It’s hard to discuss Wire on a critical level. For the most part, the band doesn’t change; their biggest shifts were made early in their career, in that incredible arc of masterworks from Pink Flag to Chairs Missing to 154 as the band tested their limits and found what they were capable of. I’m a shockingly late comer to the party regarding this group, only really tuning in seriously after their self-titled came out five years ago, but the benefit of having been ensconced in prog and extreme metal and jazz for the most part prior to tackling this alt rock juggernaut was a different set of eyes on their work, seeing them not through the lens of burgeoning post-punk and their influence on all the great hardcore, post-hardcore and alt rock that would come after but instead their dream pop and angular avant-rock tendencies. From a certain angle, the group appears less as early peers to groups like Joy Division and Gang of Four and more like an underground variant to groups like King Crimson and Cheer-Accident, admittedly with a tight feedback loop with groups like Wipers and their particularly rich post-Velvet Underground droning rock.
Mind Hive, in that sense, is more of the same. If you have heard Wire, you’ve heard this record, know well already their keen mix of angular riffs, motorik drums, droning strings and synths, and lite prog art rock flourishes. The thing is that it never seems to deplete itself; I feel the same hearing Mind Hive as I did that first time with their self-titled, as I did when I went back to listen to Pink Flag for that first magical time, hell, even the same as when I investigated their under-reported ’90s work. The time between their records is spent not changing their formula or incorporating new ideas but on honing compositions, resulting in records that are uniformly lean and mean, with not a wasted second let alone a wasted track. Wire know themselves well, know perfectly what they bring to the table, and get their experimentation out through side projects rather than muddying the primary outlet. This allows for a startling purity not just of content but of quality; I feel confident that I could hand Mind Hive to someone who’d never heard the group and get the same sense of understanding of why this group is so beloved as if I handed them their much more acclaimed debut or the two records that followed it.
Wire was never a groundbreaking band even in their debut. As mentioned before, their pedigree is not hard to track down, marrying punkish concepts of approachability with the background the individual members had in art rock and underground rock. They’ve always been a gloriously agnostic group to the mindset that would, say, disparage the Beatles or the Ramones, Yes or the Sex Pistols, psych pop or guitar rock. From their very first days, they’ve had an uncannily perfect blend of the avant-garde and pop, making songs that feel like they can be sung full-throated and loud on their first listen while carrying curious and tantalizing earworms that can drag the record out of its sleeve for years to come. There is, admittedly, a hierarchy to their records; there is a reason, after all, that their ’90s material is as under-discussed as it is. But these were only ever minor wobbles and here on Mind Hive they hit the same kind of high that they did on their self-titled, producing a record that feels at once like it can live with art rock contemporaries like Engineers while still hanging cool with Chairs Missing. It’s hard to have a lot to say about Mind Hive but only because so much has already been said about this band, all of it true, and all of it focused on a singular point, that being that Wire is one of the most important post-punk/art rock bands of all time, of which Mind Hive is simply a strong continuation of an already unimpeachable legacy.
Label: Pink Flag