Wire were always sonic alchemists, turning rock’s basic materials into art-pop with distinctive properties. The band’s mercurial songcraft has transformed the resonance of guitar strings and the knock of wood against mylar into a million different textures since their 1977 debut.
Forty years later, Silver/Lead shows Wire emerging from the lab on the front foot, turning out the kind of material that the dream-pop set can only dream about. From the delightfully retro sleeve to the cleverer-than-a-chemist lyrics, Wire continue to hold their ground. Over their four decades as a combo, they haven’t blown with the trends of the times, nor have they been stopped by line-up changes, time apart and a near-fatal experiment with drum machines. The new album continues the pattern by drawing on the strands of psychedelia that were hinted at on last year’s Nocturnal Koreans mini-album and infusing them with a sense of groove.
If you start at the beginning, the album kicks off with “Playing Hard for the Fishes.” Bassist Graham Lewis takes vocal duties, stepping through a surreal poem while guitars swarm around him. “It’s hard to pretend,” he declaims, and that must be true given Wire’s consistent authenticity.
Jumping ahead, “Diamonds in Cups” was the obvious choice for a single release. It has a summer haze about it, as well as a rhythm that lifts it into the upper tiers of Wire’s pantheon. XTC, a band with which singer Colin Newman shares regional roots, also moved into a trippier place as they matured, and there is the warmth of a Salisbury Plain midsummer in the production of this track. Hippies Wire certainly are not, but they can expand minds even when they are moving feet.
On “This Time,” Lewis takes the microphone to tell us, “Some folks believe in magic.” There is strong evidence for that outlook, based on the quality of the material assembled here: from the propulsion of “Short Elevated Period” to the airiness of “Sleep on the Wing,” Wire are at their grooviest in years.