Completing the transformation from abstract punks to art-rockers, 154 is Wire's most impressive album. The virulance still remains, but with more depth and style than elsewhere. Ever-changing writing partnerships create a new level of tension, pulling the release in often-disparate directions. On the surface this creates a rather disjointed album, but the sheer quality of writing and performance soon banishes such thoughts for good.
Experimentation is still evident—most notably in the harrowing The Other Window that tells the story of a man travelling on a foreign train. From his window, he notices a dying horse fataly trapped in a barbed wire fence. The stressed instrumentation of the backing and out-of-time metronome drumbeat enhance the atmosphere building to the simple finale: 'He turned away/What could he do/The other window had a nicer view'.
Wire's keen sense of observation also appears within the amusing On Returning, emphasising the way British people sometimes travel overseas with a level of nonchalance and arrogance: 'You'll be sorry when the sun has roasted you to lobster red'; 'On arriving with the third language tucked into your briefcase next to your toothbrush'.
The musical high-point arrives halfway through the album in the shape of A Mutual Friend. The arrangement is rather less contemporary than any of the other tracks, combining various guitars with cor anglais passage and evolving drum beats that range from delicate cymbal play to rampaging tom rolls.
The reissue also adds a four track EP with one piece from each member of Wire, and the cutting B-side Go Ahead, which probably says more about the situation with the band's record label at the time than any other piece of prose. If you like Wire then you'll adore 154 and although this is sometimes one of the most painfully disjointed albums you're ever likely to hear it's also one of the best.
Craig Grannell (1998)