Like fellow post-punk innovators Gary Numan and Gang Of Four, Wire greatly dislikes mining the dusty corners of its back catalog for inspiration. However, for 2013’s Change Becomes Us, the legendary U.K. act unearthed and bulked up a series of musical ideas it performed live circa 1979-1980. The results of this rare backward look were ferocious and defiant: hollowed-out confrontations full of tart rhythms, noisy punk snarls, and placid psychedelia glazed by icy keyboards. Those similar textures and that bristling energy linger on Wire, the quartet’s 14th studio album. Concise songs such as “Joust & Jostle” and “High” boast thrumming motorik grooves, robotic-tinged vocals, and cloudy guitar textures, while the biting, New Order-esque “Split Your Ends” and synth-buzzed “Blogging” are urgent grayscale pop.
Thematically, the latter song is Wire’s most interesting detour, a conflation of biblical and digital references (e.g., “Blogging like Jesus / Tweet like a pope”) to illustrate the destructiveness of modern technology. The rest of the album is just as ominous, with songs referencing jarring heartbreak, the insidiousness of vapid cultural touchstones, and moments of historical unrest. Even the tunes that eschew Wire’s notorious brevity are fraught with tension, thanks to pointed lyrics: The doom-drenched post-punk slog “Sleep-Walking” warns of the dire consequences of political and societal apathy, while closing song “Harpooned” is a claustrophobic dirge detailing the thought process of a person slowly, knowingly going mad; wordless wails, teeth-grinding guitars, and a churning tempo exacerbate the slip from sanity.
Wire’s stubborn refusal to kowtow to nostalgia has always been its calling card, but the band sounds particularly rejuvenated on this record. Part of this has to do with its most recent lineup addition, guitarist Matthew Simms, who started touring with Wire in 2011 and also played on Change Becomes Us. But attributing Wire’s bracing atmospheres to a youth injection does a disservice to the band’s remaining three original members: vocalist-guitarist Colin Newman, bassist-vocalist Graham Lewis, and drummer Robert Grey. The trio’s commitment to keeping Wire a challenging, progressive entity that doesn’t rely on precedent is the biggest reason why the band continues to innovate and sound so vital. Wire is yet another fine addition to the band’s already bulletproof legacy.