Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Pink Flag & Send (Guest Post)

Last month, Christophe from the band La Forme wrote a guest blog post for The Album Wall about Neu! '75. A lot of people seemed to enjoy that post, so today Christophe is back to talk about another of his favourite bands: post-punk pioneers Wire.

There is little fat on the bones of Pink Flag. Wire's debut album, released in 1977, contains 21 tracks but whistles past in a blur of accelerated punk. Much of Pink Flag is an exercise in subtraction, the band exploring how much they could remove from a song without completely killing it. If punk was a reaction against the flourishes, indulgences and the technical musicianship of prog rock - music stripped back to its essential components - Wire seemed to be more interested in punk as an intellectual exercise as opposed to a simple act of rebellion.

You get the impression that, even as they were making Pink Flag, Wire were already keen to get somewhere else and explore something new. Pink Flag was already peeking out beyond the constraints of punk, suggesting that Wire possessed a bigger musical palette than their contemporaries and had better ideas. This was duly confirmed with the release of their next album, the brilliant Chairs Missing.

The band would spend much of their career largely ignoring Pink Flag, instead dedicating themselves to continually forging forward, never wishing to repeat themselves. Wire were not interested in nostalgia, and as a result they would rarely revisit any of their work once it had been physically released.

A serendipitous press interview (conducted by John DeRogatis to promote Wire's American tour in 1987) finally led to Pink Flag being played live 10 years after its original release, although it would not be played by Wire. DeRogatis had a Wire tribute band called The Ex-Lion Tamers who dedicated their time to playing Pink Flag in full; upon hearing this, the band apparently hired them on the spot. This was, as Wire drily noted, Pink Flag 'note perfect but with American accents'. Signing up The Ex-Lion Tamers must have appealed to Wire’s perverse sense of humour as well as their post-modern tendencies, and it’s doubtful they would have worried when the support act confused some of their American audiences.

Relationships in the band were largely strained throughout the eighties, and the band would consequently spend most of the nineties apart before finally re-emerging in 2002 with the release of the Read & Burn EPs on their own record label. Many of the tracks that featured on Read & Burn 01 and 02 would be included on their 2003 album Send.

Like Pink Flag, Send was lean and confrontational, with songs dispatched at a blistering pace. There appeared to be a deliberate attempt to remove everything but the key musical elements of the band in order to restart their creativity. Wire clearly recognised that Send’s stripped down slabs of industrial guitar and driving rhythms shared some DNA with Pink Flag, and the band acknowledged this by revisiting tracks such as Strange and 106 Beats That during their live shows (although they couldn't resist pushing these songs through Send’s looping, distorted effects).

Send was a bracing and uncompromising return, and its unflinching style is made all the more remarkable when you realise that the band were twenty-six years into their career when they made it. Wire sounded revitalised, and Send seemed to be the start of another exciting period for them.

Wire were not the only ones to recognise the links between Pink Flag and Send, and the band were finally talked into embracing Pink Flag's legacy and playing the album in full at a special performance in London in 2003. As a caveat to this agreement, Wire would follow the performance of Pink Flag with a set of Send material. Guitarist Bruce Gilbert, perhaps disillusioned at being talked into finally looking back, fell out with the band's manager moments after leaving the stage that night, and would end his time with the band soon after. Send was not to be the start of a new creative period but rather another ending in Wire’s tumultuous career. The band would return five years later (sans Gilbert) with the release of Object 47, and garner critical acclaim with 2011 Red Barked Trees. But Pink Flag and Send still stand out in the band's vast back catalogue as their most belligerent and urgent works. While Pink Flag has been canonised by music critics and its influence on modern bands has been assured, Send - although critically acclaimed on its release - remains largely overlooked, but is no less worthy of your attention.

If you liked Christophe's take on Pink Flag and Send, be sure to check out his band La Forme on SoundCloud!

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