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The First Letter

The First Letter sees two major changes to Wire: the departure of drummer Gotobed and the remaining trio changing their name to Wir to mark said departure. Nice guys.

This album seems to complete Wire's technological pilgrimage that began in 1987 with The Ideal Copy, as many elecronica and dance influences are evident throughout. After the disappointing Manscape and minimalist Drill this album also shows how the band finally got to grips with technology and combined it with its honed-down, abstract version of pop/rock. So and Slow it Grows is the stand-out track, both captivating and powerful. Take it (for Greedy) is Wir's wry attempt at pleasing the Pink Flag hangers-on, sampling from Strange. The album concludes with the sweeping instrumentation of A Big Glue Canal that includes an awesome Eastern-tinged Lewis vocal.

Honourable mentions also go to the spoken word tracks A Bargain at 3&20, Yeah! and Naked, Whooping and Such Like for adding a little variety and eccentricity. The texts for this album are among the best of any Wir(e) work. The band's usual concerns are covered, such as the stock market critique in Footsi Footsi and the poignant failing love affair of Ticking Mouth: 'Close together, we stand apart. Is that a ticking in your heart?'

As with many Wire releases, this album isn't without its problems. The mix is weak and interesting elements are often lost in the background. Also, Gotobed may have felt marginalised before leaving the band, but his absence is felt. Percussion isn't this release's strong point and although the drum patterns work reasonably well, there's nothing to compare with the intricacy and musicianship of A Craftsman's Touch.

Despite this, The First Letter is still a good album and a fitting conclusion to Wire's second-generation work, combining pop, rock, experimentation and technology. An aura of beauty, a dash of madness and some of the best narratives ever heard in a pop record make this a worthwhile purchase.

Craig Grannell (1998)

Cover artwork