[Pink Flag, 2013]
The impetus behind Change Becomes Us is simple, to record the songs originally written after 154, right before the band initially splintered in the mid-80s. Since reforming, the group has had a string of successful releases, continually pushing their work forward (the Read and Burn series from the early-00s being an obvious standout). Wire’s artistic success (and the artistic success of any band with such a long career) could be attributed to a dogmatic refusal to look back, an approach that has been obviously abandoned for Change Becomes Us, which seems as “unstuck” in time as to occupy no point of interest, ultimately sounding like post-punk for a dentist office. Trying to record this music now, so far removed from its original context, the results are strikingly lifeless, and there is an element of joylessness, of boredom that is consistent. It feels like these songs are as meaningless to them as they are to us, it becomes Wire covering Wire.
And, perhaps, this record’s timing works against it the most, at a point well after the initial reemergence and exhaustion of post punk influenced songs. This does nothing new with the sound of 1983, it adds nothing and doesn’t attempt to play with any conventions. It is a perfect, too perfect, performance of genre/movement, and might be most strikingly marred by its too modern production. Everything sounds too clean, too professional, and digital to the point of being lifelessly slick. Listening to this record was, at various points, painfully dull, especially during many of the spacier tracks, which come across as pointless exercises in ambient music. “Doubles and Trebles,” the album’s opener is perhaps its best, a simple rock song featuring a martial drum beat which drifts off at several points. Here, this formula works, but again, it doesn’t break any ground and the rest of the record fails to live up to its promise.
It is continually difficult to shake the feeling that this is a band going through the motions. Tracks like, “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel,” unfold slowly and to no real point, ultimately sounding like background music. Change Becomes Us is filled with tracks like this, especially in the middle. The uptempo “Stealth of a Story” proves that Wire still has some spark, but that spark resides when they are playing harder. However, even on these songs it becomes of matter of why you would listen to this and not something from one of their earlier albums or, more recently, the Read and Burn series.
The question that has occupied me while listening to Change Becomes Us has been what one does with a band whose critical status, whose place in the canon has already been assured by their early output. And here is the crux with bands who continue to release like this, while the end product might be solid, there might not be anything terrible about it (there is nothing horrifyingly objectionable here), there is little case to be made that one should listen to this album over any of their earlier works. That is to say, what is Wire adding to their body of work with this album? One could argue that is an opportunity to create a clean recording of tracks written almost 30 years ago; however what real purpose does this serve so far out of context, if only to highlight how dated these songs are in the end? Wire have had a long career and, for their first 3 albums alone, deserve their place in the larger discussion, but if they release the same record over and over again, what reason do we have for continuing to pay attention?