Pink Flag

Released 1977 on Harvest
The Seth Man, December 2000ce
Vocals-COLIN (Black hair)
Guitar-B.C. GILBERT (Blue eyes)
Bass- LEWIS (9st. 6lbs)

Aside from the accompanying photographs, this is all the information supplied of the band supplied on the back cover of this daring and highly jarring debut LP. And yet for their brevity, they are at cross-purposes with the photos: the background behind Colin Newman’s head is equally black as his hair (thereby neatly preventing all definition of his crop cut), Robert Gotobed is sitting with arms outstretched (making it difficult to gauge his height), Bruce Gilbert is seen wearing shades (obscuring his eyes) and Graham Lewis’ shot is a close-up of his face (preventing a summary of his weight.) It’s the same sense of precise detail with missing information that Wire conducted their musical strategies, with an almost neurotic emphasis on exploiting the oblique at all times.

Severe limitations abound on this album. Few tracks run longer than two minutes, and many under a minute. Definitions and geographic locales are supplied, and with no conclusions drawn. The songs are dry and sometimes border on the abusive as Gilbert’s monotone buzzsawing guitar gnaws away at everything in its path. The lexicon of 1977 punk rock (UK) is utilised by Wire as a template to superimpose their strict, mapped-out boundaries and coordinates, so it’s little wonder that the imagery of maps, territories and similar guides to geographic locales proliferate many of their song titles and lyrics. But the queerest thing about “Pink Flag” is that for all its mono-sonic tendencies, what proliferates beneath Gilbert’s distorted and rudimentary Flyte guitar brown outs are catchy pop structures of gravitational pull, luring pop melodies insidiously to the surface. Newman’s droogish vocals bark out while Gilbert’s abrasoid, high-distortion’d guitar work maintains the same flat, buzztone qualities throughout the entire record as though it were a constant pallet of sound to be turned on like a water tap whenever deemed necessary while Gotobed’s drumming shifts between hard-hitting, well-placed economy and tidy (almost dainty) hi-hat trimmings as they all set about over Graham Lewis’ bass propulsions.

“Pink Flag” is 21 songs crammed into a single LP that contained missives more than songs, most of them shouted out and played with all the speed of musicians who first measured out the perimeters of their songs first by length, then by lyrics and finally set it all to music. And these rigid pre-sets created an ultimate economy of noise that would reverberate for decades. From moments into side one’s entry (“Reuters”) to its exit (the title track, “Pink Flag”) the album lays into the listener as scathing drone-guitar buzzsawing surrounds eight briefer excursions. The second track, “Field Days For The Sundays” is 28 seconds long and it’s over before you’ve even read the lyrics. Then “Three Girl Rhumba” rushes in with almost sped-up skank. Then the roaring sawn-off and guitar-led “Ex-Lion Tamer” which illustrates Wire’s power as a group already capable of producing aggressive, multi-tiered pop epics. “Lowdown” follows, one of the two tracks on “Pink Flag” at odds with the rest of the album’s residents. This and “Strange” (on side two) were probably made to not fit in on purpose, dirge-like and dire as hell. But then a four-song exercise in skeletal amphetamine repetition ensues as the ultra-stripped down “Start To Move,” “Brazil,” “It’s So Obvious” and “Surgeon’s Girl” (all with an average length of 1 minute 22 seconds) all rush by until the menace of the closing title track, “Pink Flag.” Here the same blatant guitar assaults and powerful, restrained drumming and bass reverberations they hit you over the head with on “Reuters” reconvenes.
Side two opens with the album’s only instrumental, “The Commercial,” powered through at top speed. “106 Beats That” features an instrumental passage with twin rhythm guitars -- one high pitched and needling, the other Lewis’ pouting bass -- until it all shreds apart with a torrent of distorted guitar. “Mr. Suit” follows, a ‘fuck’-heavy punk rant that gained (along with “Field Day For The Sundays”) a printed obscenity warning on the cover of US copies.

[Manuscript missing] ...and Kate Lukas’ flute weaving, FX-fucked flute on “Strange” where Gilbert’s guitar is now a raw and ruthless slow grind. It echoes side one’s “Lowdown” only in terms of it being cut from a completely different tempo and approach from the rest of the album, save its irritating qualities. “Fragile’ is just that -- seeing as Gilbert has now switched to a spindly rhythm devoid of all distortion and Gotobed’s playing is near-absent as it is insistent in the hi-hat usage. “Mannequin” propels along at a fair clip with Lewis’ bass over “woooooo -- ooooo” background vocals then Newman announces “Last time, now” as they near the end of the last chorus. “Different To Me” is the only non-Wire composition, written by Annette Green (the photographer of the album’s quietly menacing cover) while “Champs” sees handclaps used to an almost kitsch effect and a singly struck guitar thing thrown in into the bridge. The last track, “12XU,” is introduced by Newman with an “all right...‘ere it is...again...and it’s called... ONETWOEXYOO!!!” and only then do they then proceed to break all their previous speed punk records as they go for broke over the barked repeating of “Saw you in a mag/Kissing a man/Saw you in a mag/Kiss a man/Smoking a fag/Kissing a man.” The guitar cuts out, leaving the bass sounding like a car warming up with sputtering fury as the ever-tidy Gotobed drumming and anal hi-hat use is the only thing that rears in the chanted lyrics and the roar of Gilbert’s distorted guitar, which cuts out several times, only to reappear even louder at the finish they all race to at the end.

Wire reduced pop music to something indefinable and clotted with frenetic energy, tempos and sometimes tinkered with the addition of added percussion or secondary guitar runs. But like Magritte’s enigmatic paintings, although everything is tidy and accounted for something is still...not right. They took punk and twisted it into an uneasy art form, stripped it down further and adding oblique yet matter-of-fact subject matter so mundane and presented without bias, framing while oftentimes key reference points that the musical portraits fill themselves in by default of insinuation or the merest hint of conjecture. And most of them bear an observer point of view, but one whose eye is constantly drawn to detail, which creates an unintentionally skewered take on the events witnessed.

And their next album would be directed into terrain entirely different in attitude and approach altogether. Wire: the scratch that’s always out of reach.