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Read & Burn 02

A decade in exile meant Wire had something to prove. 2000's tour of golden oldies whetted the appetite, but the 17-minute ear-bashing provided by Read & Burn 01 pushed even Wire's standards up a notch, at least in terms of intensity and production.

While that CD sounded like full-on punk rock as played by machines, Read & Burn 02 finds said machines on overload, perhaps losing a few screws in the process. Buzzsaw guitars and hell-for-leather drum loops are joined by industrial electronics, and Newman's shouty vocal on I Don't Understand seems tame compared to several of Read & Burn 02's offerings.

Never a band to be pigeon-holed, Wire has ensured that Read & Burn 02 is not an ideal copy of its predecessor, and what it forsakes in terms of accessibility, it makes up for in variety—in many cases within each individual track. The sickly sweet Newman vocal on Trash/Treasure recalls trippy early '90s pop singers, but backed up by Wire, circa 40 versions. Half-way through, a barrage of electric guitar noise introduces us to a double-speed version of the track, with chugging bass, clattering, relentless drums, but the same soft vocal overlaid to wonderful effect.

Rather less calming is the 'in your face' verbal and sonic assault of Raft Ants—the angry bastard son of Kidney Bingos, whose clattering drums fail to hide the lyrical gem "lawn mower, flame thrower, watch out, whistle blower".

However, while Wire has obviously lost none of its playfulness with words—Trash/Treasure lovingly asks, "Do you have the dentistry?"—it's slightly disappointing to note that several tracks have little more than one repeated line, and in others, the vocals are strangely low in the mix.

Elsewhere, the CD is as noisy and abrasive as you'd expect. Nice Streets Above combines an angry Dome with Hawkwind, mashing up reversed Newman vocals and a distorted, robotic aggressor, who yells the title of the track over and over. Spent recalls I Don't Understand's hostility, and Read and Burn takes a half-dozen simplistic riffs, flings them round the mix and wryly adds, "You never know..."

The best is saved for last though. 99.9 takes the best of each Wire incarnation and creates an eight-minute track to rival anything in the back catalogue. It begins with ambient textures, while a single hi-hat holds the beat beneath a soft Newman vocal. Like Trash/Treasure, the halfway point sees the track explode, flinging relentless drums, guitars laced with electronic distortion and Newman's shouts towards the listener.

The commentary within—"the road ahead looks quite uncertain"—may present paranoid Wire fans with a bit of a scare, but if Read & Burn 02 is anything to go by, this bunch of 50-something geezers can easily hold its own against the current crowd of wannabes, and more importantly, isn't nearly done yet.

Craig Grannell (September, 2002)

Cover artwork