A bell is a cup until it is struck
A Bell is a Cup Until it is Struck continues the 'beat combo' concept which began with The Ideal Copy—although this release is less aggressive. In fact, this record is often so sedate it is in danger of falling over; most tracks build on Gotobed's metronome drumbeats with meshes of glittery guitars, droning basslines and keyboard textures. Newman's delivery throughout is softly spoken, in stark contrast to that on The Ideal Copy, but this only serves to create an album sometimes devoid of emotion and energy.
Although the material on this album struggles against lethargic playing and overly-slick production, there are some gems waiting to be discovered. The swimmingly melodic Kidney Bingos is a case in point, juxtaposing a jaunty 'pop' number with a number of tabloid headlines. It wryly highlight the absurdity of mass media via Newman's softly sung vocals: 'Skull row, drugs hall, colour bars, sex calls/Bomb time, pop crime, stock frame, steady climb'.
Standout track, The Queen of Ur and the King of Um, finds Wire at their most poetic and entrancing, describing journeys through London: 'A babbling gaggle of scrabbling rabble fighting invitations to the emperor's shilling'. A Public Place also finds a musical and lyrical edge. A selection of overlaid guitar riffs, later joined by staccato strings and various clatterings echoing in the background, are joined by a narrative beginning with the aftermath of a man's life, watching pigeons picking at a pool of vomit: 'Pigeons move busily through the contents of a man's life/In this public place his last mortal remains reflect like a private lake'.
But for every great track on this release there is a so-so equivalent. Even the fairly dull Follow the Locust offers glimpses of something better, suggesting a fine complete album is struggling to get out. Unfortunately, the final product is best filed under 'missed opportunity'.
Craig Grannell (1998)