“It seemed like a good idea at the time…,” begins the explanation of Wire’s original motivation for ‘Change Becomes Us’. Not only was it a good idea, it actually turned into a superlative one. In spring 2012, Wire’s plan had been to review the rudimentary blueprints of songs that had never made it beyond a few live performances in 1979 and 1980 – a time when the band-members were in creative overdrive yet the band itself was disintegrating.
The aim wasn’t simply to resuscitate and record old songs; in fact, many of them hadn’t become proper songs in the first place, existing only as basic ideas or undeveloped parts. Rather, the objective was to approach that unrealized work as an oblique strategy, a potential springboard for Wire’s contemporary, forward-looking processes – a possible point of departure for new compositions.
This took place with Wire firing on all cylinders, as a four-piece studio entity again, the core line-up of Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Grey now enhanced by guitarist Matthew Simms. Out of those sessions and subsequent extensive development and production, the ostensible source material became, in the classic Wire tradition, something quite other than what it may have once been – or what it might have become if it had been pursued in 1980. ‘Love Bends’ is a case in point.
Its roots lie in a raucous, octave-hopping number performed in February 1980 at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, but it’s now morphed, improbably, into an irresistible, totally modern pop song. Just as improbably, the gently lilting ‘Re-invent Your Second Wheel’ is tangentially connected to a performance piece that was mostly shouting and banging, executed by a stageful of Wire cronies in funny hats. Similarly transformed, ‘& Much Besides’ is a six-minute oneiric-melodic interlude that gives no hint of its putative origins in ‘Eastern Standard’ – a dreary, obtuse three-minute track from the Electric Ballroom concert.
Colin Newman’s songwriting and production on ‘Change Becomes Us’ reimagines the past in ways that ultimately break any substantive connection with it, making entirely new pieces – and these songs themselves enact Wire’s restless drive to become other, often thriving on a fundamental tension between opposing sonic characteristics. With its stop-start, soft-hard, quiet-loud structure, ‘Adore Your Island’ veers between prog and unhinged punk rock, never quite resolving itself; the drama of ‘Attractive Space’ hinges on a progressive splitting of the song’s personality, between its calm, expansive, anthemic orientation and an increasing sense of intensity and claustrophobia.
‘Change Becomes Us’ encapsulates the paradoxical essence of Wire’s creativity. The tendency of these new songs to refuse a single, settled identity is emblematic of the band’s ever-evolving aesthetic – one that’s always hinged on sustained tensions and oppositions: between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the comfortable and the unsettling, the melodic and the brutal, the cerebral and the visceral, the smart and the moronic, the obvious and the inscrutable, the rational and the absurd.
This intrinsic, core ambivalence generates the essential otherness that has characterized Wire’s most memorable and distinctive work – from the epochal innovations of ‘Chairs’Missing’ and ‘154’ to the electronic-pop deconstructions of ‘A Bell Is A Cup…’ to the postmodern-punk expressionism of ‘Send’ and the widescreen lyricism of ‘Red Barked Tree’. ‘Change Becomes Us’ is an undeniable part of that illustrious lineage. Definitely more than just a good idea at the time.
1. Doubles & Trebles
2. Keep Exhaling
3. Adore Your Island
4. Re-invent Your Second Wheel
5. Stealth Of A Stork
6. B/W Silence
7. Time Lock Fog
8. Magic Bullet
9. Eels Sang
10. Love Bends
11. As We Go
12. & Much Besides
13. Attractive Space