Old school punk still good; Wire’s ‘Pink Flag’ no exception

One of my fondest memories from high school is driving around in my friend Jason’s car, with the cassette player turned up loud and us not talking just absorbing the music in the way you can do only when you’re a teenager. We used to do that a lot.

A few months ago Jason came for a visit, we stayed up late drinking a bunch of wine, catching up and listening to music.

Several songs into one CD, Jason abruptly stopped his story and asked what we were listening to. I told him it was Wire’s Pink Flag album, and he said, “This is the coolest music I’ve ever heard.”

That was pretty much my reaction, too, the first time I heard Wire.

If you fancy yourself a punk rock aficionado and you don’t own Pink Flag, take it from me: there is a substantial hole in your record collection. Their 1977 debut is, along with the Ramones’ and The Clash’s debuts, one of the best punk rock albums ever. It’s one of my all-time favorites of any genre.

It’s hard to tell where Wire found their influences. Other than a Roxy Music/Brian Eno sound on a couple of songs, and Pink Floyd, in the Syd Barret-era, on a couple of others, they just don’t sound like anyone else. Listening to them, the word “angular” comes to mind. The songs possess a sketch-like quality that suggests something greater than the sum of their parts.

Despite sounding like almost nothing else before them, Wire has had an obvious influence on most of the good bands that came after them. REM covered “Strange,” and Elastica stole the riff from “Three Girl Rhumba” for their hit, “Connection.” Dinosaur Jr’s first couple of records borrow the fuzzed-out power pop formula of “Ex Lion Tamer.” Minor Threat and other hardcore bands owe a huge debt to the soccer-chant choruses of “Straight Line” and “Mr. Suit.” Like Guided By Voices, most of Wire’s songs clock in at under two minutes and are oddly arranged.

Wire plays around with the “verse-chorus-verse” song structure, sometimes utilizing a “verse-verse-chorus” format, sometimes “chorus-verse-verse,” and sometimes dispensing with either the chorus or the verses entirely. Unexpected guitar textures or drum fills drop in and out, and “one-two-three-four” is counted out in the beginning, middle and end of songs. A few of the songs, just as they build up to a rousing climax, abruptly end.

Like the Pixies, Wire’s lyrics are absolutely bizarre, and often pretty funny if you read the lyric sheet (otherwise, most of the words are unintelligible through the singer’s thick cockney accent). The songs are about sex, death, math, war, television and capitalism – pretty much the basis for punk rock – and are addictively catchy.

While they do sound a little like their also-brilliant contemporaries, the Buzzcocks, and were an obvious influence on the first few Cure records, Wire is by no means a pop band. Art damage flourishes and an overall abrasive quality makes Pink Flag