Wire, Chairs Missing

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 07.14.11 in Reviews

Chairs Missing


Where Pink Flag had been about refining and mutating punk, Chairs Missing was concerned with dropping punk’s dogmas through a trap door and feeding them to the sharks. The streamlined, monolithic charge of Wire’s debut were almost totally replaced by other textures and techniques: rhythms that stalk or slither, arrangements that hover angelically (“French Film Blurred”) or explode into curlicues of noise (“Sand In My Joints”). The all-for-one songwriting credits of the debut were replaced by an unexpected division of labor between guitarists Colin Newman and Bruce Gilbert and bassist Graham Lewis: In this band, as it turned out, the person who wrote the words wasn’t necessarily the person who sang them. And the band’s guitar-bass-drums lineup was augmented by some jolting splashes of keyboard, especially on “Another the Letter,” a speed-drill song about a suicide note (presumably so called because the Box Tops had already staked a claim to the title “The Letter”).

Dropping punk’s dogmas through a trap door and feeding them to the sharks

Wire’s songcraft had blossomed too. Newman’s “Heartbeat” is all restraint: two notes, a melody that eats its own tail, and no chorus, eventually diminishing to silence. (They used to end their sets with it, to freak out audiences who expected a grand finale.) Bruce Gilbert’s “Too Late” goes in the opposite direction, building up to a chord that erupts out of the top of the song like lava from a volcano. The peaks of Chairs Missing are its two singles: a stomping rocker, “I Am the Fly,” about an insect as a metaphor for what punk had become and what Wire saw as their place in it, and an utterly delectable (and much-covered) pop song, “Outdoor Miner,” that’s literally about an insect. They were still minimalists at heart, of course: “Outdoor Miner” clocks in at a hundred seconds on the album, and it had to be expanded with a piano solo to be long enough for EMI to release it as a single.