week, we take a retrospective look on albums which we think are either criminally underrated or woefully overrated, and why they actually rock/suck.
When Wire enter a musical discussion, most people will refer to their 3 consecutive post-punk classics – Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 – and rightly so. What very few people will mention is how they mastered electronic music in 1987 with their album 4th The Ideal Copy. Realistically though, it was the only way that punk’s innovators could continue to change their sound – across those landmark first three albums they covered genres as diverse as blink-and-you’ll-miss-it punk, post-punk, early hardcore, new-wave pop, and avant-garde experimentalism (to name but a few). The issue is… just because it’s the only option left doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good one. But how could we doubt the band that, at the time, seemed incapable of churning out anything but masterpieces?
What makes the album even more spectacular is how many different electronic sounds the (ex) post-punkers managed to achieve across the album. The first two tracks, ‘Point of Collapse’ and ‘Ahead’, both have relatively straightforward synth-pop sounds but very different moods. The former is as dark and sinister as the latter is poppy and danceable. Taking the sinister theme to a whole new level though is the stark minimalism of ‘Feed Me’,ratcheting up the tension until the final moments of the song, when Graham Lewis asks “How fast do you run? Oh how fast can you run?”.
What makes the album tick so well is the balance between upbeat and downbeat. For every unsettling experimental piece like ‘Feed Me’,there’s a pretty melody like in ‘Madman’s Honey’ or a kinetic and cerebral dance track like ‘Ambitious’.
On UK editions of the album, the band’s Snakedrill EP is added on at the end (among some demo’s and live versions of songs) which further strengthens an already exceptional album. ‘Advantage in Height’ has a slight industrial chug and ‘A Serious of Snakes’ has a phenomenal pop chorus like nothing the band has ever done, but the real masterpiece (and possibly one of the best songs the band have ever written) is ‘Drill’. When you combine the minimalism of ‘Feed Me’ and the industrial-electro of ‘Advantage in Height’ then throw in some impressionistic lyrics and a brilliantly idiosyncratic mid-song call-and-response, you’ve got yourself a bit of a left-field gem.
Fortunately, the average reviews at the time of release stand the test of time much less than the album does: The band’s 1993 compilation of their ‘electronic’ phase has 16 songs. Nine of them are from this album alone. Need I say more? The Ideal Copy is yet another feather in the band’s magnificent cap and yet another genre to cross off and say ‘been there; done that’. Further proof that Wire are basically the modern day, musical Midas.