While 2020 has taken a lot away from us, like live concerts and international travel, one thing we worth celebrating is that we not only got a strong new Wire album early in the year in Mind Hive, but now, intended as a Record Store Day release, we get a second studio work, “10:20.” Pretty much recorded over the last decade, this album is a collection of revised versions of several songs, several that had only been played live, and a couple album outtakes. As such we get a fresh window into several of the band as its sound developed across four decades of music making.
“Underwater Experience,” which was written around the time of “Chairs Missing,” but not included on the original in 1978, but did show up in two very different sounding demo versions on the extra disc included in the Special Edition re-issue of the CD in 2018. Here it’s a FAST two-minute burst of raw punk energy that recalls a bygone era, unlike the more refined post-punk guitar rock that is more representative of the band’s work in recent decades. The album opens in closes with two remakes of tracks that originally appeared on “A Bell is a Cup… Until It Is Struck.” The album’s opening track, “Boiling Boy” starts out with somewhat jangly guitar while the verses are sung, but then the rhythm kicks it into a grinding, repetitive hard rocking extended coda that renews one’s appreciation in the simple transcendence in a rock beat that won’t take no for an answer. Similarly, the album closes with “Over Theirs,” constructed on a compelling heavy rhythm guitar riff that’s nearly metal-sounding, which builds on the strong sound of distorted guitars, until the final minutes dissolve entirely into white noise static.
We get a better sense for Wire’s songwriting on tracks like “German Shepherds” and “He Knows,” the first all big shimmery guitars ringing out and an accessible pop melodic vocal, and the second a moodier alt-rock number that builds off a solid bass line that provides the melodic shaping while vocalist Colin Newman gives his best effort as a crooner, singing about being “hypnotized, by all your lies.” The three remaining tracks, “The Art of Persistence,” “Small Black Reptile,” “Wolf Collides,” reminiscent of lots of 80’s new wave, reveal why Wire has been viewed as influential on bands as diverse as R.E.M., Psychedelic Furs, Guided By Voices, and “Blur.” “Mind Hive” is already one of the better offerings from early in the year, making “10:20” the equivalent of extra icing on the cake.
Key Tracks: “German Shepherds” / “Small Black Reptiles” / “Boiling Boy”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Fall / Television / Joy Division
– Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb