Now celebrating a staggering 40 years at the pinnacle of post-punk creativity, Wire are still refusing to rest on their laurels on their 15th album Silver/Lead. Developing further on their last three studio albums (Change Becomes Us, Wire and Nocturnal Koreans), the band is still experimenting with sonics, space, and even psychedelia, in a way that very few other guitar bands are at the moment. This constant experimentation is still yielding impressive results – both ‘Short Elevated Period’ and ‘Diamonds In Cups’, while chalk and cheese comparatively, are some of the best guitar pop songs Wire have written in a long time. In an alternate universe they may well have ended up on the masterful Chairs Missing.
While Wire are clearly propelling themselves forward from the base of recent albums, many of the songs’ arrangements feel much more detached than anything done recently – cleverly mixing the chilling sparseness of 1979’s 154 with the slight warmth of their last two efforts. This means that even the prettier songs like ‘This Time’ or the jazzy ‘Sleep On The Wing’ have a tangible undercurrent of unrest bubbling underneath the surface.
Book-ending the album are the ominous, brooding opener ‘Playing Harp For The Fishes’ and the mysterious closer ‘Silver/Lead’, both demonstrating the group’s signature lyrical style; obscure and undeniably literate, but unpretentious.
The only thing the album is missing is a change in tempo towards the end. ‘Short Elevated Period’ flies along like something off the Read And Burn EP series but then the pace slows down and stays at mid-tempo for the remainder. As consistently good as the songs are, Wire just need to show that they can still nail fast as well as slow with more than one example. Hell, it doesn’t even need to be fast either, just give us another sprawling psychedelic piece like ‘And Much Besides’ (Change Becomes Us) or the bludgeoning ‘Harpooned’ (Wire). The problem is that Wire consistently set the benchmark for themselves incredibly high by refusing to release a dud album, even in their fifth decade as a band. Most bands who have existed for as long as Wire would bite your hand off to release an album this good this late in their timeline.
Despite this shortcoming, there’s no denying that this is yet another album of great quality from one of Britain’s best ever pushers of boundaries. And coming 40 years into their career is an astonishing display of brawn as well as brains.
Silver/Lead is out on March 31st via the band’s own Pinkflag label