Wire, ‘Pink Flag’ (04/20/78)

Pink Flag represents British punk rock trying to climb out of a hole, and the hole, as perceived by Wire, seems to be punk rock itself. Wire has mastered the form, and brilliantly—the songs are intelligent, lively, hard and playful—but they convey little commitment to the form, and that may be why Pink Flag sounds much more impressive on first listening than on tenth. Satisfying on some formal level, it’s never moving; the band doesn’t dramatize itself right off the album, as great rockers always do. You hear cleverness, wit, irony, but not personality

Pink Flag includes twenty-one songs that cover ground more than they stake it out. Most punk themes are touched on: war, TV, sex-hatred, antigiriness, Gray Flannel Suitism, yellow journalism, the basically degrading but somehow liberating quality of modern life and all its attendant artifacts. Wire has its own brittle sound, but inside that sound you hear both frustration with punk limits and a band showing off: bits of the Who, of “Wild Thing,” lines suggested by the gaps in “A Day in the Life,” delightfully laconic echoes of mid-Sixties Dylanish punk (the perfect, pop-styled “Mannequin” recalls not only the Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl” but the Byrds’ “Why”). None of it cuts.

Wire isn’t ominously Blank, but almost hysterically Opaque. The first-rate guitar and the amused, pissed-off singing distract you from the lyrics (as they should), but the lyrics seem less revelatory than teasing, or maybe just pointless. “I was sold up the river, to the red slave trade,” you hear; “the stores were gathered, the plans were laid, synchronized watches, at 18.05, how many dead or alive, in 1955.” What does “1955” refer to, do you think? The signing of the Warsaw Pact? The year the singer was born? Or a rhyme with “alive”?

WE ARE SMART AND WE WANT OUR FREEDOM is what Wire is saying on this record, and they’ll get it: they’re pointed straight toward art rock, and in three years, if they last that long, we’ll probably think of them as the Pink Floyd of punk. By that time, Pink Flag may sound like a classic of the genre it wants to escape: fully limited, fully realized and not half so uncertain of its intentions as it seems today.

Rolling Stone, April 20, 1978

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