‘No Love Lost’ sums up the band politics in Wire so accurately, you would be forgiven for thinking it’s their song. “It can be brutal. I felt crushed at times”, Colin Newman wrote in 2006. “We have been playing power-games for 30 years. Wire could be an even better band, if not for that.”
Better how exactly is anyone’s guess. If anything, the previous 16 studio albums have cemented their status as heroes of rock music, carrying a similar clout to other heavyweights such as Thurston Moore, Robert Smith and Steve Albini. As the title implies, the band’s latest album ‘Mind Hive’ centres around a problematic political trend, where groupthink renders one’s critical faculties useless, messing up our moral compasses.
Whenever the album addresses these notions in a witty and deadpan manner, the results are exceptional. Only when the songwriting is used for shock value, as in ‘Shadows of the Past’, does it become heavy-handed. Apart from that, propelled by an intensity and ambition not heard since their 2011 album ‘Red Barked Tree’, the drastic shifts between uncompromising post-punk and thought-provoking prog-rock is what makes ‘Mind Hive’ a profound, rewarding listen.
If there is one thing they have agreed on, it is the refusal to suck up to their audience, that much is obvious right from in-your-face opener ‘Be Like Them’, which sees Newman foaming at the mouth to Matthew Simms’ overdriven metal riff and screeching guitars. This rich, thick wall of sound runs through the darkly comic ‘Oklahoma’ – where Graham Lewis makes a delightful appearance on vocals – and culminates in the epic eight-minute krautrock anthem ‘Hung’ that ticks all the right boxes. In particular, it shows drummer Robert Grey in his prime and the dramatic impact they can achieve with a single verse: “The clouds were high / And the jury was hung / In a moment of doubt / The damage was done / Trust was lost / And the wheels had spun.”
That said, where ‘Mind Hive’ really stands out is during calm, unsettling lulls before the storm, most notably in gently pulsating cosmic pads and an acoustic guitar in sharp contrast to the McCarthyesque lyrics of ‘Unrepentant’: “Open season of the witch / Need the mood to scratch the itch”. And yet nothing encapsulates the album quite like the Floyd-ish Hammond and the no-frills bassline in ‘Humming’, the sublime paean to the power of blissful ignorance: “I can’t quite remember / When it went wrong / Someone was humming / A popular song.”
Wire isn’t a collective that got this far through conformity and consensus. Rather, it has done so by bringing high individual standards to their music. “Our policy was never to repeat ourselves”, Newman said in 1995. “Anytime we got close to commercial success we took a nosedive into obscurity." ‘Mind Hive’ will be remembered as an album that reminds us a price tag still can’t be put on our integrity – artistic or moral.
Words: Eero Holi
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