Wire - 154 (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


154 (1979)


1977 is generally thought of as the birth of punk, or at least when it really exploded, and Wire tapped right into that back-to-basics sound with Pink Flag. 1979, then, was the year punk became post-punk, divorced from whatever tenuous connection punk had to the blues. And there was Wire, again pushing themselves, this time with 154.

Were it not for Chairs Missing serving as a bridge, I doubt people would be able to connect Pink Flag and 154. Pink Flag is primal and fast. 154 is slow and ethereal. It's cloaked in instrumental dirges and dreamy vocals. It's the kind of album that sounds good cranked up or turned down to a whisper.

While it certainly wasn't the first post-punk album, it's still pretty jarring cuing up 154's first track, "I Should Have Known Better." A steady, simple instrumental gives way to a monologue about…well, a mental breakdown, I guess. It's awfully surreal. Track two, "Two People in a Room," is a little bit punkier, but it also contains the blueprint for not just 154, but pretty much all of Wire's output afterward. Here's the industrial stomp of Send, the hypnotic droning of Object 47, the mighty bark of Colin Newman that fans love. "Two People in a Room" proved that Wire could still get very, very loud; just in a different way.

Tracks of this nature are in turn balanced out by the likes of "The 15th," which shifts towards the softer, more ambient side of post-punk. While Wire was still billed as a four-piece, Mike Thorne's keyboards and synthesizers define this record just as much as Wire themselves do. Thorne's swirling contributions are further enhanced by the surreal lyricism, first heard on Chairs Missing ("Denied / It learned / As if it had sooner been destroyed").

154 can be a weird, disorienting listen. But then again, bands have had 30-plus years to absorb and react to it, making it sound just as cutting edge as it did in 1979. Either way, it's arguably Wire's best record. Granted, a case could be made for Pink Flag, but that just leads to an argument towards '77 versus '79. Where do you fall?