The third album from the reconvened Wire, released in 1989, is a very odd but very likeable set of process music — not quite a live album, not quite a remix album. Most of it was built around live recordings from the A Bell Is a Cup tour, which were then extensively reworked in the studio. The repertoire includes four songs from A Bell (as well as one from The Ideal Copy that had already appeared in a live version on A Bell) a couple of B-sides, and a cut-and-paste collage of spoken-word samples and a dance beat (“Illuminated”) in the vein of M/A/R/R/S’ “Pump Up the Volume”; those were augmented by two new studio-recorded singles, “Eardrum Buzz” and “In Vivo,” the former of which also appears in an IBTABA-ized version that converts its sparkling chorus to a minor-key death-rattle.
You could call it a retrenchment, except that it’s fantastically enjoyable both as a dance record and as a headphone record. “Eardrum Buzz,” in particular, became a full-on modern-rock hit, and the re-recordings crack open and stretch out the songs to reveal huge, echoing spaces, misty trails of Bruce Gilbert’s favorite kinds of noise, and guitar-bass-drum arrangements that avoid the sound of Pink Flag as if rock itself is booby-trapped.