Mind Hive by WIRERelease date: January 24, 2020
Opening the twenty-twenties in their usual refined style, post punk artisans Wire offer us their 17th album Mind Hive. They still sound like Wire, still sound like the idea of Wire is an active and developing one. No striking departures are made from the general sound of their last few albums, yet they keep everything feeling sharp and fresh. Light on its feet, immediately melodic but richly layered with sonic details and the familiar gnomic lyrics. Mind Hive is another helping of that wonderful, streamlined, and enigmatic modern rock music they make.
The received image of Wire as relentlessly modern innovators indifferent to nostalgia or their own past is not entirely accurate. Something they slyly tip their hat to on ‘Be Like Them’. Apparently using a recently unearthed lyric dating back to 1977 they open the album with a combative rhythmic battery and the line “It’s nothing new”. The song seems generally to warn against complacency and allowing yourself to be spoon fed conformity “they explain it all to you, telling you to, be like them, be like them”. It’s a very Wire sentiment.
Next up the two condensed, urgent pop songs that have trailed the album ‘Cactused’ and ‘Primed And Ready’. Smoothed over by the sweeter melodic elements, blocks of rough textured guitar noise are elegantly arranged inside orderly structures, slowly revealing themselves on repeat listens. Newman’s vocals are mostly in that calm speak singing manner that glides over you, drained of heavy emotional charge but softly reflective, even distracted at times. It’s an effective part of the old Wire trick of pretty melodies contrasting with darker content.
A perfect example of which washes up next as the sunny pop moves of ‘Off the Beach’ bring a mood so breezy it suggests the bright pastel stripes of quaint period beach huts. The chirpy opening vision of “People standing, greeting, talking…” soon dissolving into images of cctv, knives and the homeless dying in the street. It’s there too on the gently swaying ‘Shadows’ as Newman soothingly intones genocidal horrors “the men are lined up, then shot into graves, the children are murdered, the women enslaved” over steadily chiming guitars.
Some light relief comes in ‘Oklahoma’s confrontation with absurdity. Perhaps in wilful subversion of their reputation for tasteful art rock the delicate intro of ambient feedback is punctured by them yelling the title as if launching into the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune of the same name. They don’t slap their thighs and sing of how the wind comes sweeping down the plain but follow up with the album’s most striking line “I admired your sexy hearse”. It packs a lot into a short double take phrase for sure but it’s also something you can imagine in one of Vic and Bob’s surreal numbers.
They’ve always been a band apart haven’t they Wire? Something clean edged and particular about them, glinting in the dirt. This wonderful late period of their career sees them continue honing the synthesis of elements in their sound, (minimalism and melody, crisp unfussy beats, restrained vocals, fractured and literary approaches to lyrics) and fitting it all into what is essentially a pop framework. Still demanding, and demonstrating, that it can do much more. Still Wire.