Wire, Pink Flag

Douglas Wolk

By Douglas Wolk

on 07.14.11 in Reviews

Pink Flag


The British punk rock explosion of 1977 shot a ton of records into the air, but Wire’s debut wasn’t like any of the others: It rocked as crisply and as toughly as any record made that year, but it was orders of magnitude smarter than anything around it. Its 21 songs each go on until their (mostly unrhymed, mostly elliptical, mostly thoroughly emotionally detached) lyrics run out, and barely a second longer — six of them clock in at less than a minute. Colin Newman sings, speaks and sneers in his own English accent, and the band pulls out an endless string of clipped, buzzing riffs. (When Elastica lifted the semaphore nert-na-nert-nert of “Three Girl Rhumba” for “Connection” 18 years later, it still sounded ahead of its time.)

The North Star of their career, no matter how far away from it they’ve gotten

Pink Flag is a perfect album — seemingly unimprovable in every aspect, from its sequence to its packaging. (Annette Green’s spare, austere cover photograph is stripped of every signifier of punk rock, and therefore totally punk rock; she wrote “Different to Me,” too.) It famously feels like a single 35-minute composition, and it’s ingeniously sequenced. Where other punk bands pounced from the outset (“Holidays in the Sun,” “Janie Jones”), Wire snuck up on their listeners with the menacing throb of “Reuters,” a slow, grinding two-chord song about a war reporter. The album’s two pop moments, the aptly-named fragment “Fragile” and the kiss-off single “Mannequin,” are buried together in the middle of its back half. The huge punk anthem, “12XU,” is all the way at the end, and features a gay subtext most of Wire’s peers wouldn’t go near. (It’s also arguably the ur-hardcore song: “12XU” was one of the few covers in Minor Threat’s repertoire.)

Wire have never made another record like Pink Flag, because they said it all the first time. Still, it’s become the North Star of their career, no matter how far away from it they’ve gotten — and they eventually got very far away. When the band launched their own label in 2000, they called it “pinkflag.”