Continuing one of the most unlikely but strongest third acts in rock history, the enduring and indefatigable British art-punks Wire have given us Nocturnal Koreans, a mini-album comprised of eight songs recorded at the same time as last year’s Wire.
That self-titled disc was as brilliant an effort as the band has produced, and the new one comes close to matching that mark, though the vibe is considerably mellower, more understated, and more ominous. (Think of the contrast between Pink Flag in 1977 and 154 three years later, during the band’s immortal first act.)
To be certain, there were moments of quieter introspection and gorgeous melodies on Wire, along with acoustic guitar and some cool, droning synths. But it was the in-your-face propulsion that seized the day: “Joust and Jostle” and “Split Your Ends.” Similarly, while there are edgier tracks on the new release—the jittery “Numbered” and “Fishes Bones” chief among them—it’s the cold, icy, haunting, and droning Wire of “Marooned” from Chairs Missing in 1978 that dominates and sets the prevailing mood here.
The band has said the distinction it made in culling these songs for a separate project was that all involved more studio manipulation than the tracks on Wire. But the two compliment each other, as well as strengthening the case for the quartet as one of the very rare bands that continues to move forward in challenging and rewarding ways, now acknowledging its storied history (as it refused to during act two, circa Snakedrill and The Ideal Copy in the mid-’80s) without being a slave to it. “You think I’m a number/Still willing to rhumba,” Colin Newman cheekily sings on “Numbered,” a call back for the faithful to “Three Girl Rhumba” from Pink Flag.
But as always, Wire is living in the here and now—and it’s not at all optimistic about things. “Forward Position” is as terrifying a post-apocalyptic vision as popular music has given us, while “Internal Exile” (“Hearts of gold, no pot to piss in/Join the queue of future has-beens/A worker’s thirst to be at leisure/Dissatisfied without measure”) could be heard as the perfect anti-capitalist anthem for these Trumpian times.
I said “could be” because, as usual, one can never be certain exactly what fractured Beat-poetic lyricist Graham Lewis is going on about. That’s one of the band’s charms. The only thing we can say without equivocation: Has-beens Wire certainly still are not.
Wire, Nocturnal Koreans (PinkFlag.com)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 3.5 stars.