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Coatings is essentially WMO's answer to Mute's The A List, providing a compilation of Wire's '80s and '90s output. However, in keeping with the label's mandate of supplying rare or unreleased material, Coatings offers B-sides and curiosities rather than parading the most popular Wire tracks from the second part of the band's history.

It fares a lot better than you might think. Ignore the poor opener (the hard-to-tolerate, feedback-drenched Ambulance Chasers) and start the listening experience proper with an alternative A Serious of Snakes. Harder and more dissonant than the Snakedrill version, you will probably wonder why this version didn't appear instead of the officially released one. Other highlights include an eerie, ambient version of It's a Boy that leaves little of original intact, and the original mix of Kidney Bingos, lacking the slick overcoat it wears on A Bell is a Cup. The entire '80s Peel session is also included, comprising German Shepherds, Boiling Boy, and a decidedly quirky and effects-laden version of Drill.

Four decidedly electronic tracks finish the album: a somewhat dodgy club-mix of In Vivo that's probably best avoided, and three pieces that never saw the light of day in the UK. These are all Life in the Manscape B-sides and the best of them is a cynical look at advertising and the media, entitled It Can't be True Can it?

Generally, this album is more 'A list' than The A List itself and is an essential purchase for any fan of Wire's Mute output. A second disc is available separately with the sole track being an 18 minute reworking of Ambitious, commissioned by choreographer Stephen Petronio. While not essential, this is also worth a listen if you're partial to Wire's extended rhythmic offerings.

Craig Grannell (1998)

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