The latest creative spurt in the long and intensely rewarding career of English art-punks Wire happily extends to the new solo offerings from bassist, lyricist, and sometimes baritone vocalist Graham Lewis, who lately has tacked the “Edvard” at the front of his name. (He’s living in Upssala, Sweden.)
Lewis always has had the most fluid and enigmatic role in Wire. If Colin Newman is the voice, the front man, and the “pop” craftsman, and now-retired guitarist Bruce Gilbert was the perverse noisemaker, art freak, and “spanner in the works,” Lewis was the Beat poet, the devilishly playful sex symbol, the charmingly eccentric but just a little scary weirdo, and the bridge between the band’s sonic extremes and dueling aesthetics, as capable of producing a gorgeous and touching ballad (see: “Rolling Upon My Day” by Dome, one of his many extracurricular side projects) as unleashing a tremendous amount of unfocused but intriguing clatter (witness significant stretches of Wire’s recently reissued 1981 oddity Document & Eyewitness), with plenty of forays into the industrial-dance underground along the way (as in his solo project He Said).
Strains of all of that work and more can be heard in the musician’s new two-fer, his first solo releases in the new millennium. He describes All Over as “a song-based album that resides amongst the cracks between narrative and song, sound and music… [which] conjures the spirit of Wire’s experimental pop trajectory.” Meanwhile, All Under is the Aphex Twin-like score to a 2003 film of the same name, plus a few other numbers in a similar vein. Really, though, the 16 tracks play as a satisfying whole, especially if you put them on shuffle, with the menacing clanking of alien death machines (the epic “No Show Godot”) nicely contrasting with skewed, almost optimistic art-pop (“Bluebird”) and even some Burroughs-like apocalyptic story-telling (via the musical short story “The Eel Wheeled,” and what a treat to hear that somber voice intone lines such as, “Highly trained and horrendously willing, he perpetrated many random explosions in the tri-state area”).
Lewis can introduce, explore, and abandon more ideas in one song than many bands have in a lifetime. Not all of them work, especially over such a broad canvas. But it’s certainly fun and inspiring to accompany him as he putters about in the studio, a crazed combination of Victor Frankenstein and Salvador Dalí.
Edvard Graham Lewis, All Over (Editions Mego)
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.
Edvard Graham Lewis, All Under (Editions Mego)
Rating on the four-star scale: 3 stars.