There it was; prominently displayed at the Record & Tape “Super” Store inside my local mall. A sterile, bloodless place if ever there was one. The hot neon-white lights leaving not a single shadow inside the gray music shop. More like a ADMAX prison then a place to enjoy music. There it was; perched inside the same display case with all those BIG records of the late 80s; the Journeys & Van Halens and the newest Phil Collin album. Phil’s big sweaty face making everyone a bit uncomfortable. It was all just music-product ready to be gobbled-up by the hordes of young credit-card users that America was mass producing. Finally, there it was….Wire’s new album, the Ideal Copy. Fuckin’ Wire in the display case? How did Wire get put into the display? The album’s low-tech sleeve design truly looking out-of-place next to all those other slick, focus-group tested albums. And what could I do? Ideal Copy finding it’s way home with the gangly teenager from Detroit.
Ideal Copy was Wire‘s return from the dead. Well, that may be overstating the situation. Their first three albums already achieving the status of classics of the post-punk era (77-79). Pink Flag, Chair Missing and 154 all percolating with smart ideas and angular, primitive music that was well beyond any other string of albums from the period. Only Pere Ubu surpassing Wire with a trilogy of frenzied but literate (post-)punk assaults; The Modern Dance, Dub Housing and New Picnic Time.( But let’s get back on topic). Upon regrouping in 1987, Wire made a decision to push forward. Honoring their past by not repeating it. Ideal Copy taking the nervous spirit of their early albums and adding a new shine and complexity that was far beyond anything that, say, Three Girl Rhumba (Pink Flag) would have prepared the audience to expect.
Wire now articulated an adult roar of adreniline that was also controled, cool and sophisticated. Reflective of their middle-age status as they entered the late 80s/early 90s. The band discarding their early, raw production for a tight pristine soundstage that provided Wire’s experimental ambitions the clean platform they deserve. And they did so without losing the feel and texture that is so important to their music. Tracks like Point of Collapse , Ambitious or Ahead becoming Wire‘s new declaration-of-purpose; catchy yet abrasive / abstract but enjoyable. The music emoting the sophistication of David Bowie and Roxy Music at the end of the 70s. It’s not that the band had forgotten it’s punk roots. On the contray, Ideal Copy loses nothing. Fusing the excitement of their original punk noise with the experimental studio sounds of programed synthesisers and electric drum machines often used for dance music. This hybred of sound, music and style forging a new post-post-punk or, more accurately perhaps, art-punk.
However, the real revalations are lurking just beyond those smart, alternative radio-friendly singles. The album taking a gradual but inevitable turn towards the tension filled platues of Feed Me and Drill (CD only). Tracks that define the central character and identify of the album. Feed Me, in particular, plunging into the dark storm of graphic human desire, need and desperation. A primative place where our true nature lurks. The Graham Lewis sung/spoken track builds slowly on a minimal rythmn and harsh atonal crashes. Constructing a growing and desperate human-animal desire that climaxes into an electro-punk noise of uncontrolled brutality and sinister intelligence. A dangerous place that would find a lesser band struggling with the balance between the extreme message and the band’s effortless, controlled chaos. Suddenly, we realize just how far out Wire has pushed us:
- What’s the point
- It’s your table / I alter my altar
- For every mouthful / I hunger / Feed me
- It’s your table / I grow by in inches
- For every mouthful, you’re living
- For every mouthful, I’m running
It’s more then a little telling that when Wire went on the road in 1988/89 to tour the new material from Ideal Copy, the band refused to perform any of their older catalog . It’s a clear statement of purpose to not look back. The band asking, no, demanding the audience remain attentive and brave. They seemed to be saying, We will not be returning to yesterday. We stay relevaent or succumb to nostalgia and second guessing. Wire’s Ideal Copy is an under-recognized classic that incorporates studio technology into the band’s already impressive oeuvre of integrity, talents and skills. Call it whatever you want, post-post-punk, art-punk or avant-dance music, Wire‘s Ideal Copy (re)invented the wheel.