Review #310: Pink Flag, Wire

Karla Clifton
4 min readSep 2, 2022

Review #310: Pink Flag, Wire

Some things I come by honestly — Anglophelia is one of them. My dad is subscribed to BritBox, for crying out loud.

It’s not that I think they’re so great and we’re so terrible, I just consistently love their music and media. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been drawn to British bands like The Clash, Oasis, the Manic Street Preachers, and, you know, others.

So I was very disappointed in myself when I realized that I had no idea who Wire was. Had quite literally never heard of them. RS declares that America “never got” this record, and that they influenced some of the coolest punk bands I know, Sonic Youth and the Minutemen, and that it “might be one of the most-covered punk LPs ever.” Um, where have I BEEN? (I guess in the USA, being born post-1990. Anyway.)

Lucky for me, though, there’s scores of lore about this band if you dig like a psychopath. Example: Here’s a page from author Wilson Neate’s WordPress that features an essay that was meant to be included in a scrapped box set, which includes gems like the fact that “1 2 X U” was meant to answer the question “What would a song sound like if it had no real music in it?” What????

Or another example: This incredible hagiography from producer Mike Thorne. It’s written in neon pink font. There are some truly great tidbits in here, too — like the fact that “…all vocals are the live original except for ‘Strange’ and parts of ‘Lowdown,’” and that lead singer Colin Newman took “a sip of water before every take after he had found out that it brightens up your voice timbre.”

Wire put this LP together quite intentionally, according to Thorne, who even says that the “well-meant addition of extra tracks … destroys the coherence of the album we made.” (As such, I didn’t listen to any.) The logic behind the album’s so-called “coherence” escapes me, but cohere it does. I don’t know why it’s so right that the instrumental “The Commercial” runs right into “106 Beats That” but it is.

Of course this wouldn’t be a British punk record without a snotty, bratty attitude. I want to be just as braggadocious as “It’s So Obvious,” just as nasty to businessmen as “Mr. Suit,” just as much of a waste of space as a “Mannequin.” And you can’t forget “Field Day for The Sundays,” which is all about throwing your public image to the wind, Oasis-style.

Apparently all it takes is a snotty attitude and addictive guitar parts to make me feel alive. Songs like “Three Girl Rhumba” and “Brazil” and “Ex Lion Tamer” are hardly distinguishable, but they’re all a shitload of fun, even though their Brit-Punk accents turn every word to mush. And the chaotic, slightly misogynistic energy of “Surgeon’s Girl” hooked me as it devolved.

Title track “Pink Flag” is one of the longest, built around a thudding drum part instead of their bright guitars, as they ask How many dead or alive? It’s not snarky at all — it’s honest and scary and the start of a much more serious second half of the album. From then on, even the quasi-inspirational songs like “Champs” have a dark, epic tinge to them.

I was thrown by a couple of songs at the end that were, dare I say, sweet? “Fragile” had the happiest guitar on the album, and “Different to Me” and “Feeling Called Love” were both plain old sweet. What can I say? I’m drawn to angry music.

My new project is listening to Document and Eyewitness, Wire’s bonkers live album from 1979–1980. They don’t play anything resembling music at all, other than the extremely musical “1 2 X U,” and they mock the crowd the entire time. Imagine, having so much disdain for an audience that paid money to see you. Wire is my new favorite band.

Greatest Lines: It’s a tie between Please believe me! (just the way it’s delivered is amazing) on “Start To Move” or Unlust and the one-dimensional boy on “Straight Line.”

Most Intense Flashback: I was a news writer for a little while, and the wails of rage and frustration during “Reuters” were so familiar to me I went cross-eyed.

Review #309: Closer, Joy Division

Review #311: On the Beach, Neil Young