The Hang of Music: The Lowdown
Oh boy! I get to review an album from one of my favourite years that I never lived through! That’s right, in response to last week, I have decided to go back to one of the best years in music; to 1977, the advent of punk.
And more than that, one of the few punk albums released around that time that I know very little about. Ignorance is bliss; it gives you something more to learn! Well then, this is Wire, with “Pink Flag”.
Before listening to this album, one of the only songs I knew by Wire was a song called “Dot Dash”. I was interested to see that in later reissues of Pink Flag, that track, along with “Options R”, was added onto the end as a bonus. Even more interestingly, they were then later removed again by the band themselves. In their words, they doesn’t match the “conceptual clarity of the original statements.” So, they actually care about the construction of their album. This is an encouraging start.
On listening to the album and then relistening to the bonus tracks “Options R” and “Dot Dash”, I am kinda forced to agree. They sound much cheerier and poppier than the rest of the tracks on the album. So they also have good judgement. More ticks for them
Despite that “poppiness” quote, however, there is still a lot of variation on display in the tracks here. Some of the tracks, like “Start To Move” and it’s successor “Brazil”, sound like more typical punk songs, whereas others sound like slightly tuned-up funeral dirges. (I’m looking at you, “Lowdown”.) Some of the songs start to have more in common with post-punk bands like The Sound and Gang of Four, who (obviously) came a while after this album.
There are also a lot of influences here: not on the band themselves, but other bands who’ve either taken from here or come to the same conclusion. “Strange” sounds a lot like The Kills at first, and the vocals on tracks like “106 Beats That” sound like demos on Buzzcocks albums; in their stripped down, “this is my singing voice” style, I’m starting to hear a load of more modern bands; Art Brut, Bromheads Jacket, Decendents, Minor Threat…*
I don’t want to go on, but I could. Wiki informs me of much more, such as Elastica (a band who I have to listen to, mainly because they sound like Pulp if Jarvis was a woman) REM and the Lemonheads. I promise, I’m stopping now.
The point, as I hope I’ve hammered home, is that they were clearly influential. (Either that, or the point is that I can name-check a lot of bands.)
Non-sequiter for you: I think that “Surgeon’s Girl” set up a standing wave inside my speaker. I don’t know if this is on purpose or not; it’s entirely possible that they just played a foghorn noise over the finished track. All I know is that I could feel the vibrations in my feet! If you listen to the song, will you please tell me if I’m going mad, or if my speakers are broken. I hope it’s the former, if it’s either.
Now, it’s lyrical analysis time, children!
Despite this being a punk album, I was still pleasantly surprised** by the way that most, if not all of the songs on the album were complaining about something – true, sometimes I had to look in the lyrics to find this out, but even so. This may sound like a gripe, but it really isn’t. Songs about complaining are good! They imply that behind all of the music, there is a working brain.
I especially like complaining about sunday newspapers (“Field Day for the Sundays”)*** and pointlessly thin models (“Mannequin”). Runners-up are “Reuters”, presumably about the news agency and their war reporting, and “1 2 X U”, which I think might be one of those songs that try to avoid being censored by being a little oblique. I hope so! I wonder what the “X” means…
This album is why you should always listen to something more than once before coming to a conclusion about it.**** I didn’t pick up on half of this stuff the first time I listened to Pink Flag. And nor did I like it. But it has really grown on me. How much has changed.
For the first time, I would actually like to thank someone in this review. It is PinkFlag.com: very few bands have such a fan base that, twenty years and a technological revolution later, they get a website run by and for fans in such
obsessive thorough detail. The resource it provided for the lyrics was pretty fucking amazing. Keep it up!
* OK, Minor Threat aren’t that much more recent…
** My being surprised by this says more about the dilution of the term “punk” than anything else. It’s meant to be about complaining about the state, not pop songs with the BPM up and the arrangements reduced to power chords.
*** Along with Joe Jackson, they were probably glad to hear of the death of the News of the World.
**** Unless it’s the sound of a tiger coming up behind you. Don’t bother turning around to make sure it’s actually a tiger!