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  1.  
    I thought it might make some sense to have a separate thread for more in-depth discussion, so as to help those who haven't finished the book and don't want to be spoiled. To start things off, I've written a semi-formal review that may inspire some initial debate on Read & Burn.

    (There's a limit to post length, so I've had to break it up over several posts.)

    In 1979, Wire released what many consider their strongest album, 154. A dark and challenging set of songs, 154 gave evidence of a deep rift within the group that would continue for a quarter-century. The album also contains what may be the key autobiographical (unintentionally so?) statement about the band. The tense and aggressive “Two People in a Room” describes an intellectual struggle between unidentified figures, a ”private display of nervous disorder and mutual torture.” No physical blows are struck, but it is no less violent. Both lyrically and as performance, this track is harrowing yet energizing. As Wilson Neate’s Read & Burn: A Book About Wire (Jawbone, 2013) argues, competing positions and a battle of wills and artistic vision has been the dominant trait of the band through most of its existence, producing brilliant music through a clash of ego and artistic vision. It is a work that enlightens as much as it discomforts, and in that it is a fitting companion to much of Wire’s own work.

    Emerging from the original UK punk scene (although not truly part of it) the members of Wire—guitarist Bruce Gilbert, drummer Robert Grey, bassist and singer Graham Lewis, and singer and guitarist Colin Newman—pursued a deconstruction of the rock form that earned them critical praise and admiration from other musicians and artists, but little in the way of commercial success. By their third album, 154, tensions about how to make a record—or, perhaps, why one makes records—grew to toxic levels. On the one side were Gilbert and Lewis, who embraced creative chaos and greater deconstructive experimentation, arguing for a strategy of “happy accidents” as a means of creating songs. The end was wholly located within the means—the process was the whole point. On the other side was Newman, who, while no less artistically demanding, was more conventional in arguing that a preconceived structure—a sense of the songs before entering the studio—must drive the recording process. His was not a closed position, but it did demand a destination, the realization of those songs. The result was an album of claustrophobic beauty, but it also drove the members into a hiatus to exercise their interests apart.
  2.  
    Even after reconvening five years later, the conflict over process remained, entrenched by recording experiences gained during the interim period. Indeed, when revisiting the albums in interviews with Neate, the evaluation of material was often framed in terms of how particular band members felt about the working method that was used. The impact and perceived quality of the songs rested almost wholly with the methodology that created them. As such, their evaluations of the songs demonstrate the rifts even today. The resolution of this tension—with Gilbert leaving the group for good in 2004—came at an odd point, for the band’s most recent album, Send, was driven mostly by an active partnership between Newman and Gilbert. Yet, however productive the working truce may have been, Gilbert exited the group, leaving the remaining members to carry on without him (a permanent replacement, Matthew Simms, emerged only within the last year). Gilbert explained to Neate that his decision was, in part, due to Newman’s evolving position within the band as songwriter, producer, and head of the band’s label. The merging of the creative and business sides, he claimed, had compromised the artistic work environment. Newman counters that Gilbert has a self-destructive streak that cannot abide by success. That the group was achieving greater control of its own future, Newman suggests, was a stability that runs against Gilbert’s personality. Each further claims that the other seeks to dominate the group. Newman’s multiple key roles were, to Gilbert, an intolerable imbalance; Newman, on the other hand, believes he was providing a stability that would allow for a more productive working relationship going forward. As with so much of the Wire story, the widely divergent perspectives concerning any number of events achieve the paradox of simultaneous truth. There is no sense that the band members were dissembling in their interviews, or that there is genuine malice in their dealings with each other. Rather, it is driven by sincere differences about the nature of Wire and how best to realize its creative needs. Even each member’s participation in Neate’s book, one cannot help but conclude, is only an extension of this struggle.

    Perhaps the greatest revelation of this book is the perspective and role of Grey. Where the other three original members are revealed to be restless and erratic figures, constantly searching for the elusive newness of creation and brutal in expressing their critiques of each other’s work, Grey emerges as steady and confident, in the background and much removed from the active conflict around him. Grey temporarily left the group in 1990, realizing that the working methods of the other three, ever more reliant on sampling to construct songs, left him unsatisfied and redundant. It is telling that the remaining three quickly realized the creative loss of Grey’s contributions to the recording process and a deficiency of the resulting work (the same assessment, notably, is not offered in the case of Gilbert’s departure). They all asserted that Grey had been encouraged to expand his role in the group in the 1980s, to embrace the technology of the times, yet he resisted. That resistance to mandated change actually comes off as quite Wire-like in its contrariness, the lone figure unwilling to do what is urged by others. That he never doubted what he wanted from the creative process is an underappreciated element to the band dynamic, a stability that was only realized after its absence. The other three frequently discuss Wire in terms of brutality and fragility, but Grey, largely removed from those battles, is realized as the band’s basic confidence.
  3.  
    Despite the predominance of tension, there is also much humour in this tale. One example that stands out is a discussion of dugga, the term for a particular type of, and approach to, noise created and developed by the band in the 1980s. It is not just a noun, we learn, but also a verb, with accompanying examples of other master duggaists (Bach was a master of the form, Newman claims). Still, it wouldn’t be Wire if there weren’t disagreements about definitions. Newman claims that duggaing is a skill, whereas Gilbert emphasizes its genius lies in its deskilled simplicity. Likewise, Gilbert can see dugga within metal, something that Lewis and Newman deny. Perversity, a frequent word used by the band to describe its efforts, firmly applies to their disagreements about the nature of dugga.

    The book is not without weaknesses. A particular noticeable omission is that of the records released outside of Wire. As Kevin Eden’s oral history of the group, Everybody Loves a History (SAF, 1991), demonstrates, the works of Gilbert and Lewis were driven by a restless experimentation in the recording process, frequently pushing the limits of what one can still call a song. Similarly, Newman’s early 80s solo albums further developed his own working methods and confidence as a producer. Given how fundamental these differences are to the tension that frames Neate’s argument, its absence is a large hole in the story. Yet, given the density of the book—over four hundred pages, with little flab and few unnecessary tangents—perhaps the choice is a sensible one, to avoid the risk of sprawl. More disconcerting is a lack of exploration into what seems to me one of the more significant questions concerning what drives the members of Wire: why do they continue? All the original members save for Lewis have left at one point or another and the group has suspended activities on several occasions, only to reconvene later. Further to this, the experience of being in Wire is acknowledged by all involved to be wrenching, exhausting, and never altogether satisfying in terms of the finished product. So, why do they stay at it? Comments about a sense of unfinished business and itches to scratch are not especially satisfactory in the context of a story so littered with seeming masochism. There is a lot of ego to the Wire story, and determining why these individuals keep returning to a situation where egos are bruised as a matter of course should be front and centre.

    Make no mistake, though, this is a solidly researched and clearly written work. Neate is thoroughly versed in his subject in a way that only a Wire obsessive can be, yet he has produced a thoughtful and immensely valuable critique. Indeed, his sometimes-pointed appraisals of some songs and albums surpass even those of the band members themselves (no mean feat!). His ability to remain sufficiently detached in his interrogation of band politics cannot be praised highly enough. He may have leanings in terms of which side he favours, but he never betrays himself. Without question, this book is to be recommended—urged—to the Wire fan, but those with an interest in the creative process and the challenge of artistic conscience within the structures of commerce should find this an enlightening case study. In terms of rock writing, it is among the very best.
  4.  
    I devoured this book over a weekend, which, with my attention span, is quite something. I found it extremely enlightening, not least Grey's contribution, which was fascinating. On Neate, he should be congratulated for minimising personal input but also providing a framework for how sections of Wire's work are viewed (which, with the benefit of hindsight, are fair enough); I'd say from my reading of the book, he comes down rather on Gilbert's side for the most part (which may or may not be accurate—only he'd be able to tell us), but this does appear to be a book of balance, primarily due to various Wire members being given the rope to hang themselves at every opportunity and occasionally taking it.

    What most comes out of this for me though is the thinking that Wire is, as we knew, an atypical band. Most bands are based around groups of friends with a very common purpose. Some have creative tension (or some manufacture it, such as Depeche Mode's 1990s destruction through one person writing some basic demos and another guy doing all of the subsequent work for none of the credit), but Wire has often been driven on the basis of what it shouldn't be doing, with plenty of disagreement about what it should.

    It's perhaps not surprising, then, that Newman and Gilbert clash throughout the book regarding which Wire work they consider successful and unsuccessful, in part coloured by personal experience but most often on Gilbert's part by process. It's telling and a little disappointing that Gilbert didn't play on the likes of Outdoor Miner, due to its being an overtly pop song. From a purely artistic standpoint, I don't see why one shouldn't embrace all of the colours within a palette of a project like Wire. It's also curious that he hankered for a producer during the Pinkflag years, and yet producers during the 1980s and 1990s in all cases failed to articulate and present a version of Wire consistent with the band, and arguably in almost every case (The Drill and The First Letter perhaps being exceptions), contemporised the band's sound. Gareth Jones almost turned Wire into New Order; by comparison, Newman turned Wire back into Wire for the Read & Burn material.

    It's disappointing to read about the 2004 fracture; "more extreme and more noise" would have logically turned Wire into In Esse, and that seems Gilbert's reaction against Newman's work with Wire as a business entity. It seemed an ultimatum that only had one possible option. From a pure existence standpoint, that also showcases a major difference of opinion regarding how Wire should conduct itself. Newman sees it as something that has to have a commercial aspect; Gilbert sees it (or saw it) as an art project and considered financial reward irrelevant. I firmly come down on Newman's side in this, because the reality of an arts project of any kind is that you need to be able to work on it to continue it with any seriousness and regularity. In my own experience, I went seven years between albums because I didn't have the time to fully commit to my music; Newman's work on the business side of Wire has, by the looks of things, provided a stable platform on which the band can build and create more work—and that is very important. Issues of transparency (and Lewis's sidelining for some time) were of course not a great idea, but the book suggests those have now been addressed. One might also ask that had Newman not done what he did, would anyone else have? Would there even be a Wire without Pinkflag? (Again, at one point, Gilbert infers that Wire could have signed to another label rather than made its own, but that seems to contradict his arguments about institutionalisation. It also would without doubt have either led to Wire doing what it wanted and being dropped had that not been financially viable, or being coerced into doing things it didn't want to do.)

    The story at least seems to end well. There remains creative tension between Newman and Lewis, but, interestingly, both are capable of the range Wire needs (Lewis, for example, at Café Oto recently presented a set of hard rhythmic noise, but he's also capable of Please Take leftfield pop). Also, Newman's comment in the book mirrors something he's said to me more than once over the past few years: on the band getting together, they actually have some fun. For long-time Wire fans, the idea of Wire enjoying itself might seen anathema to them, but destructive behaviour hasn't been healthy either, and the remaining members liken the current situation to that during Chairs Missing, arguably the band's most productive and successful time. Change Becomes Us suggests there's also a future, and while it's a pity that's without Gilbert, it's interesting Newman and Lewis suggest he can bring the noise and the angles; that's somewhat obvious in the album (especially when you read the special edition's notes), and I wonder if that'll be more obvious in whatever comes next.
  5.  
    Re. the acknowledgement of commercial requirements versus Bruce's more purist view of things, it seems that Bruce had been put into a cul-de-sac with pinkflag. As Craig points out, the institutionalization aspect is pretty much unavoidable—you handle your own business affairs or you sign yourself to another label, which will also have certain commercial demands. It's a concern that Marxist cultural critics of the Frankfurt School stripe have pushed for some seventy-five years: how can an artist be independent of capitalist logic? Short of finding a patron with no expectation of financial compensation, it's a non-starter. Colin's acceptance and maneuvering of the business end of things to the band's interests is the closest thing there is going to be to independence. Yes, there is a legitimate concern that, now that it's the group's direct finances that are at stake if an album flops, there might be nagging doubts about whether this song or that could be made more listener-friendly, but thus far I don't see any of the post-Mute releases as sounding like concessions to anything at all.

    That said, I am quite sympathetic to Bruce's position, probably because a number of the assessments of his character and desires are ones I recognize in myself—a deep aversion to institutions, a tendency to walk back from success, a serious pain in the ass in group work, and just plain contrary by nature. It has its upsides (especially for offering dissenting observations), but it can be annoying as fuck to others. It's impossible not to conclude that Colin's practical mindedness re. Wire as a viable operation is absolutely crucial. Someone has to have an eye on the ends and to push that point aggressively. It can be irritating to work with people like that, too, but they're the difference between whether a good idea is properly realized or not.

    Craig's comment likening CBU to CM rings true as well. There is a similar confidence and cohesiveness to both albums (not to mention quality of the work). How much of that is attributed to Matt and how a better working relationship between the other three is an interesting question, too. Given the theme of creative tension in the book, it is a key point that CM and CBU, which should(?) be in most people's top five if not top three Wire albums, were made under much more harmonious circumstances. Going forward, a fun and happy Wire might be no less demanding.
  6.  
    "Further to this, the experience of being in Wire is acknowledged by all involved to be wrenching, exhausting, and never altogether satisfying in terms of the finished product. So, why do they stay at it?"

    I, of course, can't speak for Wire, but I would suggest they stay at it because they love what they do and know that they're good at it. Simple as that. When any artist in any field is satisfied with their work then that's the time to hang it up. If doing art was free and easy then anyone could do it. paint by numbers, etc.

    "What most comes out of this for me though is the thinking that Wire is, as we knew, an atypical band. Most bands are based around groups of friends with a very common purpose."

    Actually I would think just the opposite: Jagger/ Richards, Lennon/McCartney, Dave/ Ray Davies and many others are well documented for not getting along. I just read the other day that Graham Nash said as much he and Neil Young respect each other he does not consider NY his friend as he's never had his cell phone number. Taken to extremes Harley Flanagan ( Cro-Mags) was accused of stabbing and biting former Cro-Mag bandmates in a NYC club last year because they no longer wanted to play with him. As well, Ike Turner used to beat the shit out of Tina every time she sang Nutbush wrong, or did anything to piss him off for that matter. And Joey Ramone never forgave Johnny for stealing his girlfriend but they soldiered on, despising each other, until the bitter end.
  7.  
    Couldn't agree more with the last statement. Creative tension often seems to produce the most interesting music.
    Cheers,
    Jim.
  8.  
    @Freakbag: Plenty of bands are documented for not getting along after a period of time, but Wire was pretty much that was right from the very start. Was that the case with those you cite and the majority of others? I just don't see that. Even publicly volatile bands often started life as a group of friends making music; that they don't always stay friends for long says as much about fame as anything else.

    On creative tension, I agree that there needs to be something there—people to bounce ideas off of and edit. It's very easy otherwise to lose objectivity and become stale (something I fight against myself as a solo musician, primarily by totally changing how I approach every new project). However, there's a fine line between creative tension and destructive activity, which Wire crossed on several occasions.
  9.  
    I have said elsewhere that my view of Wire finally comes down to this:
    Wire are a complex tapestry that changes its image depending on the light that is cast upon it.

    As for the creative tension. That applies to ALL groups with strong creative personalities. Wilson calls Bruce a Romantic a couple of times in his book. My view is that, for better or worse, Bruce is a purist in his view of what he believes his art is. That's not a criticism but an observation. Colin and to some extent Graham have more commercial leanings. By that I mean they are aware of the needs of a band to promote and sell themselves and to create work that has, hopefully, lasting appeal.
    Wilson's book clearly shows these concerns throughout his book, sometimes it's like watching a car crash; you don't want to look but you can't help yourself.
    The factors leading to Bruce's exit are discussed and revealed quite fully and it's not just about his 'purist' ideology but Bruce's own dislike for touring and 'stooging' around, as he puts it. No doubt there are other more personal factors that should remain private.
    I for one went back to listen to the 80's Wire after reading Wilson's book with a renewed pleasure. There is nothing wrong with the first three 80's albums that some good remastering won't sort out. I can understand that they each have reservations about these albums as so much personal angst is tied up with them. The Drill is great curio, but Manscape to my ears needs either a remix of resequencing to make it work. The First Letter sounds perfectly fine to my ears.
    Wilson's book does dovetail into my own ELAH but it also surpases it in scope and depth and he is to be commended for this.
  10.  
    "There is nothing wrong with the first three 80's albums that some good remastering won't sort out."

    With infinite money/time…

    Ideal Copy: Replace the distractingly low-quality samples. Scrap the drums and get Rob to do them. Ramp up the guitars a bit. Boost the bass.
    Bell is a Cup: Take the snare out back and shoot it. Twice. Take the multitrack, set fire to what's left of the drums and get Rob to do them. Job done. (TBH, some of the synth bass could also do with being removed, but I reckon just a new set of drum tracks would transform Bell—and it's already an album I like a lot anyway.)

    I'd also happily bribe the band to play So and Slow live, but with Rob's input!
  11.  
    > The factors leading to Bruce's exit are discussed and revealed quite fully and it's not just about his 'purist' ideology but Bruce's own dislike for touring and 'stooging' around, as he puts it.

    Granting Bruce's aversion to touring, that still strikes me as a very minor aspect to his departure. There's no sense that touring was a deal breaker within the group. Surely some kind of arrangement could have been reached to go with a touring guitarist if all parties wanted to remain a writing and recording group. The rather closed-mouth nature of his departure—the terse resignation letter that was not elaborated on to the others—suggests it was far more than something as practical as touring.

    > Manscape to my ears needs either a remix of resequencing to make it work.

    Agreed, even tho I've grown to genuinely like quite a bit of it. Given the way it was originally constructed, it seems like an album that is set up for repair/revision (tho I can't imagine there's a huge amount of interest in yet another archival project within the group right now).
  12.  
    I was quite worried with the book not being vetted beforehand that it would generate issues to push their personal relationships over the cliff forever.

    But is has actually been quite enlightening in my view. Clearly there have been problems around art versus commercial business, noise versus tunes, touring or not. What really comes out of the book for me is that no matter the disagreement they clearly like playing with one another and respect one another. They know fundamentally that they can’t generate the same individually or with others.

    Pre-internet the end of a record deal would mean the end and they would have packed up after The First Letter.

    In the internet age it’s easy to get your music out but hard to make money. It’s touring/showcases/special editions that make the money and I can understand why this was anathema to Bruce. Colin’s was right to make sure there is a focus on realization and viability. It’s for the others to step up and ensure the machine doesn’t get too slick and make Wire boring.
    I can fully see Bruce’s point on touring/festivals and being “too old for this game”.

    Reading between the lines I don’t get the feeling it really is all over. I would not be surprised to see a Bruce contribution to a future album and an agreement not to play live.

    I’m glad Bruce didn’t buy a ticket for the Wire gig in the end though. It could potentially have resulted in a “Nigel Tufnell re-joining Spinal Tap” mid-performance cliché. The thought of Colin beckoning Bruce on stage from the wings mid-Drill and screaming “Ladies and Gentlemen……Bruce Gilbert” does make me laugh though.
  13.  
    "Reading between the lines I don’t get the feeling it really is all over. I would not be surprised to see a Bruce contribution to a future album and an agreement not to play live."

    Don't hold your breath. I think that's only fractionally more likely than George Gill rejoining Wire.
  14.  
    > Bell is a Cup: Take the snare out back and shoot it. Twice.

    Ha! As much as I like "Free Falling Divisions," that snare sound grates right from the start. I am curious how much would immediately be improved on the Mute records with regular drums. It's almost certainly the most dated sound on those albums.
  15.  
    If someone had the elite remix skills, they could mock something up with Ahead (II) or Queen of Ur (Alt) off the CD reissues—although they'd also need guitars adding.
  16.  
    The book definitely lowered my opinion of Bruce. He's seems like a bit of a contrarian and it seems more often than not he was responsible for steering Wire into directions that were highly conceptual but flawed in execution.

    I'm in favor of a possible re-mastering of some of the 80's stuff but I hate the idea of removing something and overdubbing something new. Those records happened. They are what they are. I don't like revisionist history in the vein of "Let It Be Naked"

    The Ideal Copy has problems that can't be sorted out through re-mixing. The songs just aren't very good and the arrangements are ridiculously bloated. That album is the polar opposite of Pink Flag in every way.
  17.  
    Given that there isn't infinite time and/or money in the Wire coffers I stand by the remastering of the 80's albums.
    Compared to some albums released in the 80's the drums and synths sound ok. Not the best I accept.

    As for Bruce's departure. As I said 'No doubt there are other more personal factors that should remain private'. And Bruce has left..he's not coming back. Let's move on.
  18.  
    When you choose to work right on the "cutting edge" of recording technology you run an awfully high risk of dating your work because improvements will always come along. I suspect than in 10-15 years we'll be saying some of the same things about Change Becomes Us and Red Barked Tree because they too are using highly modern technology.
  19.  
    I wonder if Wire hadn't spilt the beans on the methods used to record Ideal and Bell we would be having this debate?
  20.  
    People have been discussing the unfavorable production on those albums for as long as I can remember. I personally like the sound of "A Bell Is A Cup", the drums are a bit overdone but the quality of the material is so high that it doesn't matter to me. "Freefalling Divisions" is top 5 Wire for me.