Wire, ‘Change Becomes Us’ – Album Review
The concept behind Wire’s 13th album certainly is intriguing. Before the post-punk heroes broke up for the first time — following the release of their third album, 1979’s ‘154’ – they tested new material onstage during a British tour in support of the record. Some of the songs were fully formed, all set for recording once the band returned to the studio to make their fourth LP; many were just skeletal frames for songs, sketches that had no more than a scratchy guitar riff in place.
Wire split up in 1980, reformed later in the decade for a seven-year stretch, broke up again and reunited a second time in the late ‘90s and have released four albums with varying quality since. The latest, ‘Change Becomes Us,’ resurrects 13 songs played during the 1979-‘80 tour — reimagining them, fleshing them out and finding a place somewhere between punk and pop, the ‘70s and the ‘10s.
And like most recent Wire records, ‘Change Becomes Us’ is a bit boring. The jagged, staccato tones of the band’s best work – 95 percent of which can be found on their excellent 1977 debut, ‘Pink Flag’ – have become muted over time, as if the quartet (three original members plus a new guitarist) now see them as a crutch. And the youthful charge that electrified their records 35 years ago have been replaced by the grownup indifference that decades inevitably bring.
Still, some songs can’t disguise their punk-era origins. The opening ‘Doubles & Trebles’ is about as artsy, savage and discordant as a song guided by acoustic guitars can get. ‘Keep Exhaling’ doesn’t even make it to the two-minute mark, a Wire tradition. ‘Love Bends’ stems from ‘Piano Tuner (Keep Strumming Those Guitars),’ a song from a 1981 live album recorded during the ‘79-‘80 tour. And the six-minute ‘& Much Besides’ recalls the art-school-project feel of the band’s post-‘Pink Flag’ records.
But too much of ‘Change Becomes Us’ tries to preserve a past that wasn’t so stable in the first place. The rough outlines of songs from the period that survive on live documents and bootlegs often sound like last breaths from a band that doesn’t even care to care anymore. Revisiting that past here, Wire project a little more enthusiasm for the songs. Not that it was ever the point.