If Wire got a shilling for every time a post-punk band cited them as an influence, they’d move up a social class in England. But actually, the word “punk”—and probably even the word “post”—no longer really applies to a quartet that has established itself in recent years as a somewhat ear-friendly art rock band. Compared with their seminal 1977 album Pink Flag—released a mere two months after Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols—Wire’s latest album, Silver/Lead, makes it sound like their debut was playing at 45 RPM. No doubt, the Colin Newman–led band is not the same as it used to be fifteen albums ago. And that’s exactly the point.
There’s no reliving the old days with these blokes; if Wire were a Masters of the Universe character, it’d be “Man-E-Faces.” Devotees have savored the band’s unpredictable evolution to this point, but those who only own the band’s first three records may be disappointed by Silver/Lead. Like the punchy and taut Pink Flag, the current iteration of Wire is nimble, but the band relishes reverberating guitars and Zen-like soundscapes; this latest effort is even chiller than 2015’s Wire and 2016’s Nocturnal Koreans. Detractors might disparage the new record as a series of whimpers let out by old fogies, but patient listeners who respect the modern-day Wire as its own creature will discover beauty in many of Silver/Lead’s ten tracks, like when Newman pleads, “Ooh, darling / I want you to stay / Forever and a day,” over a bed of light-as-a-feather instrumentation (on “Forever & a Day”).
Wire wasn’t being cheeky in citing a celebration of “forty years of not looking back” as the impetus for their upcoming LA festival; this is a defiantly forward-thinking band that thrives on change (as hammered home by 2013’s Change Becomes Us). It’s said that change isn’t a challenge—the challenge is overcoming our resistance to change. Are you the same person you were at age twenty-two (Newman’s age when he formed Wire)? If so, you’ve probably stopped exploring new music—and probably share little in common with Wire’s vision. If not, divorce your mind from the idea that Silver/Lead is an album by vintage Wire, and see what your unsullied ears have to say.