Wire’s 13th studio album – entitled simply, Wire – hit the shelves last month. FACT’s Louis Pattison sat down with the legendary post-punk group to get the inside story of their favorite records.
Les Troubadours du Roi Baudoin
(Philips Records, 1958)
Picked by: Wire drummer Robert Grey
“It’s a Latin mass, sung by a choir from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I first remember it coming to my attention because bits of it were used in Lindsay Anderson’s film If… – although at the time I didn’t know where the music came from. I think I found the LP at a friend’s flat, in their record collection and it was only then I put two and two together. Hearing it in its entirety, that was when it became special to me. It has a real purity to the rhythmical base, the use of the drums.
“I was reading about it on Wikipedia, and the man who instigated the idea of it was a Belgian missionary. He built the choir in the town he was stationed at in Congo, and combined this traditional African music with this Latin mass. I think he must have been primarily interested in music – that was the message that he was bringing to the colonies. And what better way of connecting to the people than combining the mass with local music? It’s such a brilliant idea.
“After they’d built the whole thing into a functioning musical piece, they did one show in the Congo and then took it on a European tour. I did always wonder about the recording quality – I always assumed it was recorded in Africa, but where can you record a choir in Africa so it sounds like that? It must have been recorded on their European tour, in a cathedral or somewhere big. It’s a powerful piece of music, a complete one-off. I don’t hear it often on the radio, it’s pretty obscure – but it’ll always be with me.”
(Drag City, 2001)
Picked by: Wire guitarist Matthew Simms
“It’s more of a pop record than a squiggly noises record. His records that came out shortly before this, like Bad Timing and Halfway To A Threeway were sort of fingerstyle, but this is more straight-out rocking. But it covers a lot of ground in 35 minutes, and that’s one of the things I really like about it. When it came out I was 13 or 14, I put it on cassette and used to listen to it when I walked to school and walked home. It totally opened my eyes to so many styles and sounds.
“Uncut used to do these really great free CDs on their magazines, and that’s how I heard ‘Get A Room’. It’s about six minutes long, and the way it develops and unfolds is brilliant. Everything about it has influenced everything I’ve ever done musically – the production, the drum sounds, the range of guitar sounds that he uses. It’s very different from song to song, and there’s a lot of attention to detail. It’s not perfect in terms of the way it’s played, but there’s a lot of life to it. Also, the lyrics are so funny, which I think a lot of people miss. It’s a rare thing – in the early 70s people like Randy Newman were making pop songs with skewed, funny lyrics. People seem a bit afraid to do that these days, but he’s not afraid to put in a load of silly jokes and things to make you smile.
“I went on to buy a lot of other Jim O’Rourke stuff. A record called I’m Happy, and I’m Singing, and a 1, 2, 3, 4 came out the same year. It started with this quiet guitar piece and I was like, oh this is familiar. And then for the next 45 minutes it’s like [mimics the sound of atonal computer music]. But that’s the good thing about him – he totally opened my ears early on, his catalogue of music is so broad. And from the squiggly noises to the waltzy pop, it’s all good.”
Picked by: Wire bassist Graham Lewis
“A late night fave from 1995. I heard it as soon as it came out, pretty much. I’ve been working in in the field of sampling from about ’84, and it’s always incredible when someone comes along and realises something in such a complete way. I think the terrific thing about it is how consistent the record is, how much detail there is in the production – it was made with Mark Saunders, and I think Howie B is in there too. The record sounds very, very easy and very cooly done – it’s the nature of sampling that the exciting thing appears out of chaos. Something doesn’t fit, but you shift it in pitch or tempo and suddenly things lock together.
“It’s the confidence the record has. The way it starts – it saunters into view. It’s Technicolor in a rather grim and lo-fi way. And the female voice being very central to it, Tricky sort of dodging in and out – this chiaroscuro effect, coming out of the shadows. It’s what actually keeps one’s interest and fascination – you’re always hearing different things, and because the way things are mixed, you divert between one voice and the other. But still at the same time, it’s got all those elements – there’s a bit of Isaac Hayes, a bit of hip-hop, you’ve got some rock in there too. Everything stays in focus and everything drifts in and out, too. That’s the mastery of it.
“‘Ponderosa’ always makes me smile every time it comes in. ‘Black Steel’ is excellent. ‘Strugglin’ I really like – it relates closer to the more experimental work that I’ve been involved with. But I don’t think there’s a bad track on there.”
Can’t Buy A Thrill
Picked by: Wire guitarist/vocalist Colin Newman
“My favourite record – that’s an impossible ask. Any one of a hundred could fit. But I went for this one because I knew there’d be any number of people it would piss off, especially punk rockers. Steely Dan came in right when prog had ceased to be interesting – right when everyone was doing triple albums about goblins and things like that. They were very sharp, Steely Dan. The music was very precise. At the time it got called machine-like – machine-like refers to something very different these days, but that was how people saw it.
“They were so tight as to be almost soulless. It’s a jazz-funk of some kind, but very smart, with a quite intellectual approach lyrically. The opening track, ‘Do It Again’ really sums the album up. It’s breezy, it’s upbeat, it’s a bit Latin-influenced. I think it’s one of the tracks using electric sitar, and it’s got a great solo. You know, I like precision. I don’t like anything too flabby. I’m ruthless, totally ruthless about getting everything right so it all fits together. Some people think it’s perfectionism, but I just happen to prefer music that way. I don’t really like stuff that’s super-messy. There’s a tendency when you’ve got too many things going on – 15 things mixed together make grey. Or if it’s paint, brown.
“One person that I worked with, when I told them I liked Steely Dan, they said ‘Now I’ve heard it all.’ Malka [Spiegel, Colin’s wife and collaborator] didn’t get it when she was younger. She hates the harmonies. She hates the way it looks. It sounds like old music. Someone who wasn’t predisposed to it at the time might struggle to find a way into it. But when I listen to music, I hear harmonic worlds. I don’t think everyone hears music that way, I don’t think everyone gets what I’m talking about. Anyone who gets it will immediately see.”