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The second phase of the band called Wire is one that is quite underrated, some reviewers dismissing it completely (see the review of 'The A List' compilation on here!) and plumping for their early, funny work on Harvest records: Pink Flag, Chairs Missing, 154...The second phase of Wire seems to appeal to less people as the band dispensed with Mike Thorne, and were themselves getting to grip with digital advances, sequencers and the like. Perhaps people had missed the material between 154 and The Ideal Copy, which would have made more sense: A-Z, Dome, This Way to the Shivering Man, not to, and the Gilbert/Lewis contribution to Burning Blue Soul by Matt Johnson. I think the Mute years had much that was great - "A Serious of Snakes", Ahead, Kidney Bingos, It's a Boy, Eardrum Buzz, In Vivo, Drill, The Queen of Ur and the King of Um, Over Theirs etc. As fond as I am of The Ideal Copy and A Bell is a Cup Until It Is Struck (let's not mention IBTABA, a "live" LP that skewed any chance of pop breakthrough on the back of Eardrum Buzz). But 1990's Manscape, a leftfield companion to Depeche Mode's Violator, was the peak of Wire phase two - though you can hear why Robert Gotobed decided he wasn't of use and left Wire to become Wir...

Manscape finds Gilbert, Gotobed, Lewis and Newman releasing another hugely influential record, one that captured the zeitgeist of 1989/1990 when the Berlin Wall came down and Europa changed forever as the Cold War ended. The electronic directions they had been pursuing came to the fore here, Manscape sounding like a precedent for electronic music in the 1990s, pulsing synths and artificial basslines going into overdrive and Wire, once again, making the soundtrack for the future. Surreal lyrics like "Take the Trabant to Brabant...Take the glitter to Gorky...Buy Western Charms with security" and "Free speech and more TV" feel like a fractal take on the changing world of the era, of the developing mass media and was the leftfield source for U2's mainstream pseudo avant period we now call ZOO TV. I'm sure Wire aren't happy to be indirectly responsible for Achtung Baby! and Zooropa, but the processed guitar, electronic sounds, and avant-zeitgeisty lyrics suggest otherwise. Old Bono liked to go on about the Trabant, didn't he?

'Life in the Manscape' sounds not unlike Talking Heads, if Talking Heads had been transported via time machine from 1980 to 1990 and not released all those dodgy records between: 1990's equivalent of Remain in Light? 'Patterns of Behaviour', meanwhile, captures the shifting time, noting "erase, then cut and paste", while babbling "Colour, colour, collar, nation", Newman mentioning the changing Europa, "I've been to Monrovia..." As Wire sound like a band from the future, they do sometimes remind us of Wire of the past, which is nice as they didn't bother playing any of their old stuff at the time, always focused on the now that was the future. The guitar on 'Small Black Reptile' and Newman's phrasing aren't that far from 'Chairs Missing' or the half Wire LP 'A-Z' by Colin Newman. Newman mentions fish again; while the guitars, which I assume to be Gilbert, veer off into something almost indian, sounding like a 21st century take on the strange noise that occurs halfway through 'Cool in the Pool' by Holger Czukay...

Things get darker and stranger, Lewis taking lead vocals for the 7 and half minute epic 'Torch It', barking out the lyrics in a style somewhere between John Lydon and Genesis P-Orridge. A minimal electronic rhythm plays as drums that sound like a drum machine pulse like a heartbeat, moans gibber beneath the noise and some manic, minimal guitar. Lewis sounds a bit like John Cale here too, which is a compliment. Newman's avant poppy thing shifts the mood from the dark 'Torch It', 'Morning Bell' having a charming vocal that Thom Yorke has attempted to lift, didn't Radiohead have a song called 'Morning Bell'? Followers, not pioneers. The piano is kind of jazzy and Satie, as if Wire recorded one track in Twin Peaks...

'Goodbye Ploy' is another Lewis-lead track, sounding like 'The Other Window' being pulled into a blackhole as all dance music from the 1990s is compressed into it. Yes, something like that. 'Sixth Sense' is kind of sinister and sounds like an anticipation of the contemporary climes Throbbing Gristle have pursued on their recent 'Part Two - The Endless Not', while the 10 minute closing track 'You Hung Your Lights In the Trees/A Craftsman's Touch' is a blend of futurist repetition, ambient music, crisp digital soundscapes, and a synthetic symphony. Oh yes. My favourite track, however, remains 'Stampede' which is a rare case of Newman and Lewis singing together, again, the guitars could have stemmed from the Harvest era, as well as the second phase of Wire. Newman sings a song that is both avant and pop, catchy and obscure, as Lewis raps from time to time, well more of a chant: In Western Arms, In Western Arms, Find security...

Manscape was the fourth album of Wire's second phase and the peak of it, though if you loathe 1990s digital music, you might think it's dated, and it's a way on from the celebrated post punk era people still get excited about. Not long until 'Drill' and not long till Wire became Wir: FREE SPEECH AND MORE TV.
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on 8 November 2013
Wire lost the plot after Manscape. They became too self indulgent. Quite a criticism for an artsy-fartsy band like them.
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on 12 July 2008
Strangely underrated album. But then, I never seem to agree with other peoples opinion. Not even that of Wire-diggers.

It's a remarkable album and the over-sweet Bell is a Cup is replaced by songs, that stand out more and get much closer...by getting under your skin after a while. There's so much more music feel and emotional input/output in the songs itself, that I'm glad that Wire came back ...during their com back-phase. (Yes. I also do like First Letter a lot) Give Manscape a re-listen or get into it, and play A Bell is a Cup next to it. See what you think... It will stand out without comparison though. That's what good music is all about.

Songs like 'Patterns of Behaviour', 'What do you See', 'Goodbey Ploy', 'Sixth Sense', You Hung your Lights in the Trees...' are among the very best Wire songs till this days. Some even beat 154 material. (Re-)listen to it. I think I'm right here. It's just overlooked, underrated, and sniffled upon the distant way. That's my guess for its almost vulgar underrating for such intense craftmanship.
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on 28 December 2002
Wire hooked machines to their wagon and created a dirty variant on electropop that casually blew their labelmates Depeche Mode out of the water in 1990. Armed with cheap Casio synths, LED lit Bond guitars, Paul Smith suits and a bitter taste in their mouths, Manscape phase Wire should have placed their pop hooks in the ugly rockface of music and dripped their bile on more pop kids than they did. 'Manscape' is full of tunes and hooks that deliver Wire's most political lyrics in a tech-pop soundfield that should have started another revolution in the way that 'Pink Flag' did. However, in 1990 not enough people were listening and 'Manscape' is another chapter in Wire's strange history.
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on 30 September 2012
Wire a band that could start a riot tight great musicians first heard in the 80s and didnt discover them again until late last year now I have the whole set except read and burn 2 I would love to have it but its only available as an mp3 which is not for me but if you like a banging rock punkish even electronica type these are the nuts!!!!!
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on 31 August 2008
I put this in the CD player, pressed play and actually stopped and took it out to make sure I hadn't put in a disc by a dreadful 80's synth pop band. Sadly it was Wire!! Now I love the first three Wire albums and the latest two and everything in between has until now been a mystery to me. I wish it had remained that way. I mean what were they thinking? This is the worst kind of rubbish and completely lacks their sound, humour, quirkyness and tunefulness. Whatever happens do not buy, this is only good for an interesting coaster unless I can offload it on somebody else on e.bay.
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