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    The new edition of Prog Rock magazine (yes I do buy it occassionally) has an article under the title "It's Prog, Jim, but not as we know it".
    This article argues that 154 is lost prog classic. Here is article in full:
    If Punk had a closet prog band, it was Wire. Some critics even christened them Punk Floyd. Not that any of them went mad (although they were pretty eccentric) but they had prog credentials. They didn’t form on a council estate but at art school – some of them were taught by Brian Eno. They had no disdain for music that came before 1976 – singer/guitarist Colin Newman loved prog-pop brainiacs 10cc – and their record collections included psychedelia and progressive rock. They were signed to Harvest, home of Barclay James Harvest and Soft Machine and in a way, they were like a Canterbury Scene band, only more into noise than jazz. Their sleeves, all stencilled random lettering and images of urban decay, were cryptic affairs. Debut album Pink Flag (1977) revealed a pink flag and not much else while the central image of the follow-up Chairs Missing (1978) was a vase of flowers.
    The “Punk Floyd” tag might have partly come about because of that debut album title, but some of Wire’s songwriting also strayed towards the strange whimsy of Syd Barrett.
    By 1979’s 154, however, it was more the epic experimental rock of Dark Side/Wish You Were Here era Floyd that Wire were conjuring, and the feeling at Harvest was that this music could fill arenas.
    I Should Have Known Better set the magisterially gloomy tone. The Other Window was a study of madness; A Touching Display was nearly seven minutes of studio-treated guitars and keyboard drones. There were moments of striking brevity on 154 such as On Returning and Single K.O. as well as succinct melodies – particularly Blessed State and Map Ref – that suggested there was an axis within Wire with a pop sensibility. But it was the atmosphere of doom, and sense of ambient experimentation, that prevailed, lending 154 a conceptual heft and making it seem like a postpunk counterpart to Van der Graaf Generator and Harvest labelmate Edgar Broughton.
    So a concept album, but about what? Once again, the sleeve gave little away – unlike their men-of-the-people peers, Wire had the imperious inscrutability of prog musicians. They even had an intra-band schism, and by 1980 the two factions had fallen out over their future musical direction. How very Genesis. How very prog.

    And the author of this dubious piece of journalistic twaddle. Erm...someone called Paul Lester!
    hmmm , strange how in his (very recent) book he never really mentions all these great theories. i have the vague idea that if PL were offerred a commission by Gardeners Weekly he'd somehow be able to knock out a couple of hundred words about how Wire (or any other band) were a seminal influence on the world of composting.
    Or Chairs Missing for Woodworking and Joinery Monthly??

    Genesis 'I Know What I Like' could be for Gardeners Weekly
    Pink Floyd 'The Scarecrow' for Farming World
    Its a valid point, and indeed what first appealed to me about Wire was the fact they werent afraid to zoom off into Prog/Psych territory without all the noodling organ solos and flab. The argument presented would equally apply to The Stranglers, and to some extent The Clash (sprawling double LPs etc) though. Rotten was a bit of a progger on the quiet too.
    I accept its a valid point but I think it's just yet another piece of lazy, inaccurate journalism. Find a theory and fit the album into the box.

    Whether Wire weren't afraid to zoom of into Prog/Psych territtory implies some premeditated decision to do so which from my many, many discussions with them was very far from their minds.

    Yes they all had listened and bought albums of that genre, Bruce was/is a big Cluster fan and Graham has admitted a soft spot for Ummagumma and Colin for Hammill/VdGG but I can't for one moment think they sat down, at any time, and said 'right, 154, this is our prog album, what ideas can we filtch?'
    I've never heard of Wire being called 'Punk Floyd' before. I do know that Captain Sensible's touring band in the 90's went by that name however. The good captain is a well known 'punk/prog head' with a fondness for early Floyd Syd Barrett era and the Soft Machine. His prog influence manifested itself most evidently on the Damned's 1980 career highlight The Black Album in the form of the 17 minute Curtain Call, which took up the whole of side 3 of the double album, a classic prog rock trait.
    I can't for one moment think they sat down, at any time, and said 'right, 154, this is our prog album, what ideas can we filtch?'

    Absolutely agree, nevertheless, they were quite clearly not The Ramones by that point, and (whether intentional or not) there are aspects of 154, such as the moment where the Cor Anglais comes in on 'A Mutual Friend', that would make yer average Pink Floyd/Genesis/Crimson fan feel right at home. The genius of 154 is that it is a bit Prog, or Art Rock or whatever you want to call it, but takes all the good aspects of that genre and loses all the wanky virtuosity and solos. Magazine are another good example....a Hadron collision of Prog, Eno/Roxy, Avant/Art Rock, Electronics and god knows what else smashing into Punk.

    Nevertheless a lot of what Lester says is twaddle, Wire sound nothing like Soft Machine/Caravan etc and the idea that inter band schisms are somehow unique to Prog is just plain Wrong!
    Well... To say that 154 has *no* resemblance to Soft Machine would be utterly discounting the latter's first and even second LPs, both of which mixed concise(-ish) psych-pop with bizarre, instrumentally-ambiguous experimental interludes... Which sounds oddly familiar.

    If Wire qualify as prog, it is less of the stereotypical solo-infatuated, classically-preoccupied ilk than that of true "progressive music": Namely, that which is pretentious but not self-indulgent, intelligent and challenging but not overly technical. Like Eno, or early Pink Floyd/Soft Machine (pre-degeneration), or Krautrock and post-punk at large.

    Which is the ideal, really, isn't it?
    Art rock. Yes. But prog. no. Big difference. If there is a lineage for Wire then surely it comes down from early Roxy Music (by that I mean the first 2 albums with Eno) when they masterfully melded beautiful, pop melodies with more overt prog leanings (after all Manzanera was out of Quiet Sun one of the Canterbury Scenes lesser known bands), Syd era Floyd (who were not prog - again mostly art school, or architecture school drop-outs).
    Only Pink Flag wears its influences on its sleeve and that was always made abundantly clear by Wire. The cor anglais on 154 was pure Mike Thorne and remember that his classical training and production for Soft Machine and other 'prog' bands must brought an extra dimension to the Wire production table.
    Eno's early solo career cast a big shadow across at least 3 of the 4 Wire members. Colin is quoted as saying that he would play 'Here Come The Warm Jets' every morning before going to college.
    R Swimmer is right Wire too were a Hadron collision of Prog, Eno/Roxy, Avant/Art Rock, Electronics and god knows what else smashing into Punk.
    But isn't this more... semantical...?

    I hate trying to label Wire. It never works out and I feel like a twit, as perhaps do most people. "Art-rock" is probably as good as it gets, though, and is usually what I use if I have to explain myself.

    But really, prog was originally shorthand for "progressive rock", which is one of those vague catchall terms that could honestly be applied to anything musical with an overt futurist attitude using rock instrumentation, but generally gets applied to lousy keyboard-and-guitar-driven, unnecessarily bombastic arena rock with a fetish for the symphonic. Unless we're talking RIO... But that's RIO.
    I wouldn't call Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson (with Bruford and Wetton onboard 72-74), Soft Machine, Magma, Can, Matching Mole, etc "lousy keyboard-and-guitar-driven, unnecessarily bombastic arena rock with a fetish for the symphonic".

    The fact that labels get made, and then everyone gets lumped together, doesn't help. Within prog you could even include folk-rock, jazz-rock, RIO (Henry Cow etc), Kraut-rock. This then confuses and muddies the waters.

    No label works for anything but if Wire are to be labelled then I agree 'art-rock' (whatever that is) is as good as anything.

    But then again, this description might do:

    And as an aside, my WMO partner in crime, Charles Snider, has written an excellent overview of Progressive Rock: The Strawberry Bricks Guide to... available from Amazon or direct from Well worth the price of admission if this genre tickles your fancy.
    Neither would I. As I said, it *usually* does, at least in modern parlance. Which is unfortunate.

    What I meant to say was something more along the lines of "RIO, as well as a number of other interesting things that the vast majority of people who claim to 'listen to prog' tend to ignore". I slipped on the tails of my own rant. Which leads me to this:

    Damn it, damn it, damn it! I'm arguing with you over something I agree with you on! Why is this happening?! Why can't I make any sense?!?!

    But enough of that. The book sounds quite intriguing.

    Art-punk, maybe. It doesn't cover most of Wire's '80s output, however... Art-pop, perhaps, at least at that point.

    P.S. When I speak of the degeneration of Soft Machine, I refer to the gradual phasing-out of Robert Wyatt, which I think was, for what the group by then was, a major mistake and a serious body blow to their overall consistency. That said, their first three albums are fantastic on a number of levels.

    I actually enjoy a great deal of prog. I just think that the label has come to mean, for some, something less than palatable or true to its origins.

    P.P.S. Any fans of Univers Zéro or Shub-Niggurath here, by the way...?
    The original 'Progressive' label was used to differentiate the rock bands who wanted to do a Beatles and change and evolve from the run of the mill. Of course it quickly became devalued and ended up in record shops as a Progressive Rock section including everything from The Soft Machine to the late period Moody Blues. Oh and Rick Wakeman. Oh glory was it see Punk drive all this tosh (well most of it) into the landfill.

    Wire clearly fit the term the progressive as there's one hell of a leap from 12XU to The Other Window. Their later solo efforts underline the various influences and their ability to change their sound. As the only group of the era whose current music I still buy, they are remain pretty innovative to this day.

    Watching Heaven 17 play there two hits on Later with Jools this week is a reminder how rare Wire are in constantly reiventing themselves, something none of the Progressive Bands ever managed over the same time period.
    Just to go off tangent slightly, that is one of the things I really love about Wire & its members. Even if I don't really like what they're doing, they're doing something new/different. A healthy disrespect for the past.

    I'm not going to weigh in on this whole prog debate though, as for me prog is a still a dirty word, and as a result I'm not really informed enough to say anything of merit. I know it makes no sense, and I know there's plenty of good prog (I even own some, if you count Vangelis/Apgroditie's Child and Jarre as prog, or krautrock for that matter). Its just that punk attitude about prog being the worst thing that ever happened to music has filtered down to me, and a large minority of my generation.
    Semi-interesting contention, I guess, but no--I've never felt that Wire were veering toward Yes territory on "154". And, listening to roughly half the songs from that album being played in a much more raw, direct form during the band's "Rockpalast" appearance, I think it's even clearer that they weren't striving for anything proggish. (Granted, there are 'postpunk' albums which seem to exhibit some degree of prog influence: Magazine's "Secondhand Daylight", "Painless Nights" by the Sleepers.) Wire created their own category. There are the obvious antecedents like Roxy/Eno, sure, but Wire really didn't sound like any band that had come before them--or like any of their contemporaries, either.
    • CommentAuthorcc says...
    • (CommentTimeNov 19th 2010)
    I don't know, on 154, I do tend to think of prog when Graham starts singing, "Will she save meeeee?" on one track. Something about that change in the music and the pompous sincerity of the vocal makes me think of the Lord of the Rings/Dungeons & Dragons side of the prog thing. That's probably my least favorite passage of Wire mk I--while other songs on the album that have my favorite passages might also be called loosely proggy.
    So does this mean that nowadays they're dinosaurs?
    they're zeitlos
    Isn't 'prog' short for 'progressive'? Aren't all Wire's albums progressive?

    Yeah, Graham's performance on "A Touching Display" does smack of certain prog singers, although my first thought was Bryan Ferry at his most angstacular. This said, I love that song. As Simon Reynolds put it, the whole thing is like the god-damned Sword of Damocles hanging over your head, doomier than Black Sabbath and classier to boot. In particular, I find the kind of pas-de-deux between Souster's swooping delayed viola lines and Graham's massive distorted bass solo to be utterly scintillating.

    The vocals aren't half bad, either. I prefer his delivery on "Blessed State", however.

    Really, the most "prog" moments on the album are on "Once Is Enough" (the angular chorus, Bruce's rock-out moments on the verse), "Indirect Enquiries" (the constant dramatic chord changes), and "Map Ref. 41ºN 93ºW" (the massive string-synth swells), but even then the context is 100% Wire, and rarely fitting within any then-existing genre distinctions. As for later ones...