REDUX: Record Review: Wire – The Ideal Copy UK CD

June 26, 2015

Mute | UK | CD | CDSTUMM42

Mute | UK | CD | CDSTUMM42

Wire: The Ideal Copy UK CD [1987]

  1. Point Of Collapse
  2. Ahead
  3. Madman’s Honey
  4. Feed Me
  5. Ambitious
  6. Cheeking Tongues
  7. Still Shows
  8. Over Theirs
  9. Ahead (II)
  10. A Serious Of Snakes
  11. Drill
  12. Advantage In Height
  13. Up To The Sun
  14. Ambulance Chasers
  15. Feed Me(II)
  16. Vivid Riot Of Red

I was late to the game on Post-Punk titans Wire. I never heard them until their reformation at the dawning of the mid-late 80s UK music drought that saw the output of most bands shift to house music. I saw their video for the gripping “Ahead” in the MTV 120 Minutes ghetto. It didn’t take long before I went to the local emporium [probably Murmur Records; maybe Peaches] and slapped down my $15-16 for the UK import CD of the spanking new album, “The Ideal Copy.” There was a US CD in the pipeline, since they were signed to Enigma Records domestically. Either I couldn’t wait for the US CD [which would have followed by a month or two at best in those days] or I saw it and noted that it contained one less bonus track than the UK copy did; making it my ideal indeed.

I popped it in the CD player and was rewarded with the unsettling opener “Point Of Collapse.” Treated guitars and synths swirled around the abstract lyrics of singer Colin Newman and the sturdy, machine-like rhythms of drummer Robert Gotobed. It was a wondrous blend and I enjoyed how the song’s guitar melodies and rhythm were gradually faded out to give prominence to the abstract synth lead lines that had been almost subliminal up to that point in the song.

“Ahead” was and remains one of the finest singles from the second half of the eighties. Not that there was much competition, but this track was definitely at home in the late 70s/dawn of the 80s Post-Punk period that was so dear to my heart. Colin Newman’s declamatory vocals sounded blunt and unaffected while the rigorous drumming of Gotobed marked him as probably the one drummer left in Britain who could be put on a small, exclusive shelf with Simple Minds’ original drummer Brian McGee. Both had a penchant for motorik derived rhythms that advanced a song without calling undue attention to themselves, save for the occasional tattoo that served as what passed for a fill in “Ahead.” The chugging Bo Diddley rhythm of Graham Lewis’ bass and Bruce Gilbert’s guitars had probably never been bent as far leftward as in this magnificent number. The song is based on what must be my favorite chord sequence of all time.

When the next number began, the delicate beauty of “Madman’s Honey” proved that this act wasn’t resistant to beauty for its own sake. What sounded like backwards vocal tapes of Newman singing “how does it feel?” served to add an alien counterpoint to the chorus. The pizzicato synths and gently picked acoustic guitar were certainly laying down a finely etched sound that was most eclectic for the first three tracks.

Then “Feed Me” proved that subtlety was just one extreme that this band were unafraid of reflecting. The track was built around a simple, subtle rhythm that may have even been acoustic guitars looped incessantly to form a slow, methodical rhythm that was barely there. Then the crashing, overdriven guitar power chords that defined almost the entire  song came right front and center to dazzle and stun with their tremoloed reverb. The bass gradually entered the mix in the most subtle fashion possible. Then Graham Lewis began singing. He offered a malignant baritone suggesting a queasy blend of intoxication and disease that was echoed by the random guitar noise that began snaking through the track at its mid point. Let’s say it all holds your attention very well.

After that long excursion into near madness, the next track put Lewis on an even better number. “Ambitious” was built upon Gotobed’s relentless dead-simple tattoos with repeated guitar figures and Lewis’ throbbing bassline. Very impressive, but it all faded once Lewis began singing. His phrasing here grew in power to become absolutely monstrous as the song progresses. The lyrics were chock full of juxtaposed yet unsettling phrases that gave the pleasure centers of my brain a real workout!

“Chain link rout ways
Digital time base
New hours for these days
New files engaged
Strangeness detectors
Collage charmers
Magnet behaviour
Quarks and order” – “Ambitious”

“Cheeking Tongues” was set down next in “side two” like a Colin Newman haiku shot full of cartoony sound samples looped to form the song’s rhythm as a palate cleanser before the final two, longer songs remaining. “Still Shows” returned to the slower, methodical tempo of “Feed Me” with equally unsettling lyrics that referenced skinning a rabbit; never a pleasant lyric image! “Over Theirs” gave the mic one last time to Graham Lewis for a duet with Newman; the only one on this album proper. The unsettling coda that closed the song out came as something of a shock.

wire - aheadUK12AThen the CD had another eight bonus tracks, qualifying for some sort of award for most bonus tracks back in the day. I remember a friend asking if the album was any good and should he buy the CD or the LP. I told him, do you want twice as many tracks? Go with the CD. The UK “Ahead” 12″ single had three live tracks in addition to the full length version of the song, but the US 12″ had all of that and the John Fryer remix of the A-side. It was the song recast [briefly] in Moroderspace with a sequencer prominent instead of furious guitar riffing, …or most likely a noise gate triggering off of a synth pulse simulating the stuttering of a sequencer without all of the messy rental and programming. This track only appeared on the UK pressing of this CD. “Feed Me” got the biggest changes while live with Colin Newman taking over the lead vocals instead of Graham Lewis for a completely different feel. The song’s rhythms were much more prominent than with the studio version as well.

wire - snakedrillUKEPAThen, the “Snakedrill” EP which had found the band reforming as a unit after six years apart was added to the playing time. “Drill” was the relentless keystone to this disc. In later years the band would release a full album of live variations and mixes of this one song which boasts a monolithic power second to none. I know I’ll never forget the time I saw them perform the track live on The Late Show, the old Fox Network late night talk show that was normally the roost of Joan Rovers. But the night Wire appeared, the guest host was noted bottle blonde Suzanne Somers. A more violent contrast could probably never exist on American television.

First, the band played “Drill” and it was EXTREMELY LOUD. For those of you not used to American Television, this never happens. Everything is rehearsed and locked down in stone and there are no slipups. Not this time! I have never heard sound from a television show bleeding into the red before, though Killing Joke on The Tube performing “Kings + Queens” were doing it on the bass at least. Amateurs! Every member of the audience must have had ringing ears for a week after this! That was memorable enough, but the interview that came afterward pushed this into the true realm of the bizarre and unbelievable.

The hostess was so far out of her intellectual league that one could only stare, slackjawed at the brain-melting notion that some talent coordinator must have set this meeting of the minds up for a purpose. And that purpose was my immense, personal satisfaction! While Bruce Gilbert answered her banal questions with an air of amusement, Graham Lewis was videotaping the entire exchange with a camcorder. What I would not give to see the contents of that tape now! I taped the whole thing, of course, and I’m certain that it’s out there… you know where. I have to admit that it’s not to be missed for anyone who’s not had the pleasure.

While listening to this album the very first time I felt that it was going to be among my favorites of that year and it surely was a most unexpected re-flowering of the seeds of Post-Punk right when I least expected it. Wire had returned and were giving me the sort of music that other bands, most notably, Simple Minds, were definitely not interested in providing any longer. More than anything, this album gives off the pleasing vibe of “Sons + Fascination” to such an extent because the band playing mostly real instruments and drums, but playing them as if they were machines. That gives this album a real kick. And with “Ahead,” which I was listening to today for the 300th time, I realized that one could go even further. I’m here to report that it is entirely possible to sing the lyrics of “The American” to this number. Higher praise I cannot give.

 – 30 –


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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4 Responses to REDUX: Record Review: Wire – The Ideal Copy UK CD

  1. Such a great album. One of the first two CD’s I ever bought in a store (as opposed to Columbia House) – the other was The Tenement Year by Pere Ubu. And thanks for the tip on the Late Show – how did I ever miss that??


  2. Mel Creighton says:

    Ambitious is a song about DNA. After all, it is the ideal copy. Graham had a dream about the lyrics and he has said that the dream resulted in him leaving out the reference to DNA.
    Wire is probably my all time favorite band. Wire- On The Box DVD is an essential piece of work to own by them. It shows the evolution of going from Chairs Missing to 154 and performing it to a perplexed audience in Germany. They never played their “hits” in that era and plainly states in the video that they do not play requests.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Mel Creighton – That is fascinating info that I was not aware of. Nor had I heard of “On The Box 1979!” It is to my detriment that I only have (checks) seven Wire albums (including WIR).


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