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Read & Burn 01

Returning after ten years of solo and experimental work to a loyal, but sometimes over-zealous following was never going to be easy for Wire. The first two years produced far less material than many had hoped for: a four-tracker from a demo session and documentation of a live gig at Royal Festival Hall, along with a 7" remix of 12XU...

Now Wire fans have finally been rewarded for their patience with an all-new collection entitled Read & Burn. And burn they do; from start-to-finish, the six tracks last a mere 17 minutes and are sometimes played at such breakneck speeds that you fear for drummer Robert Grey's arms.

In many ways, the release harks back to Wire's past, having more in common with Pink Flag than any of the band's electronic experimentation during the '80s and '90s. However, this is not parody—if anything, Read & Burn makes the '70s Wire sound like a weak and amateurish high-school band in comparison.

The CD begins with In the Art of Stopping, which is classic Wire. A repetitive, hypnotic and buzzing Bruce Gilbert riff is augmented with a chugging Graham Lewis bassline, metronome Robert Grey drumming and Colin Newman singing in an exaggerated Londonised twang. A number of breaks punctuate the track (it's all in the art of stopping, you see) and it's guaranteed to stick in your head for weeks.

A surprise inclusion is the similarly catchy Germ Ship—surprising in that it's managed to survive since Wire's previous live outing in December 2000. This version is very different from what was aired in Edinburgh that night—gone is the rather dated shouty punk song, replaced with creepy whispered vocals and a thumping bass—a massive improvement.

Comet and 1st Fast up the tempo to lunatic levels, making even the likes of 12XU sound pedestrian in comparison. While 1st Fast's selection of angry riffs are decent head-banging fodder, Comet is another classic Wire piece, contrasting breakneck guitars and drums with a surprisingly pop vocal from Newman.

The track's almost robotic feel—Wire as machines—noticeably contrasts with the rock-band styling of I Don't Understand. This down-tempo number attempts a sort of Lowdown menace with an angry Newman vocal, but somehow comes off sounding a little dated.

The CD finishes well with The Agfers of Kodack, giving Graham Lewis his sole vocal workout, oddly sounding rather like Newman in what passes for a chorus in this version of Wire. Probably the most 'pop' track on the CD, it's a decent finish to a welcome collection of very contemporary sounding Wire material.

If there's criticism to be made, the vocals on several tracks seem indistinct, although most of the other sounds are clear and powerful. Of course, there's also the obvious fact that six tracks will merely whet the appetite rather than satisfy and pacify most Wire fans. However, most will surely be impressed with this 'in your face' outing, and the contemporary sound could finally open up Wire to the masses. Hopefully we won't have to wait two years for some more...

Craig Grannell (April, 2002)

Cover artwork