A quick overview: Wire is one of the most important punk bands of all time, exploring ethereal boundaries, providing Brian Eno-like atmospheres with teeth, during the `70s. Without Wire, you don't get post-punk, techno, Britpop, shoegaze or industrial (or at least, not as they are). Between the more recent Read & Burn EP series and full-length Send, these music innovators have remained relevant in the new millennium.
Wire return this fall with Read & Burn 03, the (obviously) third EP in the Read & Burn series. But where Read & Burn 01 and Read & Burn 02 had a hack 'n' slash industrial grind to them, this new entry harkens back to the Chairs Missing / 154 years while also marking a new chapter in Wire's history. Listeners get four songs in 25 minutes, which is pretty expansive, but the songs prove to be exceptionally tight.
"23 Years Too Late" opens the EP with a bit of spoken word, á la "I Should Have Known Better" on 154, but that record rarely dared to jam out like this track does. Drummer Robert Grey's stop-start beat provides a solid floor for the rest of the band's more atmospheric playing to bounce off of. Scenic descriptions of traveling, hashish and "naked punks and stone-hard pagans" ooze out as the band explores space over the course of nine minutes and 46 seconds. It's a lot to take in on first listen, especially from a band whose songs used to turn in under a minute long; however, this track is a grower, working its needles into the brain over time.
Track two, "Our Time" is a more immediate composition, but no less moody. Frontman Colin Newman checks off a list of actions to pass the time while swirling guitars wash over listeners. Indeed, this a much dreamier Wire, which complements the nihilistic-or-is-he-just-bored lyricism of the song.
The same could be said of "No Warning Given," at least on an instrumental level. Whether or not this is a result of Newman's equally shoegaze-esque other band, Githead, is debatable, but similarities do appear. Not that that's a criticism; on the contrary, both bands have merit, and hearing Newman further pursue this fuzzy aesthetic makes for pleasing music. These tunes are good headphone music while walking around the city, as one can pick up all the little guitar flourishes and noises.
"Desert Diving" closes out Read & Burn 03, and it's the most reminiscent of 154 without actually sounding like anything on 154. Softer and slower than the other three tracks, it has a deliberate, determined pace. The guitar swirls are more restrained here, with the core of this song residing on a simple, quiet chord progression. Surrounding all of this, of course, is a wall of synths, guitar/bass noises and Newman's echoed vocals. "Desert Diving" is a solid closing track, a high note that beckons the listener to play the EP one more time.
Read & Burn 03 marks Wire's studio return, and it's a welcome one. It's the perfect EP -- it stands on its own as a great document, makes the listener want more and it's short enough that one could justify playing it right before bed or near the end of a car ride. The Ramones and the Clash are gone, and the Sex Pistols can reunite as much as their greedy hearts desire; none of it matters so long as these `77 originals stick together.