On their first studio album with new guitarist Matthew Simms (from It Hugs Back), Wire take the typically Wire stance of confounding expectations – by looking deep into their past. An area of their past that was never completed. After three albums between 1977 and 1979 that are still critically lauded today – “Pink Flag”, “Chairs Missing” and “154”, the ever prolific Wire had accumulated many finished tracks and seeds of ideas for a fourth album. These were aired live and the performances released – many on the 1980 scratchily recorded “Document & Eyewitness”, and more on the 1996 odds and sods compilation “Turns And Strokes”. These live offerings spanning 1979 and 1980 were never to be explored in the studio by Wire, although the odd few appeared on solo projects. Before their potential could be fully realised, Wire broke up for five years – deciding to restart afresh and reject all that had gone before.
With the notable exception of the final track, “Change Becomes Us” is the eventual realisation of that mythical fourth album – or would be if Wire played to everyone else’s rules. The one constant in Wire’s history of course – is that they do not. Each track on the album has used one of the original live performances as a springboard to create new compositions – and in doing so each track is now retitled for the 21st century. Some, like “Doubles & Trebles” (previously “Ally In Exile”) have the odd line or two altered in the lyrics. Others such as the haunting “Re-Invent Your Second Wheel” (taken from “ZEGK HOQP”) and “Love Bends” (lifted from “Piano Tuner”) have taken just a line or a riff and transformed the track into a new and contemporary work.
“& Much Besides” uses the music of “Evening Standard” to provide the body for what appears to be a wistful, pastoral instrumental piece, but over three and a half minutes in Colin Newman snaps the listener out of blissful anaesthesia with a blunt newscaster-style commentary relating the modus operandi behind the album itself – seemingly.
“Adore Your Island” wrestles 1979’s “The Spare One” screaming full pelt into the present day, combining the smoothness of the production of 2011’s “Red Barked Tree” album with the naked aggression of 1977’s “Pink Flag”, resulting in a concoction that leaves your brain imagining it has been transported to the inside of a pinball machine. Elsewhere, “B/W Silence” guides “Lorries” into a space of ridiculously ecstatic splendour, “Magic Bullet” metamorphosises the fledgling “Over My Head” and would probably have been Wire’s first UK hit single if the band ever chose to release it as such (Soundcloud tracks are as close as you’ll get from this album).
The surprise is “Time Lock Fog”. In their UK tour of November 2011, Wire revisited the ’79 live track “Five Out Of Ten” virtually as it stood thirty-two years before. “Time Lock Fog” merely retrieves the rhythm track and one line from the chorus – imbuing the original with a welcome multi-dimensionalism.
“Eels Sang” (once entitled “Eels Sang Lino”) is the one segment of light relief on the album. Graham Lewis’ dadaist utterances grow on the listener after a while, but somehow seem out of sorts with the rest of “Change Becomes Us”. Perhaps that’s how Wire wanted it.
The album reaches its coda with “Attractive Space”. The origins of this regress even further – to a pre-“Chairs Missing” demo, “Underwater Experiences” from December 1977 (released on the long out of print 1995 compilation “Behind The Curtain”). Here, Wire take the music and the last four lines from the original, adding fresh lyrics and assembling an ultimately terrifying track that leaves one staring transfixed long after the last vocal effects echo into the distance.
Being a dyed-in-the-wool Wire fan it was impossible for me to review the album without referring to its origins – thankfully my partner (who has no knowledge of the older songs) reveres “Change Becomes Us” for what it truly is – an immensely accomplished album. For me, “Change Becomes Us” is not only Wire’s greatest production to date; it is the most enriching fulfilling album by anyone that has passed through my ears in almost thirty years. If I hear a better album this decade I’ll be easy to find – I’ll be the pool of jelly in the corner of the room.Doubles & Trebles
Review by Lee McFadden