My sense is that of the now canonical first three Wire albums, 154 is beginning to replace Pink Flag as the accepted high water mark. 154, Wire’s third album, released in 1979, presents the many faces of this band: strange theatrics, straight punk, sweet pop. It could be argued that the band’s creativity had run out of control, and the weirdly melodramatic sensibility pervading 154 makes the album another dull moment of avant-garde theater. But the importance of 154 has been overlooked, largely because of Pink Flag‘s popularity, but also because of that album’s difficulty. It’s postmodern in a very right now kind of way. The sound and musical style completely runs the gamut, and it’s tough to tell if they’re serious or if it’s mostly “ironic music.”
What, then, to make of Send, released some 26 years after the band’s first album and its first new full-length since 1991? How to respond in a musical climate where Wire can surely trace a good percentage of current guitar rock right back to its own first two albums? Given those conditions, Send sounds like eerily normal rock music. There’s the driving, repetitive pop-punk (“In the Art of Stopping”), the hopped-up, Detroit-style number (“Spent”), the raucous dance pop (“Being Watched”), even the fuzzy glam-thrash that smacks of the band New York loves to hate, A·R·E·Weapons (“The Agfers of Kodack”). In fact, almost all of these 11 songs recall a musical movement that caught fire during the era of Wire’s disappearance, almost begging the question: is Send a conceptual joke, an exhibition of how easy it is to make grunge, industrial, neo-garage, and dreamy pop music that just plain sounds good?
Even if it is a big joke, the songs are still great. “Half Eaten” is hard, abstract punk in the vein of Six Finger Satellite — all pulsing drumbeat, slashing guitars, and vaguely threatening, distorted talking instead of singing. “Mr. Marx’s Table” makes use of a big, layered guitar sound and smooth riffs a la “On Returning” and “40 Versions” from 154. “Read and Burn” ably recalls the simmering, pissed off punk of Pink Flag.
Where Send lacks a bit is in the humor and sarcasm department, something the band poured on heavily with Pink Flag and Chairs Missing, the first two albums. On those albums, the sarcasm was more in the music than the lyrics — the long, confusing silences, the 30-second songs, the extended, absurd riffs on songs like “I Am the Fly.” On Send, all songs except one are longer than two minutes, and there are no confusing pauses. There’s nary a head-scratcher here, save, perhaps, the tedious eight-minute closer. But is the joke ultimately on us?