Pink Flag (1977), Chairs Missing (1978) and 154 (1979) need no introduction. They are the three classic albums on which Wire’s reputation and legend has been based. They are also the recordings that minted the post-punk form, later adopted by other bands and are cited as a major influence by acts including (most notably) The Minutemen (naturally), Black Flag, R.E.M., Hüsker Dü, Minor Threat and many more.
These albums have been out of print for a while (this tends to happen every few years), but will be made available again this Spring, via the band’s own ‘Pinkflag’ record label. The release formats will be as: special edition CD books, complete with an extraordinary amount of exclusive unreleased material and rarities on May 18th. These Special Editions will be followed by the “standard edition” LP and CD formats on June 22nd. For the special editions, each album is presented as an 80-page hardback book – the size of a 7-inch single (but obviously much thicker). After a special introduction by Jon Savage (esteemed journalist, author and Wire historian of note), Graham Duff provides the insights into each album. These texts include recording details, brand-new interviews with all 4 original band members and lyrics. The original album is presented on its own CD, accompanied by discs that feature the relevant extra tracks: singles; B-sides; demos; and many previously unreleased songs. Pink Flag is a two-CD set; Chairs Missing and 154 have three CDs each. All audio has been painstakingly remastered (or, in some cases, mastered for the first time).
There’s the background on what’s happening and why it’s so exciting – even though I’ve known this material for at least 39 years – since “Map Reference 41 N 93 W” first reached my ears in 1979. But for those who may be uninformed, let’s try to do a 2018 “review” of the three aforementioned albums. These are not objective observations, either – these are highly biased, so I will try to keep it brief – especially because so much has been written about these three albums ad nausea. BUT:
Pink Flag came out in November, 1977. It was an eye-opener for most of the “punk” ilk, as the songs are all short and sharp – blink and you missed it. A minute – two minutes perhaps – some in under 60 seconds. The highest of highlights: the magnificent single, “Mannequin” (a perfect popsong, pure and simple, ripe with a memorable, harmony-laden chorus); “Fragile”, “Three Girl Rhumba”, “Ex-Lion Tamer” and “Field Day For The Sundays” – yes, the album contains “Strange” and “1 2 X U”. But just the five songs I mentioned are the reason to buy this album. And – let me re-emphasize: no Pink Flag, no Minutemen, pure and simple.
Chairs Missing followed in August, 1978. This album is where Wire could easily lay claim to being able to meld pop, (some) “punk”-ish energy and art into a perfect blend. This album is harder for me to single out the “best” songs because they’re all amazing, head turners. But if you’re a neophyte, then “Outdoor Miner” (the single from the album, which was released in a longer version on 45), “Men 2nd”, “Another The Letter”, “Sand In My Joints” and the hysterical “I Feel Mysterious Today”. Oh yeah – “I Am The Fly” is on this L.P. The key to this album is that it mixes the quick-blasts of Pink Flag and more fleshed out tracks that would continue to the next album.
154. Nothing to be said. Their greatest achievement – one of the finest albums ever released. Period. This album was the culmination of imagination, artistic desire, melodic strength and structure, all with a pop sensibility that makes it totally accessible. “Map Ref. 41 N 93 W” is one of the greatest singles ever released, easily with some of the most clever lyrics ever penned and an inescapable melody and chorus – how on-the-one is it when Colin Newman says “chorus” right before that brilliant couplet (“…Interrupting my train of thought lines of longitude and latitude/Defines, refines my altitude…”)? Said track notwithstanding, starting with Graham Lewis’ brilliantly tense “I Should Have Known Better” to the frenzy of “Two People In A Room” to “The 15th” (a should-have-been single) to “Blessed State” (another could-have-been-a-single) to “40 Versions” (which sounds a lot like Joy Division copped from Wire) – this album’s stellar beauty is seamless.
With the “book” editions of the CD reissues, there will be an array of bonus tracks – wonderful B-sides like “Options R” – and the singles that were not part of the original albums – like the mercilessly amazing “A Question Of Degree” and “Dot Dash”, plus demos, etc. These will not be available for download nor on the “standard” reissued CD’s. So if you haven’t previously been indoctrinated into the incredible world of Wire, you’ve been in a coma for 41 years or you don’t have a concept of how “art” and “music” work hand in hand to create something brilliant, forward-thinking/visionary, timeless and amazingly beautiful among the chaos. Wire didn’t “re-write the book” – they authored their own.
WIRE. Just because.
Pink Flag/Chairs Missing/154 special edition CD books will be released on Friday, May 18th, 2018; standard edition LP & CD will be released on Friday, June 22nd, 2018.