|1. I Should Have Known Better (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|2. Two People In A Room (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|3. The 15th (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|4. The Other Window (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|5. Single K.O. (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|6. A Touching Display (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|7. On Returning (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|8. A Mutual Friend (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|9. Blessed State (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|10. Once Is Enough (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|11. Map Ref 41 Degrees N 93 Degrees W (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|12. Indirect Enquiries (2006 Digital Remaster)|
|13. 40 Versions (2006 Digital Remaster)|
It does not seem possible that twenty years have passed since the release of this, the last of the best of the Wire LP's, and yet listening it at the end of the 20th Century this album is surely as powerful as it was when first released. Right from the start Wire never fitted any sort of NME/MM pigeonhole and for the span of time covering their first three LP releases the diverse musical styles of Newman/Gilbert/Gotobed/Lewis defied any kind of categorisation. Take 154: how can you hope to define an album which opens with three tracks as musically varied as "I should have known better", "2 people in a room", The 15th"? You can't. Don't try. At times the listener is taken the way of Colin Newman ("Single KO", "On returning") whose harder lyrics, harsher vocal style contrasts with the softer, warmer voice of Graham Lewis ("A touching display", "Blessed state") (Go and find the post-split albums "A to Z" by Colin Newman and "Barge Calm" by Lewis/Gilbert to find out where this separation of styles eventually leads you).
Musically too, the sound of Wire reaches its zenith with this album. There is no doubt that the development of the style clearly evident with tracks such as "Pink Flag" and "Strange" on the first album, and "Practice makes perfect" and "Mercy" from the second, all finally culminate in this album and particularly in the tracks "A touching display" and "Indirect enquiries". Fans of "Outdoor miner" will see obvious parallels with "Map ref..." but the raw sound contained within "12 XU" and (my favourite Wire track of all time) "Sand in my joints" is sadly missing with the complete abandonment of that strident guitar sound. This album was released at the height of the synthesizer revolution so we can surely forgive the guys their foray into experimentation with the possibilities that the synth sound provided.
The addition of five extra bonus tracks do little to add to past glory except explain why in later manifestations Wire themselves seemed to be less than convinced about their own musical progression but you can just about convince yourself that echoes of brilliance remain in the instrumental "Song" and the track "Go ahead"
Just listen to 154 and be amazed. Once is never enough. Listen three or four times and the music of Wire will be with you for a lifetime.
'154' remains for me their most complete LP, as great as many albums of this era - 'Unknown Pleasures', 'Metal Box', 'Cut', 'Secondhand Daylight','Entertainment!','Fear of Music', 'Dub Housing', 'The Only Fun in Town', 'The Scream' etc. Lewis' opener 'I Should Have Known Better' is a different kind of angular pop, a building melancholy reflected in the manic-guitars towards its climax. & it even uses the word 'albeit'! There are kind of pop songs here - 'The 15th' still sounds terminally sublime and was later covered by proto-Scissor-Sisters outfit Fischerspooner (essentially Sigue Sigue Sputnik with a smaller budget and a bit more taste) while 'Map Ref 41 N 93 W' (title!) is essentially catchy - setting the precedent for things like 'Eardrum Buzz' and 'Not Me'. Sadly it never became a hit when the record label opted to put their money behind reductive Japan-tribute outfit Duran Duran!
There's an abiding melancholy here - B.C. Gilbert's 'Blessed State' an anti-National Anthem that always sounds pertinent with its refrain "oh what a perfect, what a well-made world." 'Two People in a Room' shows the angry punk thing wasn't completely erased - while 'A Mutal Friend' explores more oblique territories. 'The Other Window' is the missing link between Eno and hip-hop, opening as an ambient-guitar dirge with vocals from Gilbert, oblique chatter that becomes something else when an electro-beat kicks in! Newman's 'On Returning' is poppier, slight-pop not far from Talking Heads and some of the material found on his solo LP 'A/Z'. My two favourite tracks remain closer '40 Versions' which is Gilbert's guitar-dominated ode to entropic options ('total eclipse and Niagra falls'!) - the guitar itself is brilliant and could be cited as the birth of Interpol's career! Lyrically it feels somewhat sci-fi, reflected in the artwork the albums Wire released on Harvest and the feel of '154.' The epic 'A Touching Display' remains the other favourite, even longer than 1978's 'Mercy', Lewis' offers something that lyrically recalls (predicts to be accurate) Julian Cope's bombed-out state ('Wilder' to 'Fried') with music that sounds like Young Marble Giants playing Siouxsie & the Banshees. I love the way the vocals become more passionate, and then nothing - words not required anymore and the band drift off into drones and avant-solos. Math-rock could be argued to have stemmed from here, as well as things like Theoretical Girls and Slint then!
'154' is a great album, the Harvest-trio is deservedly reissued - though I think the later/contemporary Wire-product should be celebrated, as well as material on Newman's Swim Label and various members releases as Colin Newman, He Said, A.C. Marias, and Wir. Highlight reissues of 2006 and records that may not have made much sense at the time, but more than work now.
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