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    I've recently rekindled my interest in Wire and, although I love the first three albums and the last three albums, I've always found the 'middle' discography a little un-rewarding. 'A Bell...' has really grown on me but I struggle to get through 'Manscape' etc. Is it purely the production? Are there alternate versions available (a little like the 'Strays' EP) that give a different view? Does anybody else struggle with the 'middle'.
    Wire mk2 have been discussed elsewhere, but, as i've stated previously, IC, ABIAC, Manscape are, after 154, my preferred Wire listening! Wonderful tunes, obscure lyrics &, i think, excellent production. love 'em!
    'Coatings' offers alternative mixes, b-sides, Peel sessions etc. of the period in question.
    There isn't much in terms of alternate takes of Manscape or The First Letter. There is a very obscure live disc known as Exploded Views (it came with a book - there was a series of these at one time from an Italian press, other titles covered Psychic TV, Joy Division, Bauhaus, etc) that is pleasant but non-essential - unless you would like to hear another stage in the Underwater Experiences development.

    Some of the singles from the Bell era contain alternate takes of that material. In the case of the 4-track Silk Skin Paws EP I highly recommend tracking a copy down - none of those takes have surfaced elsewhere and the versions found within of various "known" tracks are very interesting indeed.

    I'm not sure I would bother with the Life in the Manscape EP though the extra tracks are kind of interesting - but they are also on Coatings. The remixes of LITM are not anything to write home about, though the marrying of the Tetris theme to that track is good for a chuckle.

    I liked many of the songs from the Manscape/First Letter straight away, some of them took some time. A few just never grabbed me. But I'm generally OK with 80s/early 90s big fat digital studio production (as long as the material is strong enough to survive it), so I'm not too phased by this brief trend in Wire's history. It helped that I heard the He Said work and Colin's It Seems before approaching them, though - I was a bit more ready for the idea of Wire + heavy sequencers/synths.
    The LitM ep or Coatings is worth obtaining for Gravity Workshop/Worship—fantastic bit of aggression that was better than most of Manscape. It doesn't quite fit with the mood of the album so I can understand its use as a b-side, but it's a solid track.
    The Exploded Views CD is part of a live gig from the Manscape tour. I don't know which gig, or whether or not the whole tape exists. If it does, it'll be on the Bootleg Series, no question.
    I have the Exploded Views CD/book and have always thought that the recording comes from The Hibernian Club gig in London in May 1990. A gig that will be forever remembered by me for the shock of Robert's absence and the absymal version of Ahead. Wire without Robert were significantly less interesting than Wire without Bruce.
    "A gig that will be forever remembered by me for the shock of Robert's absence and the absymal version of Ahead. Wire without Robert were significantly less interesting than Wire without Bruce."

    I made exactly that point (re Ahead) somewhere else ... I wandered off to the bar after that track. Only time ever, I think, that I've done that!

    RE acrmcr's opening post: I enjoy the first three 80s albums and singles, up to and including IBTABA/In Vivo etc, but after that I just didn't get it. After the wonders of that album and single, Wire's muse seemed to desert them (I wish Muse would desert me!). The music reached its coldest, most emotionless level yet and technology and pre-programmed rhythms took the place of actual songs. I think Manscape, The Drill and TFL are the only Wire LPs to sound dated, because they are so totally built around the technology of the time. But that aside, it's the removal of 'the song' that really kills it for me.

    Having said that, Goodbye Ploy is like something from a totally different album, and You Hung Your Lights, It Can't Be True Can It and the remix (by someone else) of So And Slow It Grows are spiffing.
    • CommentAuthorcc says...
    • (CommentTimeFeb 16th 2011)
    I highly value "Snakedrill" through Bell Is a Cup, but have nothing of the further period. What am I missing? I know--a zillion releases of various mixes, but what are they key ones, and what's good about them?

    I believe this site canonizes Manscape, First Letter, and the Drill album. Seem right?

    I quite like It Seems, if that helps.
    "What am I missing?"

    Given that you can buy individual tracks these days, consider:

    • Eardrum Buzz (IBTABA)
    • Patterns of Behaviour, Goodbye Ploy, You Hung Your Lights In The Trees (Manscape)
    • In Every City? (The Drill)
    • So And Slow It Grows (single mix), Footsi-Footsi (The First Letter)
    • Take It (LFO Remix) (So And Slow it Grows single)
    • The First Letter (Vien)

    Of those, You Hung Your Lights in particular is one of the finest things Wire's ever recorded—really beautiful stuff.
    The problem with asking opinions of Manscape and The First Letter is evident by going back to the "3 songs from each album" thread. You could ask every person on this forum what the standouts are and when you've added it all up you'll basically have a list that points to the albums in their entirety. I mean, Craig and I agree on some things, but I would never have cited Patterns of Behaviour or the LFO remix of Take It as highlights. As for myself, it gets little recognition around these parts, but I think A Big Glue Canal off The First Letter is a tremendous track.

    I say pick 'em both up and see for yourself. I can pretty much guarantee that you'll find something to like on both of them. Only the most rabid adherents to the "everything after Pink Flag sucks" theory would find fault with Lights/Craftsman's.

    As far as "what went wrong" (if that's the case), I find it is the exact opposite of what hp cites (no songs) - I have the most trouble with Manscape when the piece in question takes a more traditional song structure (Life in the Manscape, for example) and shoehorns it into their methodology at the time. On the other hand, the pieces that seem a bit more free-form (Torch It, You Hung Your Lights, Children of Groceries, Take It, A Bargain...) are, for me, much more successful.

    On the other hand, if you like It Seems, you'll probably quite like Other Moments - one of the loveliest songs that Colin has ever written.

    And, if nothing else, Ticking Mouth has to be heard to be believed. A fantastic Bruce vocal and a phenomenal Wire track.

    As far as the EPs go, you'll get the non-remix contents of the US-only Life in the Manscape disc by picking up Coatings - probably the better way to go, and you get the compelling It Can't Be True Can It? on top of the other two. The remixes of LITM are fairly non-essential, and I sometimes wonder if that wasn't Enigma Records forcing the issue a bit (as they did with Devo around the same time).

    The So and Slow It Grows single is interesting, but often fetches a fairly high price these days. Nice From Here is most decidedly not one of my favorites, nor are the remixes of So or Take It, but as noted here other people are quite fond of them.

    Vien is essential in my opinion, as is Coatings.

    Last but not least, Erasure's Fingers and Thumbs is worth picking up since it is usually cheap - if for no other reason than to play Wir's "remix" and the proper Erasure tracks back-to-back. A better study in contrasts you may not ever find.
    The Drill, Manscape, First Letter trilogy are sadly overlooked and I think also down to production rather than just content. I interviewed Paul Kendall many moons ago and he would have loved to have got his hands on the Manscape master tapes and done his thing with them. I know Colin and Bruce felt let down with Mansape production (and I presume Graham does too). The FL production was a battle for many reasons but I would argue that it stands up well. The Drill was the test-bed and I know many have a problem with it, but I still think it's an overlooked gem.
    I was just looking at the LP track list of Manscape, which I never owned - only the CD. I think I might be happier with it in that form. LITM and Stampede were always sore spots for me, though Children of Groceries would be sorely missed.

    I'd be interested to read an expansion of ELAH that covers The First Letter. I have always been baffled by Looking At Me (Stop!). There is a very obvious Graham vocal, there is a very obvious Colin vocal at the end, but what of the rest? For the life of me I can't figure out who it is. If pushed I would have to say Colin doing both the "low" and the "high" parts, but I could swear the high part is actually Malka (I know that notion has come up before with some of Colin's vocals), and the low part doesn't quite sound like Colin's accent. Sometimes I think it's Graham doing his best to be someone else and lose his, uh, Graham-isms.

    Despite my deep love for "Drill," especially the live versions, The Drill never quite clicked for me. Experimental for sure, but largely a failed one in my estimation. Manscape and TFL, on the other hand, keep on improving with successive listens. The mix and midi percussion horror on Manscape still mars things, but the quality of the songs themselves may actually make it stronger than the other the 80s Wire albums (i.e., those with RG). The Wir stuff may be a bit too ice cold and antiseptic, but on the whole it's well realized. It may lack some of the more ear-friendly sounds of ABiaC, say, but start to finish I probably prefer it to any other middle period Wir(e) album.
    I would have said definitely Malka on Looking At Me (Stop)
    Some scattered thoughts on "Manscape" and others, heavily influenced by reading Kevin's book...

    I love "Manscape". It's my favourite (as opposed to necessarily the best) Wire album. Partly because it came along at a time when I was voraciously consuming new music, and partly because I like electronic sounds, but mostly because it has unique and beguiling qualities.

    It seems that most people's objections to it are the synth sounds and overall mix, and for sure it's the furthest away from the 1977 sound of all the albums. It may be the only one largely based on jamming, albeit jamming into a sequencer. Maybe it's the least "moronic" (to use Colin's recent description) set of songs - I prefer to think of it as mature and considered. According to the book, the idea to work on consecutive studio-oriented projects was based on the decision to not tour for a year for family reasons.


    First and foremost, I think it has the best vocal performances of any Wire album. Graham's vocals continue in the rich vein of the two He Said records - by turns dramatic ("You hung your lights ..."), possessed ("Torch it!"), and inspired ("Goodbye ploy"). Colin's vocals show a depth of feeling that doesn't always come through in other Wire material.

    Second, lyrically, it's as good as anything else they have ever made. "Other moments" (re-written by Bruce and Graham from Colin's original) and "You hung your lights.." stand out for me as artistic highlights. Who else could write something like "Sixth sense" or "Small black reptile"?

    According to "Everybody loves a history", 3/4 of the group seemed enthralled by the writing process. Even at the point of walking out, Robert admits that he was happy with his part in its creation. The record rather suffers in the mix - there's some incandescent guitar work that is totally buried at the expense of the synth arpeggios. I'd really like to hear some live audio from that period!

    "The Drill" album really only makes sense as the missing link between the "IBTABA" method and the "Manscape" method of recording. "What's your desire?" is a perennial favourite, but many of the other tracks are just curios.
    7jlong: I think that the main vocal ("Up, down, here, there, nowhere...") is Colin, double-tracked: the synchronization seems too good to be two different people.
    • CommentAuthorcc says...
    • (CommentTimeFeb 17th 2011)
    thanks for the suggestions... I forgot to add that I also know IBTABA and love about 3/4 of it.

    I'd probably go for full albums over tracks, and probably on vinyl. The download of Vien is tempting, though. Is Coatings widely available?
    Coatings is deleted. eBay's your best bet.
    Coatings is also available via Amazon. WMO stocks finally sold out last week.
    The vocals on The First Letter are all Wir, there is no other outside singer i.e. Malka. Apart from Naked, Whooping by Claude Bessey.
    Yeah, I figured it had to be some in-band vocalizing, but it is one of the oddest Wir(e) vocals yet. Most of the times when Colin is double- or multi-tracked (i.e. Cheeking Tongues), it is still quite identifiably Colin.

    (note to all: if you don't have Coatings, I really recommend picking it up before it is too late. you can still get a copy at a reasonable price used, but I don't think that's going to last - look at the disc prices for some other out-of-print catalog items, like A-Z)